The first event which gave an effective stimulus to the growth of the little Capital of the Midland District was its selection, by the British authorities, about 1788, as a naval and military centre. In May of that year Lord Dorchester, formerly Sir Guy Carleton, then Governor of Canada, instructed Surveyor John Collins to make a survey of forts, harbours, etc., from Carleton Island to Michillimackinac, “having particular regard to the question whether Carleton Island or Kingston should be the more eligible station for the king’s ships of war, to protect the navigation of Lake Ontario and the upper part of the River St. Lawrence.”
The Surveyor’s report did not prove favourable to the claims of Kingston. He did not consider its harbour the best situation for vessels, on the British side, “as it lies open to the lake, and has not very good anchorage near the entrance, so that vessels are obliged to run a good way up for shelter from the most frequent winds.” To get into the lake was as easy from Kingston as from Carleton Island; but the latter, in his opinion, afforded the best shelter, his conclusion being that “the preference leans to the side of Carleton Island. If the object were that of trade only, or regarded merely the transport of goods to Niagara, I do not see that Carleton Island has any material advantages over Kingston; but as a station for the King’s ships of war, I am induced to think that Carleton Island is the best, Kingston being somewhat vulnerable in the rear.”
“In regard to the existing condition of the works at this time,”the report continues, referring to Fort Frontenac,”the whole is so far in ruins as to be altogether defenceless and incapable of being repaired ; the ditch, which is in the rock, has never been sufficiently excavated; the other works have never been completed ; but it strikes me that they never were capable of any serious defence, as well from the bastions (sic), as the oblique manner in which their faces are seen from the other works. The green logs with which the fort was built (or, rather, rebuilt) could not be expected to last long; the ground is favourable for a fort of greater capacity and strength. As the ground in front widens and extends somewhat over the extremities of the work, particularly on the right, precaution should be taken to strengthen those points towards the field, to counteract, in some degree, the advantage an enemy attacking might have in the extent of his flanks. The barracks, though partially dismantled and in a very bad condition, may still be repaired.”
Despite Collins’ adverse report, however, Lord Dorchester remained firm in his own opinion, which has been in more recent times endorsed by competent military authority. Though we have no very definite information as to details, it seems probable that the outpost at Carleton (or Chevereux) Island possessed at this time only a Commissariat Department. the troops having been withdrawn to other parts of the Province ; and the final cession of the island, as situated within the boundary assigned to the United States, soon settled the question of its rival claims. Shortly after this we find Haldimand Cove, between Point Frederick and Point Henry, opposite Kingston, selected as a site for the naval depot, the dockyard and stores being begun in 1789, the year after the survey, when barracks were also erected on the ruins of the old fort.
A large stone building was soon in course of erection on Point Frederick, a narrow peninsula dividing the harbour from Haldimand Cove, both being named in compliment to the Governor, Sir Frederick Haldimand. It was built, not of Kingston limestone, but of a light cream-coloured stone found in that vicinity, andbeing constructed and fitted up somewhat on the model of a man-of-war, the upper flats being left open like decks through all their length and fitted with hammockslong retained the appellation of “the Stone Frigate,” being finally turned into a barracks for the cadets of the Royal Military College. The Government dockyard was soon alive and bustling with the work of shipbuilding, in which a large number of labourers were employed. It is worthy of passing mention that the bell which summoned them to work was even then an historical relic, having been among the spoils taken by British troops in Spain during some previous campaign. It has, in more recent days, found a different mission, possibly its original one, as the church-bell of the pretty little Anglican church on the Barriefield height, which received its name of St. Mark’s in memory of an early settler named Marks, while the village itself was named in honour of Commodore Barrie, for many years at the head of the naval department. The buildings erected for the residence of the Government officials imparted a somewhat imposing and Old World aspect to the vicinity, while Kingston, lying just opposite, on the north-western shore of the Cataraqui, was beginning to attain more town-like proportions.
In 1795 the Duke de la Rochefoucault-Liancourt visited Kingston, and drew the following unflattering picture of what he saw
“Kingston consists of about 129 or 130 houses. The ground in the immediate vicinity of the city rises with a gentle swell, and forms from the lake onward, as it were, an amphitheatre of lands, cleared but not yet cultivated. None of the buildings are distinguished by a more handsome appearance from the rest. The only structure more conspicuous than the others, and in front of which the English flag is hoisted, is the barracks, a stone building surrounded with palisades. All the houses stand on the southern bank of the bay, which stretches a mile further into the country. On the northern bank are the buildings belonging to the naval force, the wharves and the habitations of all the persons who belong to that department. The King’s ships lie at anchor near these buildings, and consequently have a harbour and road separated from the port for merchantmen.
