Kingston History


Did you know that Kingston, Ontario is one of the oldest communities in Canada? In fact, the rich and colourful history of the city dates back to 1673! Read on to learn about how a simple trading post became one of Canada’s most famous and intriguing cities.

Early Beginnings: Fort Cataraqui

The area, a Mississaugas First Nation site known as Kateracoui, or as the French pronounced it Cataraqui (CAT – AH – RAH – KWAY), was chosen by Robert Cavalier de La Salle, for the Governor of Nouvelle-France, as the location of a fortified trading post called Fort Cataraqui. This trading post, later renamed Fort Frontenac, was abandoned after the war between the French and the Iroquois in 1687. Although the post was eventually destroyed, the French rebuilt it in 1695 after a peaceful resolution between the French and Iroquois. The post fell to the English in 1758 in the Battle of Fort Frontenac. Under English rule, this post became a centre for refugees of the American Revolution, thereby making the area we know as Kingston the predominant community in south-eastern Upper Canada in the mid 18th century.

Becoming a Town

Though the area has been alive with activity since the late 17th century, Kingston did not become a formal town until the 1780’s. Forced migration from New England and the war of 1812 helped boost the population and further develop the town.
Indeed, the war of 1812 saw Kingston as the base for the Lake Ontario division of the Great Lakes British naval fleet. Fort Henry was built between 1812 and 1814 and the area thrived. After the war of 1812, the population blossomed even more with direct immigration from the British Isles. The area that had once been the location for a trading post had grown to become the undeniable structure of a bustling town. If you travel to the heart of Kingston today, the original plan for the town’s streets is still evident.

Continual Growth: Kingston as the Capital


Even after the war of 1812, the military significance of the area grew. The Rideau Canal, completed in 1832, served to impact Kingston’s status as a military and economic powerhouse. Fort Henry was rebuilt between 1832 and 1837 in addition to numerous Martello towers, which served to guard the entrance to the Rideau Canal. One of these intriguing Martello towers and Fort Henry still stand and tourists and residents alike can experience the magic of these reminders of Kingston’s history.

In the 1840’s Kingston had the largest population in Upper Canada. Due to its loyal disposition, Kingston was selected to be the capital of the United Province of Canada (Lower Canada/Quebec and Upper Canada/Ontario), which lasted from 1841 to 1844. Kingston was even the home to Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. As the capital, Kingston became home to many civil servants and many new businesses blossomed. Additionally, with the prime location at the junction of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, Kingston’s waterfront was rife with activity.

Though the city was only the capital for a few years the political activity served to increase the population and the status of the region even more. By 1846, it was incorporated as a city.

The city experienced some economic trouble after it lost the privilege of being Canada’s capital, but the city continued to grow and Kingston’s citizens experienced many important developments such as Queen’s University, the Royal Military College and the construction of several penitentiaries.

Once again due to the convenient location, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the city was a Great Lake port. Additionally, important manufacturing took place in the city: the city was actually a centre for building ships and locomotives. Kingston was home to the largest locomotive works in the British Empire. However, the Canadian Locomotive Company, later renamed Fairbanks-Morse, closed its doors in 1969. Like the locomotive industry, most other heavy industry left the region.

Kingston Today

Presently, Kingston is an important centre for research in the health and environmental sciences, information technology and telecommunications. Though it lacks an emphasis on heavy industry the city has many opportunities in the institutional, military, and service sectors.

An Educational Hot Spot

Kingston has also become a prominent Canadian educational destination. Prospective students and academics alike can further their knowledge at one of three excellent educational institutions: St. Lawrence College, Queen’s University, and the Royal Military College.
St. Lawrence College has three campuses in eastern Ontario and provides state of the art facilities and engaging, in demand courses. Though St. Lawrence College is decades old, it is the school’s mandate to continually improve their programs and campuses to consistently exceed expectations. More information can be found on their website.

Queen’s University is the first degree granting institution in the united Province of Canada. It was during the mid-1800’s that Kingston was selected as the Canadian location for a school, as determined by the Church of Scotland. The school served to prepare clergy members for service. It also strove to educate others in various academic subjects. The humble beginnings of this school became the prestigious Queen’s University, one of Canada’s highest ranked universities.

Many of Canada’s prominent leaders and cultural figures were educated at Queen’s University. Currently, students from nearly 100 different countries study at Queen’s, as well as students from all over Canada. Faculty have earned their degrees and experience at some of the most prestigious schools across the globe. It is no surprise, then, that faculty consistently receive international recognition and awards for research and innovation. More information can be found at their website.

The Royal Military College was established in 1874 and has grown from a class of 18 cadets in 1876 to an impressive educational institution with an extensive list of degree programs offered. More information can be found at their website.