Historic City Hall
Our City's Heart and Heritage
A prominent landmark on the Kingston waterfront since 1844, City Hall is the symbolic centre of the community's civic government and administration. Originally designed by architect George Browne when Kingston was the capital of the United Province of Canada, City Hall is one of finest 19th century buildings in Canada and a nationally designated heritage site.
In additional to municipal government and City Council, the building has hosted many different organizations and services over the years including a bank, a saloon, church groups, theatre productions, a court room and a women's medical school. Learn more about Kingston City Hall's history in Fast Facts below.
Learn more about Kingston City Hall's fascinating history, beautiful architecture – and about the intriguing people, events and stories associated with this national historic site. Those interested in heritage architecture will also enjoy the newly-opened Heritage Resource Centre in the Market Square wing.
Guided tours are available Monday to Saturday from 10a.m. to 4.p.m. from May to October. These tours last 30-45 minutes. Call 613-546-4291 ext. 1520 to book a time or visit City Hall during tour hours to enjoy this free activity.
Self guided tours of the first two floors are available year-round using the following print-friendly guides:
- City Hall Guide - English, French, Mandarin, German, Spanish
- Sir John A. Macdonald Artefacts Guide - English
Advance notice is requested for school and group tours. Contact Jennifer Campbell firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-546-4291, ext. 1377.
An online tour is also available via the City Hall Chronicles application.
The gallery below offers a glimpse of Kingston's former Mayors portraits posted in City Hall.
City Hall's ‘Gaol (Jail)'
City Hall also housed Kingston's original police headquarters. Opened in 1844, the design of the police department included working spaces for the constables and several cramped, dark basement cells to hold men, women and children arrested on suspicion of an array of crimes. These holding cells remained in regular use until 1906 and survive today as material evidence of nineteenth-century policing technique. The cells are currently the focus of a project to restore the spaces and use them to interpret the historical experience of ordinary Kingstonians and their encounters with social hardship, crime and the criminal justice system.
2016 marks the 175th anniversary of the Kingston Police. Recent renovations preserve and restore the original City Hall police holding cells, in use from 1844 to 1906. Adaptation of the areas around the lockup provide historical context through an accessible modern gallery showcasing some of the heritage collection belonging to the Kingston Police.
Memorial Hall Windows
The 12 stained glass windows of Memorial Hall pay tribute to Canadians who fought in First World War battles. The windows were dedicated in honour of Kingston's Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Nursing Sisters who served overseas in the Great War - 1914-1918. Click on the images above for a larger view.
Here are a few quick facts about Kingston's City Hall National Historic site.
- June 15, 1842, the town of Kingston publicized a competition for architects and builders for the design for a Town Hall and Market. The probable cost of construction was set at 10,000 pounds.
- The design of the government architect George Browne (31 years old) was selected from the 12 submissions received from the contest. George Browne also designed the Mowat Building, the Victoria and Grey Trust Building, the S&R Department Store, the Presbyterian Manse and Rockwood Villa
- The building was completed in December 1844, at a final cost slightly in excess of 25,000 pounds. The increased cost was due to additions and changes from the competition submission.
- The original design of City Hall had a hemispherical dome with no clock faces or belfry. The belfry and clock were housed in a large square end block that originally extended the market wing all the way to King Street. The market wing end block was destroyed in a fire on Jan. 10, 1865. The original clock that had been given jointly by John Counter and John A. Macdonald was moved to the main dome.
- The Governor General Sir Charles Metcalf laid the City Hall corner stone June 5, 1843.
- Past tenants of City Hall include the Market Vendors, the Board of Trade, the Post Office, the Customs House, the Bank of British North America, the Mechanics Institute, the Orange Lodge, the Masons, the Merchants Exchange, A&D Shaw Dry Goods, various church groups, a saloon and some residential tenants.
- After his death in 1891, the body of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister and one-time Kingston alderman, lay in state in what is now Memorial Hall, an impressive chamber dedicated in 1921 to honour the city's war dead.
- In 1908 the cupola on top of the dome and part of the dome burned, the cupola was rebuilt in May 1909 and the new Seth Thomas clock and a new bell was installed. The 1908 clock and bell are the current clock and bell that are present in the dome today.
- In 2002 a new copper roof and clock tower reconstruction commenced along with phase-one of the masonry restoration. All four clocks were removed so that the stained glass faces could be repaired.
City Hall Cultural Management Plan
Kingston City Hall National Historic Site has served as an administrative centre and the municipal seat of governance since it was built. Since that time, it has also become a repository for many parts of the City's Civic Collection of historical artefacts and works of art that are now under the care of Kingston's City Curator. The Cultural Management Plan recognizes the significance of these heritage resources and sets out a plan to care and interpret them while respecting the demands and challenges of a working municipal building.