20th Century, Buildings, Institutions, Neighbourhoods

A 1920s Driving Tour of Kingston

what to see in kingston_Page_1_Image_0001I found this vintage driving tour of Kingston over a year ago on archive.org, and now it appears to be gone (or at least I can’t find it) so I can’t link to it. Instead, I’ll reproduce each page of the PDF I saved here.

The tour is undated, but it’s likely from after 1927 due to the inclusion of the Military Headquarters on King St. as a “place of interest.”  The style of the document suggests, to me, a publication date roughly around this time, as does the corkscrew route the tour takes, evoking a time when there were probably less cars on downtown streets.

Many of these sites are still existing, but some of them aren’t or have different uses today. I’m going to go over the sites that are now different or obsolete, although I’ve been a bit choosy about what I present. For example, the Whig building is fairly well-known appellation in Kingston even though the offices are no longer located there. Rockwood Hospital, empty now for a number of years, is another well-known though obsolete site. I’ll be limiting myself to structures that are totally gone today, ones that have changed completely in function, as well as the more obscure sites. Unfortunately, there are several I don’t know much about, so I’ve just tried to do my best.

Something to keep in mind: the dates beside some locations do not always denote construction. For example, the present St. George’s Cathedral wasn’t built in 1791; it was founded at that time.

Page One

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British American Hotel

Circa 1948 (click photo to go to source)

Circa 1948. This photo is from the Vintage Kingston Flickr and Facebook group, and I am not sure of its correct source. (click photo to go to source)

This hotel was at the corner of King and Clarence until it burned down in 1963. It was established in 1807 as Walker’s Hotel, and the name changed over time to Daley’s, then the British American. Charles Dickens did indeed stay here on his visit to Kingston, as did Oscar Wilde.

Masonic Temple

This one may be common knowledge, but the Masonic Temple is the church building located at Johnson and Wellington, now home to a daycare.

Eastern Ontario Dairy School

It’s unclear to me whether the Public Health building now near the corner of Barrie and Clergy is the same building that housed the Eastern Ontario Dairy School. I assume it is based on its location and design in the 1908-1911 Fire Insurance Plan, but it’s likely had alterations done. The Eastern Dairy School was a school for dairy farmers to learn the science and technique of their trade. It was established in 1894 through the School of Mining and Agriculture to help keep farmers employed in the Kingston area, instead of emigrating to other towns or the United States.

Bowling Green

The Bowling Green would have been on the south side of Union St. on Queen’s campus. The name is probably ceremonial, because I don’t think lawn bowling was ever a popular activity at Queen’s. Nevertheless, there it is. I mean was.

Page Two

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St. Mary’s on the Lake Orphanage

St. Mary’s on the Lake, now a palliative care centre, was the Catholic orphanage in Kingston for many years.

Military Headquarters, District No. 3

From 1927-1968 the former J.K. Tett Centre, now the site of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, was the regional military headquarters. Before then, it had been a military hospital from 1918-1923.

Alwington House

Alwington House, a Neoclassical villa located around where Alwington Place is today off King St. West, was notable for being the residence of Lord Sydenham, first Governor-General of the united Canadas. This is another location Charles Dickens visited; at that point Sir Charles Bagot was residing there. It was destroyed in a tragic 1958 fire.

Prison Quarry and Farm

This one is more or less new to me; the history of the penitentiary is not one of my strong points. The former use of convict labour for construction and quarrying is pretty well known in Kingston.

Civic Isolation Hospital

January 7, 2015 update: Thanks to reader input, I’ve learned that this was built in the 1920s as a place to treat infectious diseases, and was located near the intersection of King and Lower University.

IODE Cross of Sacrifice

Update: I previously thought this monument no longer existed, but an article in today’s (August 19, 2014) Kingston Whig-Standard informs me that the cross, undergoing repairs, forms the centrepiece of the city’s Remembrance Day ceremonies! I’ve never been to a city Remembrance Day ceremony, and I embarrassingly still can’t bring the location of this cross to mind. It is, however, still in Macdonald Park (of course I’ve been there a billion times and still can’t remember this thing).

Another update (January 6, 2015): I finally found it! A few weeks ago I was walking down George Street to go to the Museum of Healthcare, and I looked up and saw it sitting right at the foot of the street. It’s big and white and conspicuous and I swear I never noticed it before, probably because my waterfront wanderings usually take me down the path right at the water’s edge, not up near King St. Anyway, that’s cleared up.

Page Three

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Cooke’s United Church

Cooke's Church on Brock St. from the brochure "Kingston and Its Vicinity," published 1900.

Cooke’s Church on Brock St. from the brochure “Kingston and Its Vicinity,” published 1900.

