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City Hall: Canada's Would-Be First Parliament

Kingston's City Hall was built with the fact in mind that it would be situated in the capital of the country. When the building was completed, over three hundred Kingstonians were invited to a celebratory banquet, and food leftovers were distributed to the poor the next day.

Contrary to the hopes of city officials, however, Parliament refused invitations to use the buildings for government offices on several occasions. City officials were often left hunting for tenants to fill the luxurious space.

Organizations such as the Post Office, the Customs House, and even the Bank of British North America came and went, but none remained as permanent tenants.

Inside, the big hall was used for lectures, bazaars, recitals and dances, and the great hall was used for town meetings until the city grew large enough to use all of the available space.

Thank you to Dr. Margaret Angus for supplying this information.


Photo: The building that housed Canada's first Parliament. This building housed Canada's first Parliament. Constructed between 1833 and 1835, it was originally commissioned as a hospital. However, due to insufficient funds for stocking and operating the hospital, the building was rented out.

After the Union of the Canadas was officially proclaimed on February 15, 1841, Governor General Lord Sydenham officially named Kingston as the Capital. It was decided that the vacant hospital building had sufficient space to house Parliament. Interior renovations were undertaken to create large enough rooms to house the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council. Additionally, office space was provided for the Governor General and other government officials.

Substantial renovations were also made to the building's exterior. These included stables, outbuildings to house fuel and privies, and security fences.

Image: A map showing the location of Canada's first Parliament building. After the completion of these renovations, the building served as the Parliament Building from 1841-1844. Here Kingston was represented briefly by Anthony Manahan, followed by Samuel Bealey Harrison. (1) After 1844 Parliament moved due to the Kingston locations growing unpopularity in the legislature. Here the major concerns were an insufficient number of buildings to handle officials and their assistants, and a movement in French Canada to secure the capital for itself. Both matters were settled when Parliament reopened in Montreal on November 28, 1844.(2)

Today the main building still stands on the grounds of Kingston General Hospital, and is used to house administrative offices. It is accessible through a new main entrance off Stuart Street (see above map).

(1) Thank you to Dr. Margaret Angus for supplying this information.

(2) Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Perambulations of the Legislative Assembly of the United Provinces of Canada, 1840-66. Agenda Paper 1967-32.


Meeting of the First Parliament of the Province of Canada


On Monday last at noon, the members of the Legislative Council and the House of Assembly were sworn in, after which the House of Assembly proceeded to the Election of Speaker. Austin Cuvillier, Esq. Member for Huntingdon, was proposed by M. Morin, Esq. and seconded by Hamilton Merrit, Esq. Sir Allan Macnab was proposed by John S. Cartwright, Esq., but at Sir Allan's request, the motion was withdrawn.

Mr. Cuvillier was duly elected speaker, without a division.

From the Supplement to the Quebec Gazette

Kingston, June 15, 1841

This day, at two o'clock P.M., His Excellency the Governor proceeded in state to the Chamber of the Legislative Council, in the Parliament Building. The Members of the Legislative Council being there assembled, His Excellency was pleased to command the attendance of the Members of the Assemble, and that House being present, Austin Cuvillier, Esquire, M.P. of Huntindon informed His Excellency that the choice of the Assembly had fallen upon him to be their speaker. The speaker then demanded the customary privileges, which His Excellency having granted, was pleased to open the First Parliament of the Province of Canada.


Image: A map of King's Town in 1783.


Construction on the beautiful home that came to be known as Summerhill took place between 1836 and 1839. Built as a country villa for Archdeacon George Okill Stuart, it served as a hotel and boarding house initially, but was not a successful business venture.

Photo: The Summerhill house served as a hotel and boarding house. When Kingston was chosen as the seat of Canada's first government, Summerhill was again called into use as a Boarding house for the Members of the Legislative Assembly, as there were not sufficient dwellings in the rest of the city to accommodate them all. As the operations of government grew, the building was then rented to the House of Assembly by the Archdeacon, and was used for committee rooms during the 1843-1844 session of Parliament. When the government offices moved to Montreal in 1844, the house was once again empty, and the Archdeacon and his wife lived there for a short time.

Summerhill was purchased by Queen's University in 1854, and has served a multitude of purposes for the University. Over time, it was a school building housing Classics and Theology, and a residence for many professors. It then underwent several changes, eventually becoming the residence of the principal in the 1870s, while still housing other professors at the same time. Today, Summerhill still stands majestically amidst the new buildings of campus, and serves as the Official Residence of the Principal, and the Office of Alumni Relations.



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