Located where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence and the Cataraqui rivers, Kingston was ideally situated to defend and protect the area from external threats. Count Frontenac chose Cataraqui because of its strategic location on the French-British frontier. Following the War of 1812, the British constructed Fort Henry and integrated it with a system of Martello Towers and shore batteries to protect Kingston and Canada from American incursions across the St. Lawrence frontier. The Kingston Naval Dockyards were also constructed during this period, as was the Rideau Canal, which ensured a route of safe passage for British troops and supplies from the Atlantic Ocean to Upper Canada away from the vulnerable St. Lawrence frontier.
Kingston remained an important strategic site in the defence of Canada well into the 19th century, as tensions brewed south of the border during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and as the Alaska Boundary Dispute put strain on the Canadian-American relationship at the turn of the 20th century.
Following Confederation, and the subsequent withdrawal of British troops from North America, the Royal Military College was established in 1876 to provide military and officer training for the Canadian Forces. RMC was the first military university in a British colony and remains the only federal institution in Canada with degree-granting powers.
In addition to sending thousands of young men and women to serve overseas during World War I and World War II, Kingston made huge economic contributions to war efforts. During World War I, the Dominion Textile Co. Cotton Mill produced cotton khaki for soldiers’ uniforms and “grey cloth” for sacks for shipping food and supplies. By World War II, the Cotton Mill had become the Woolen Mill, under the ownership of the Hield Brothers of England, and provided the woolen cloth used to outfit the Royal Canadian Air Force and other branches of the military. The A. Davis & Son Tannery, which at one time was the largest tannery in the British Empire, provided much of the leather used to make soldiers’ combat boots, Alcan produced the aluminum for the construction of airplanes, the Canadian Locomotive Company shifted its production to armaments and munitions, and the Kingston Dockyards produced vessels for the Royal Canadian Navy.
Today, Kingston continues to contribute to Canada’s military initiatives. In addition to RMC and CFB Kingston, Kingston is also home to the headquarters of the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), a rapidly deployable force of 200 Canadian Forces personnel. Since its creation in 1996, DART has been deployed to provide immediate humanitarian aid and disaster assistance to countries such as Honduras, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Haiti, the Philippines and Nepal.
Kingston is at the heart of Canada’s story - shaping our past and building our future.