Kingston Historical Society
P.O. Box 54
Kingston, Ontario


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Kingston Historical Society
Kingston Historical Society, est. 1893


Sir John A. Macdonald

Macdonald's Kingston

Written for An Illustrated Guide to Monuments, Memorials, and Markers in the Kingston Area, published by the Kingston Historical Society. The book was prepared by the KHS Plaque Committee: John H. Grenville (chair), David C. Kasserra, Jennifer McKendry, William J. Patterson, and Edward H. Storey. Map prepared by Daryl J. Martin of the Strategic and Long-Range Planning Group of the City of Kingston.

FEW CANADIAN POLITICIANS have had such an impact on Canada as did Sir John A. Macdonald, architect of Confederation and the first Prime Minister of Canada. He was a determined Conservative who was able to bring politicians together, despite their diverse opinions, and to guide their decisions. His greatest achievement was the confederation of the colonies of the United Province of Canada (Ontario and Quebec), Nova Scotia and New Brunswick into the Dominion of Canada in 1867. His policies of westward expansion resulted in a transcontinental nation in 1871 and the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway by 1885. As Prime Minister, he led the development of the country from the four provinces of the original Canada to seven provinces (adding Manitoba, 1870; British Columbia, 1871; Prince Edward Island, 1873), so that by the time Macdonald died in 1891 the foundation for the nation had been well laid.

No Canadian Prime Minister is as closely associated with a Canadian community as Sir John A. Macdonald is with Kingston. Although born in Glasgow in 1815, Macdonald emigrated to Kingston with his family when he was only five years old. The Macdonald family (Hugh Macdonald and his wife Helen, along with their four children, Margaret, John A., James and Louisa) came to Kingston because Lieutenant Colonel Donald Macpherson, husband of Helen Macdonald's half-sister, was retired and living in Kingston.

Macdonald's early years of growing up and attending school, his legal training and subsequent beginnings as an attorney are all related to Kingston. Macdonald's earliest years in Kingston are associated with 110-112 Rideau Street (13), a house which Macpherson had purchased in 1824. When only fifteen years old, Macdonald began training for the legal profession, an apprenticeship process during which he articled with George Mackenzie. By 1835 he had opened his first law office at 169-171 Wellington Street (10). Shortly after he took in two law students, Oliver Mowat and Alexander Campbell, both of whom later became Fathers of Confederation. Mowat was Premier of Ontario 1872-96 and Campbell Lieutenant Governor of Ontario 1887-92. Although away from Kingston for extensive periods of time in his role as Member of Parliament for Kingston, Macdonald retained his partnership in a law firm in Kingston until 1871. Between 1849 and 1860, Macdonald's office was at 343 King Street (11).


Macdonald's entry into political life began in 1843 when he was elected to the municipal council — a time when Kingston's City Hall was being constructed (12). In 1844 he was elected to represent Kingston in the parliament for the United Province of Canada. Although Macdonald always thought of Kingston as his home, once he began his life in politics he was away from Kingston for increasing lengths of time. In the late 1840s, Macdonald and his family resided at Bellevue House (4) followed by 180 Johnson Street (8).

With the death of Macdonald's father in 1841, he was left as the head of the family. Part of his responsibilities was to ensure appropriate living arrangements for his mother and sisters. By 1855 he had decided that he would no longer maintain a Kingston home for his wife and son but that they would live with him as he attended to government business. However, he still maintained close familial ties to Kingston, largely through leasing houses for his mother (died 1862) and sisters Margaret (died 1876) and Louisa (died 1888). These houses also served as his legal residence for purposes of his representation as MP for Kingston. Those houses which are still in existence have all been marked with plaques, 194 Johnson Street (7), Hazeldell (3), 79-81 Wellington Street (9), and 134 Earl Street (6). Heathfield, demolished in 1964, has also been marked (2).

Although Macdonald represented constituencies other than Kingston (Victoria, British Columbia, 1878-82; Carleton, Ontario, 1882-87), he continued to maintain his connection with Kingston. After a stroke in late May, Macdonald died in Ottawa on 6 June 1891. Following several days of ceremonies in Ottawa, Macdonald came home to Kingston. He had promised his mother that he would be buried alongside her in Cataraqui Cemetery. Macdonald's grave is marked by several plaques (1), all erected by the Government of Canada: one marking his grave as Father of Confederation, one marking his grave as a Canadian Prime Minister (part of the celebration of the 125th anniversary of Canada's confederation), and a third as part of a program by Parks Canada to mark the grave sites of Canadian Prime Ministers.

Following Macdonald's death in 1891, Kingstonians put forward a number of ideas to honour his memory. Of those that were implemented, the most tangible was the erection of a statue in City Park at the corner of West and King Street East (5). A plaque was placed on the statue much later. Kingston and Macdonald were inextricably linked in the 19th century, a relationship which has been well remembered and marked in the 20th century. Every year on June 6th, the anniversary of Macdonald's death, the Kingston Historical Society organizes a memorial service in honour of Kingston's most famous son.

  1. The Macdonald family gravesite, Cataraqui Cemetery (section C, Beech Avenue), 927 Purdy Mills Road off Counter Street (which is off Princess Street).
  2. The site of Heathfield, Macdonald's residence during visits to Kingston 1865-78. Plaque located at 1200 Princess Street, west of Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard.
  3. Hazeldell, home of Macdonald's mother who died there in 1862. 225 Mowat Avenue between Johnson Street and King Street West.
  4. Bellevue House National Historic Site, where Isabella and John Macdonald lived 1848-9. Restored villa, grounds, and interpretive centre operated by Parks Canada and open to the public, at 35 Centre Street between Union Street and King Street West.
  5. Statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, 1895, in City Park near the corner of King Street East and West Street.
  6. House rented by Macdonald 1878-89. 134 Earl Street at Sydenham Street.
  7. Macdonald's legal residence 1856-60 as a member of the Legislative Assembly for Kingston. l94 Johnson Street near Sydenham Street.
  8. Isabella and John Macdonald's house from 1849 to 1852, and where their son Hugh John was born in 1850. 180 Johnson Street between Sydenham and Bagot Streets.
  9. House leased by Macdonald for his sister Louisa and brother-in-law Professor Williamson 1876-8. 79-81 Wellington Street between William and Johnson Streets.
  10. Macdonald's first law office 1835. 171 Wellington Street between Brock and Princess Streets
  11. Macdonald's law office from 1849 to 1860. 343 King Street East between Brock and Princess Streets.
  12. Kingston City Hall at 216 Ontario Street. Macdonald was an alderman from 1843 to 1846. See the medallion for the laying of the cornerstone (second floor near Mayor's office), as well as the oil full-length portrait of Macdonald painted in 1863 by William Sawyer (1820-89) in Memorial Hall.
  13. House owned by Macdonald's relatives, the Macphersons, and where he lived as a young lawyer in the 1830s. 110-112 Rideau Street between Bay and North Streets.