“Kingston, considered as a town, is much inferior to Newark. The number of houses is nearly equal in both, but they are neither so large nor so good as at Newark. Many of them are log-houses, and those which consist of joiner’s work are badly constructed and painted. But few new houses are built. No town-hall, no court-house, and no prison, have hitherto been constructed. The houses of two or three merchants are conveniently situated for loading and unloading ships, but in point of construction are not better than the rest.”
A few vessels had been built at Carleton Island during the Revolutionary War for the purpose of conveying troops and provisions from point to point on the lake, but were probably worn out at the time of Rochefoucault’s visit, for he goes on to observe :-
” The Royal Navy is not very formidable in this place ; six vessels compose the whole naval force, two of which are small gunboats stationed at York. Two small schooners of twelve guns, viz., the ‘Onondaga’ and the ‘Mohawk,’ just finished; a small yacht of eighty tons, mounting six guns, which has lately been taken into dock to be repairedform the rest of it. All those vessels are built of timber fresh cut down, and not seasoned, and for this reason they never last longer than six or eight years. To preserve them, even to this time, requires a thorough repair ; they must be heaved down and caulked, which costs at least from one thousand to twelve hundred guineas. This is an enormous price, yet not so high as on Lake Erie, whither all sorts of naval stores must be sent from Kingston, and where the price of labour is still higher. The timbers of the Mississauga, built three years ago, are almost all rotten. Two gunboats, destined by Governor Simcoe to serve only in time of war, are at present on the stocks, but the carpenters who work at them are only eight in number.”
It would be easy, he remarks, to make provision for seasoned ship-timber for many years by felling what was to be had in abundance near at hand. But he adds, “the extent of the dilapidations (depredations?) and embezzlements, at so great a distance from the Mother Country, may easily be conceived.” Corruption, in short, had begun to assert itself, and during the winter preceding Rochefoucault’s visit a judicial enquiry had been instituted into a charge of dishonest collusion on the part of the principal shipwright and the Commissioner of the Navy. “But,” the French traveller continues, “interest and protection are as powerful in the New World as in the Old, for both Commissioner and ship-wright continue in their places.” He pays, however, a high tribute to Commodore Bouchette, a French Canadian by birth, who had entered the British service after the conquest, and possessed the confidence of both Lord Dorchester and Governor Simcoe. “Captain Bouchette commands the naval force on Lake Ontario, and is at the head of all the marine establishments, yet without the least power in money matters. By all accounts he is altogether incorruptible, and an officer who treats his inferiors with great mildness and justice.” This gentleman’s residence seems to have eclipsed all the houses in the town, and we are told that “he lived in a style superior to that of some of the early Governors.” Considering the trend of affairs a few years later, the following additional item reads somewhat curiously : “It is the Government’s intention to build ten smaller gunboats on Lake Ontario and ten on Lake Erie. The ship carpenters who construct them reside in the United States, and return home every winter.” It is also worthy of note that the first American ship that navigated Lake Erie, the Detroit, was British-built, and purchased in 1798.
Among other matters connected with the growth of the young town, Rochefoucault notices the condition of the live stock in the vicinity, deriving his information, he says, from the Rev. John Stuart, “who himself cultivates seventy acres of land, part of 2,000 acres which had been granted to him as a Loyalist, and adds, that “without being a very skilful farmer, he is perfectly acquainted with the details of agriculture.” ” The cattle,” he observes, “are numerous, without being remarkably fine, the finest oxen being procured from Connecticut at seventy or eighty dollars a yoke. Cows, coming from New York or Lower Canada, cost about fifteen or twenty dollars. Sheep cost three dollars a head, and seem more numerous than in the United States, thriving in the country, but are high-legged and somewhat unshapely. Coarse wool, when cleaned, costs two shillings a pound. In summer the cattle are turned into the woods ; in winter they are fed on dry fodder. There is no ready market at which a farmer can sell that part of his cheese and butter which is not wanted for the use of his family, therefore no more is made than the family need for their own consumption.” He also refers admiringly to the pair of favourite horses elsewhere mentioned as belonging to Mr. Robert Clark, of Napanee, which must have taken his fancy, for “Jolly” and “Bonny” have had their names handed down by him through more than an intervening century.