Formerly Cooke’s Presbyterian Church, this was located on Brock St. just west of Montreal St., now the site of the large parking garage across from Hotel Dieu. I assume it was demolished to make room for the garage, but I don’t know for sure. Another church was located just a few metres down the street at the intersection of Brock and Montreal.

No. 2 Fire Station

No. 2 Fire Station, from a c. 1900 brochure I am currently having trouble finding again...

A Kingston fire station, from a c. 1900 brochure I am currently having trouble finding again…

The former fire station on Brock St. was located approximately where Station #4 is today, .i.e. in the same place. Although it doesn’t specify, I think the above photo of the “Upper Fire Station” may be No. 2 Station.


YMCA postcard, c. 1910. Toronto Public Library. (click photo to go to source)

Kingston’s imposing, Romanesque Revival YMCA Building was on the corner of Princess and Barrie until it was torn down in the 1950s. It’s now the site of Boston Pizza. I’d love to know more about when this building was constructed and who the architect was, and also the circumstances of its demolition.

Frontenac Park

Including this one only because Frontenac Park, though it still exists, is no longer known as such: it’s now called McBurney Park, a.k.a. Skeleton Park.

First Government House of Upper Canada

Photo circa 1910. McCord Museum. (click photo to go to source)

Photo circa 1910. McCord Museum. (click photo to go to source)

This little building housed Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe’s first council meeting in 1792. It was located on Queen St. next to St. Paul’s Church until it was apparently moved to Upper Canada Village.

Royal Naval Dock

Go back and check out the awesome typo on the tour page, “Royal Navel Dock.” This is an unusual entry, as I believe every other site on the tour was an existing location and by the 1920s the dockyards had been gone for decades. They were located at Point Frederick until about the mid-nineteenth century.

Cross of 13th Battalion Royal Highlanders of Canada and Cross of 21st Battalion

Cross of 15th Battalion, Kingston? Canadian National Railways/Library and Archives Canada. (click photo to go to source)

Cross of 15th Battalion, Kingston? Canadian National Railways/Library and Archives Canada. (click photo to go to source)

The above photo, which according to its caption was taken in Kingston, is actually for the 15th Battalion (it’s hard to see, but Photoshop made it plain). The background looks like it could be at Fort Frederick, which makes sense for where the tour is, but I’ve known Archives captions to very occasionally be wrong. In fact, the 15th Battalion in World War I was formed mostly of Toronto recruits. Nevertheless, the tour lists a monument to the 13th Battalion, which initially was formed from the Black Watch of Canada (Royal Highlanders). Basically, I’m confused.

The 21st Battalion was recruited in Kingston, which makes more sense. However, I don’t know whether any of these monuments remain. The 21st Battalion monument in City Park dates to the 1930s (I believe 1932). But considering how badly I did with the IODE Cross of Sacrifice, feel free to take this information with a grain of salt.

In conclusion, I really wish I could have been more informative on some of these points, and I also wish I could properly source the tour (and the photo of the fire station). If I come across more accurate information, I’ll be sure to update this page. However, hopefully I’ve been able to show some ways in which the Kingston streetscape has changed since the 1920s, and many of the ways it hasn’t.

Selected Sources

Information on the demolition of the YMCA and the movement of the First Government House was gleaned from conversations on the Facebook page Vintage Kingston, so I don’t claim complete accuracy on those points.

15th Battalion, CEF Study Group page

1908 Fire Insurance Plan of Kingston (revised 1911), Library and Archives Canada

“Kingston and its Vicinity,” tourist brochure, 1900.

Kingston City Directories

MacDermaid, Anne. “Kingston in the 1890s.” Historic Kingston 21 (1973).

Osborne, Brian S. and Donald Swainson. Kingston: Building on the Past. Westport, ON: Butternut Press, Inc., 1988.

Stewart, J. Douglas and Ian E. Wilson. Heritage Kingston. Kingston, ON: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, 1973.


4 thoughts on “A 1920s Driving Tour of Kingston

  1. It really is too bad that buildings like the YMCA one were taken down. The building that replaced it is no beauty. I think that our choice should be to always save the historic, because that is what the tourists want to see, and that is what makes our town vibrant and unique. I had no idea that the house with the white siding is the oldest in Kingston. Thanks Fran.

    • I agree! I guess the idea of preserving heritage buildings is a relatively recent phenomenon (since about the 1960s) and before then people often had no trouble tearing down old buildings. Luckily for us Kingston still has so many, but it’s sad that ones like the YMCA building are lost; it was worth keeping.

  2. Surprised Kingstonian says:

    The YMCA building and Cooke’s Presbyterian church are a couple of imposing-looking edifices. Too bad they are no more! What about Kingston’s oldest residence? Does it still exist? If so, could you post a photo?

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