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


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Kingston Historical Society


Write On Kingston!

Kingston's Chateau Rideau

Brian S. Osborne- Kingston Ontario

At the cusp of the 20th century, Kingston, like many other North American cities, was seeking the elixir for economic growth. Transshipment and commerce were being threatened, new industries were not forthcoming, so what about tourism? After all, Kingston was well served by excellent rail and shipping connections and yet, it was argued by boosters, “You’ve watched the crowded steamers put in at Kingston and then put out again. You’ve seen the steamers’ passengers, good people, desirable visitors, people demanding modern comfort and having money to buy it go on to Alexandria Bay and little Gananoque.”

So, why didn’t they stay? After all, “Kingston’s natural attractions are many”: the city’s romantic history, picturesque setting, and “invigorating air”; Queen’s University, beautiful churches, the Royal Military College; good roads, charming country drives, and “natural golf links equaled only in Scotland.” And then there was “the city’s commanding view of the Islands and its proximity to their shadow-splashed passages as well as the opportunities for water sports, splendid boating and canoeing and rare good fishing and hunting up the beautiful River Rideau.”

The answer was clear: “Everyone in Kingston knows why. Because Kingston cannot entertain [visitors] as they want to be entertained. Because Kingston does not provide the comforts and conveniences they ask. In short, because Kingston has no hotel to appeal to these travelers.” After all, Quebec City has its Chateau Frontenac, Ottawa was constructing its Chateau Laurier and so, in 1908, the Kingston Hotel Company proposed its own project: the Chateau Rideau to be erected on the waterfront in the city’s Macdonald Park. Of significance was the paradox that Chateau Rideau required the destruction of one of the Martello towers erected to defend the Lake Ontario terminus of the Rideau navigation!r

It was to be a modern and imposing edifice: a fire-proof structure of steel and reinforced concrete with a limestone facade in the “French Chateau Style”; some 300 rooms equipped with individual bathrooms and thermostats; a ballroom 34 feet high, 88 feet long, and 50 feet wide to accommodate up to 700 people; a 109 by 56 foot “regal suite” suitable for “nobility or royalty from Europe”; a basement area with cafes and facilities for motor-car or boat day-tourists, presumably to keep them away from the European nobility; a billiard room with a special match-table set in an amphitheatre.

Wow! How did Kingstonians receive this concept? Writing in the Daily British Whig, “Business Man” declared that Kingston was seen as “Rip Van Winkle” and argued that, “Give a Martello tower to be replaced by a $500,000 hotel! Yes, by all means. We have lots of old military landmarks left, in fact, too many for our own good. It is about time the saying that Kingston is dead was buried.” But others disagreed. The next day, the “Citizen” provided a rebuttal: “the proposal to demolish the fine old Martello tower which gives such character and dignity to Murney Point, and is the most distinctive historical landmark of our historic city seems to me an unthinkable proposition.” Other problems were that the land was owned by the Canadian government and was to be maintained as a public park.

Not surprisingly, interest in the project began to wane and, by 1914, Council’s “Hotel Committee” reported that they had “so far found no one willing to erect an hotel in Kingston, and put money in it, although they are willing to make money by doing so, providing the citizens of Kingston will put they hands in their pockets to pay the bill.” The city had to wait a further fifty years before hotel accommodations were enhanced. And a century later, on 5 April 2006, a Kingston Whig Standard editorial returned to the theme of Kingston’s connection to tourism in general and the Rideau: Kingstonians should realize that “they have a real stake in the Rideau...The northern path of the Rideau Canal must be seen more as a part of the Kingston region’s tourism system.” Plus ca change...!”

This article was originally published in the Summer 2006 edition of
Rideau Reflections, the newsletter of the Friends of the Rideau.
rideauhotel-crop.jpgKingston Historical Society, est. 1893