Four years previous to Rochefoucault’s visit a bill was introduced by Mr. Pitt into the British Parliament for the division of the country into the two Provinces of Upper and Lower Canadaa bill discussed with unusual interest, memorably by Burke and Fox, which passed its third reading on May 18th, 1791. The division was made partly on account of the great and inconvenient distances now covered by the colony, and partly in pursuance of the policy then in favour of keeping the French and English races separate and distinct. In the following September, Colonel John Graves Simcoe, an ardent soldier, who had distinguished himself as Colonel of the Queen’s Rangers during the Revolutionary War, was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, and arrived in the late autumn at Quebec, where he spent the winter.
This turn of events naturally awakened in the growing town of Kingston, with its advantages of position and its military and naval importance, strong and reasonable hopes of becoming the seat of Government for the new Province, and these hopes were, of course, strengthened when the little town actually became the Capital for the time, being made the scene of the induction of the newly appointed Governor into his responsible office on the 18th of July, 1792, in the “place then used for divine service.” As the small, newly erected wooden building which bore the name of St. George’s Church was not at this time completed, it is uncertain whether the ceremony took place there, or in the room in the barracks originally set apart for religious services. In the latter case, the inauguration of the first British Governor of Upper Canada was solemnised on the site of old Fort Frontenac. It is also worthy of note here that, half a century later, Kingston was the scene of the opening of the first Parliament of the re-united Provinces. The induction of Governor Simcoe was celebrated amid more primitive surroundings, yet with all the pomp and ceremony which it was possible to command The day was Sunday, and the place, if plain and bare, was sure to be adorned with all the bunting within reach, while above the spot waved proudly the old flag that had already braved so long the battle and the breeze, and was soon to wave victorious over Waterloo. The assemblage within must have been both interesting and picturesque, for, as we have seen, a number of the leading men of the new Province were citizens of Kingston, and others assembled for the occasion from their more distant homes.
There, a prominent participator in the ceremonial, stood the stalwart ” Curate of St. George’s,” the Rev. John Stuart, measuring six feet four, playfully styled by his friends “the little gentleman.” There stood the martial, energetic, somewhat arbitrary Governor, a plain and simple gentleman in daily life, but imposing in the elaborate Court-dress of the period, surrounded by his military staff, as well as by Commodore Bouchette and his official entourage, in their gold-laced naval uniforms. The veterans Col. McLean and Major Vanalstine possibly wore their old uniforms; and the Messrs. Cartwright, Hamilton, Macaulay, Markland, Kirby, Deacon and Maclean, Dr. Dougall, and others well known in the early history of Kingston, doubtless appeared correctly attired in “small clothes” or tight knee-breeches, with silver-buckled shoes, after the picturesque fashion of the time. We do not know whether Mrs. Simcoe was present. If so, she was doubtless the “observed of all obsers – ers,” for we learn from Rochefoucault that she was a handsome as well as a sensible and amiable woman, somewhat reserved and shy, whose talent for drawing enabled her to be of much use to her husband in the drawing of maps and plans, and whose skilful pencil has given us some interesting sketches of Kingston in its embryo condition. If she was present, the wives and daughters of leading citizens were probably in attendance, attired in the best apparel available for the occasion. Doubtless it was a great day for little Kingston, and cherished in memory for many a future year in circumstances where such “functions” were few and far between.
Mrs. Simcoe’s diary thus records her first impressions of the place :
“Kingston is six leagues from Gananoque, and is a small town of about fifty wooden houses and merchants’ store-houses. Only one house is built of stone ; it belongs to a merchant. There is a small garrison here, and a number of shops. They fired a salute on our arrival, and we went to the house appointed for the commanding officer, at some distance from the barracks. It is small, but very airy, and so much cooler than the great house at Montreal that I was very well satisfied with the change. The Queen’s Rangers are encamped a half mile beyond our house, and the ball-tents have a very pretty appearance. The situation of this place is entirely flat, and incapable of being rendered defensible, therefore, were its situation more central, it would still be unfit for the seat of Government.” In March of the following year she writes again : “We are very comfortably lodged in barracks. As there are few officers here, we have the mess-room to dine in, and a room over it for the Governor’s office, and these, as well as the kitchen, are detached from our other three rooms, which is very comfortable. We have excellent wood fires. I went to church to-day and heard an excellent sermon by Mr. Stuart.”
Immediately after his inauguration, the Governor performed his first official act, in issuing a proclamation dividing the Province into nineteen counties, Leeds and Frontenac constituting one. Over each county he appointed a Lieutenant, who had the right of choosing the Justices of the Peace and officers of the militia, and as he was most zealous in promoting the settlement of the country, these Justices were empowered to assign to every worthy settler 200 acres of land allotted by the district superintendent.
