KGH recognizes historic milestone 175 years in the making

News / General / KGH History
By John Pereira

Special event marks our role as site of Canada's first Parliament meeting

Having celebrated Kingston General Hospital’s 175th birthday back in 2013 most people know that we’re an organization with a rich history. But another important milestone was recently commemorated at KGH that recognized our role in the foundation of our country. 

Tuesday, June 14 marked the 175th anniversary of the first Parliament meeting of the united Province of Canada in what is now our historic Watkins wing. According to the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, that first sitting took place and its members were sworn in here on June 14, 1841.

To help celebrate this special occasion an event was held on the lawn outside of the Watkins wing which was attended by members from each level of government including MP Mark Gerretsen, MPP Sophie Kiwala and Mayor Bryan Paterson. 

“The fact that KGH’s buildings played such an important role in the founding of Canada is an important part of our history we are happy to highlight,” says Interim President and CEO Jim Flett. 

The construction of our original limestone building in 1835 marks the beginning of our colourful history as the oldest continually operated hospital in Canada. It wasn’t until 1838 that our first patients arrived, and they were 19 American prisoners who were captured during the Battle of The Windmill near Prescott. However, following the treatment of those first patients, there wasn’t enough funding available to continue operations as a hospital. So, local officials began to look for another use for the building.

After the Union of the Canadas was officially proclaimed in February of 1841, Governor General Lord Sydenham officially named Kingston as the new Capital. The vacant hospital building was chosen to be the new temporary home for Parliament and it underwent significant renovations to make it more suitable to house the government. Interior spaces were expanded so that rooms were large enough to house the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council and office space was provided for the Governor General as well as other government officials.

The Parliament continued to meet here for three years until the capital was relocated to Montreal in 1844. Once Parliament had left, by 1845 enough funding was secured to begin once again offering care for patients. 

Since that time, our Watkins wing has undergone extensive renovations, so unfortunately, little of what our first parliamentarians would have seen inside the building remains today. Thankfully much of the façade on the Stuart Street side of the building remains the same. The old limestone walls continue to greet our staff, volunteers, patients and families each day, much as they did 175 years ago when the members of our first parliament arrived here by horse and buggy.

"Despite the change in the nature of the business that took place inside this building, the goal of the individuals who have worked inside has remained the same, to serve the people of Kingston and Canada," says KGH Board Chair Scott Carson. "Although our days as the home to parliament has long since come to an end, we look forward to continuing to shaping the future of our country by playing a leading role in pioneering innovative health-care practices and conducting health research to improve the lives of Canadians."