On July 17th he met his Executive Council of five, Messrs. Osgoode, Robertson, Baby, Grant, and a certain Peter Russell, destined to be somewhat undesirably notorious in the future. They met at what seems to have been euphemistically styled “Government House,” a plain, low, wooden building still standing on Queen Street, whither it was removed from its original site. Here the organisation of the first Legislative Council took place, and Assembly writs were issued to summon the gentlemen who were to compose it, including Robert Hamilton, of Queenston, and Richard Cartwright, of Kingston, both of whom faithfully fulfilled during many years the duties to which they were then called. The Governor, however, found no little difficulty in making up the number of his small Council and filling up even the few offices required for the transaction of the public business, very few men being found willing to absent themselves from their homes and their business for this purpose.
Kingston’s hopes of becoming the permanent seat of Government were, as we know, doomed to disappointment, since Governor Simcoe, as may easily be divined from Mrs. Simcoe’s evident reflection of his opinions, did not share the views of Lord Dorchester. The Executive Council held a few meetings at Kingston, but on the twenty-first of July the Governor set out on a westward journey which resulted in his decision to fix his Capital at Newark, afterwards Niagara, then a small village at the mouth of the Niagara River, where the Legislative Council met at first in a camp-tent, and where, according to Rochefoucault, the Governor inhabited “a small, miserable wooden house, formerly occupied by the Commissariat,” yet “lived in a noble, hospitable manner, without pride.” His attention at this time seemed mainly directed towards the making of roads to open up the still unsettled portion of the Province, to which Mr. Cartwright objected as being a premature, and, in the circumstances, misplaced use of scanty resources ; and this was probably his chief reason for the selection of Niagara, though he seemed strongly in favour of eventually placing the Capital on the river then called De La Trancke, or Trenche, where London now stands. After the cession of Fort Niagara, however, he felt that “the chief town of a Province should not be placed under the guns of an enemy’s fort,” and apparently as a sort of compromise between Kingston and the uninhabited west, he finally decided on a small hamlet, then and afterwards styled “Little York,” but finally reinstated in its more euphonious, original name of Toronto.
The first session of the first Parliament of Upper Canada made a good record for its yeomen legislators, who had so many weary miles to travel by land and water. During its session of five weeks, English civil law and trial by jury were established, and several other measures fitted to promote the good order and prosperity of the young Province proved the good sense and progressive spirit of the men who had left the tilling of their fields to undertake the framing of their laws.
In the second session, the Legislature made an important advance in civilisation, by prohibiting the future importation of slaves, and manumitting, at the age of twenty-five, all children thenceforward born in slavery, a measure which, in a few years, of course, terminated negro slavery in Canada. This had, indeed, been to some extent a recognised institution during the French regime, and when the U. E. Loyalists arrived from the new republic, some of them brought with them, along with other property, their negro slaves. Among the settlers at Kingston, several of the leading men, including the Rev. John Stuart, were slave-owners. The latter, in his Memoirs, says naively, that “my negroes, being personal property I have brought with me, one of which (sic), being a young man and capable of bearing arms, I have to give security to send back a white prisoner in his stead.” Colonel John Clark, in describing his mother’s funeral, mentions that their negro, Joe, drove their favourite black horses, Jolly and Bonny, before the family sleigh, painted black ; and also that drovers used to come in with droves of horses, cattle, sheep and negroes for the use of the forts, troops and settlers in Canada, adding that “my father purchased his four negroesthree males and one female named Suewho, in the War of 1812, gladly returned to our family, having become old and indigent.” Major Van Alstine also possessed eleven, whom he treated with patriarchal kindness, and who lived in great comfort in the old-fashioned Dutch kitchens in his home in Fourth Town.”
But however mild and favourable the conditions of slavery may have been in the colony, it was felt to be incompatible with free British institutions; and, as we have seen, there was no time lost in practically abolishing it, much credit for the same being due to the then Solicitor-General Gray, who, to the general regret, was lost with other passengers in the schooner Speedy in 1802. Upper Canada thus antedated the British Act of Emancipation by forty years, and though Lower Canada did not at oncc follow suit, Chief Justice Osgoode, a few years later, declared slavery inconsistent with the Constitution of Canada, and therefore null and void.
Two years after Simcoe’s inauguration, the census-roll of Kingston returned the population as 376. The town, having really been laid out only in the preceding year, was as yet rough and unattractive in appearance, with its scattered log-houses fringing the tangled woods behind, through which, for streets, ran but the forest-trails. But there were already some evidences of taste and cultivation. As an instance of this, we are told that Mr. Allan McLean, created by Order-in-Council the first lawyer in Kingston, and for many years its representative in Parliament, probably the son of Neil McLean already mentioned, possessed a tastefully laid out demesne called “The Grove,” on the shore of the Cataraqui, near the present cotton mill, which contained one of the best gardens in the Province, an acre in extent, and filled with choice fruit trees, from which the generous owner was wont to regale his friends.*
In the first year of the nineteenth century, Com. missioners of the Peace were appointed to establish a market at Kingston, where butcher-meat, poultry, eggs, butter, fish and vegetables might be exposed for sale, all the rules and regulations for which were published by causing a copy of them to be affixed in the most public place in every township in the district, and at the doors of the church and court-home of the said town of Kingston, showing that by this time the town possessed not only a church, but a courthouse also, where the newly appointed Court of Assize for the Midland District was presided over by Mr. Christopher Hagerman and Sheriff McLean.
The closing years of the century showed also some improvement as to roads, which, of course, were at first entirely non-existent. In 1793 an Act was passed “to regulate the laying out, mending and keeping in repair the public highways and roads,” nearly all as yet in the future, which were to be not less than thirty feet, nor more than sixty feet, wide. In surveying the concessions, provision had been made for roads between them, and cross-roads were to be left between every fifth and sixth lot. But the Government, with much on its hands, did notpossibly could notsupply the funds for this necessary step in the improvement of the country. However, a mail-road was at length completed between Montreal and Kingston, the end of each mile being marked by a red cedar post, on which was inscribed its distance in miles from the provincial line. In 1798 a contract was given to one, Asa Danforth, an American, to open a road from Kingston to Ancaster, which was completed in three years. The principal mail-road between Kingston and York did not, we are told, pursue the present line, but followed the bay shore, crossing by ferry at the “Lake of the Mountain,” and continuing along the shore to the head of Picton Bay ; from Wellington again closely following the shore. Governor Simcoe had planned and outlined a military road from one end of the Province to the other, to which he gave the name of Dundas Street, probably with a view to accomplishing his idea of fixing the Capital on the present site of London. We find the Hon. Richard Cartwright, in one of his letters, very reasonably protesting against the employment of a hundred men of the “Rangers” in cutting a road from the head of Lake Ontario to the River Tranche (now Thames), where there is not a single inhabitant, instead of employing them “in the service for which they are ostensibly raised, of opening roads and building bridges between the different settled parts of the country.” “But,” he further remarks, “this is a business that the inhabitants are left to do for themselves as well as they can!”
Circumstances not then foreseenthough even then, the writer of this letter discerned the germs of hostilities between Canada and the neighbouring republic were in a few years strongly to emphasize the importance of good roads throughout the Province. This was possibly part of Governor Simcoe’s plan, but in consequence of inharmonious relations with Lord Dorchester, he soon after (in 1796) resigned his office and returned to England, leaving the President of his Council, the Hon. Peter Russell, already mentioned, the temporary discharge of the duties, with the enjoyment of the emoluments and perquisites which that gentleman was only too ready to secure.
Before the departure of Governor Simcoe, however, Kingston enjoyed the important event of a visit from His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, then stationed with his regiment at Quebec, who made an expedition to the Upper Province, driving with his suite in caleches to Montreal, and there embarking for Kingston in a bateau manned by Frenchmen. At Oswegatchie, we are told, the royal party was met by a pleasure barge from Kingston, rowed by seamen and soldiers, and accompanied by Mr. Peter Clark, of the Naval Department there. At Kingston, Commander Bouchette had the King’s schooner, “Mohawk,” in readiness to convey the Prince across the lake to Newark, where he visited Governor Simcoe and the Falls of Niagara, descending from Table Rock by means of a rude ladder formed of a tall pine, of which the trimmed branches formed the rungs.
With this royal visit, we must drop the curtain of the eighteenth century on the embryo city, with its primitive log houses, its clap-boarded church and court-house, and its four or five hundred inhabitants. Busily engaged in their mercantile and agricultural avocations, rejoicing in the prospective convenience of a market, and no doubt making such local improvements as were possible with the means and appliances at command, they were happily unconscious of the impending time of trouble and severe test of loyalty, which the early years of the new century were to bring to the Midland District, in common with the rest of the young Province.
The Story Of Old Kingston:The Founding Of Fort FrontenacFort Frontenac Under The French RegimeThe Fall Of Fort FrontenacThe Coming Of The LoyalstsSettlement And Early DaysA Naval And Military Centre And First Seat Of Provincial GovernmentThe Cloud Of WarTo ArmsNaval Expeditions From KingstonAfter The WarRead More Articles About: The Story Of Old Kingston