Kingston Bellevue House

sir john a macdonald

A part of Kingston’s rich history includes a visit to the Bellevue House. It was the home of Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald, from 1848 to 1849. The house is centrally located between downtown and the Kingston Penitentiary, with easy access on foot, the Kingston Trolley, or a city bus.

It was initially constructed for a wealthy Kingston merchant Charles Hale. It is believed to be the first house built of the Italian Villa style architecture in Canada. Sir John A. Macdonald moved into the house with his wife, Isabella Clark, and their infant son John Alexander in 1848.

The MacDonalds rented Bellevue House from Mr. Hale. Mrs. MacDonald was suffering from an uncertain ongoing illness, and the move to a fresh, clean, aired Kingston neighborhood would hopefully improve her health. Unfortunately, it did not help her condition. Further tragedy struck as their 13-month-old son died in the house one month after his first birthday. Although Sir John A. would have to be away from Bellevue for extended periods during parliamentary sessions and trips to his Toronto Law office, Isabella remained in the house.

In 1849 the couple moved from Bellevue House to another home in Kingston. Various other families resided in Bellevue until 1964 when Parks Canada purchased it to commemorate John A. MacDonald in Canada’s first Capital City. Exploring the house, heritage gardens, and grounds feels like stepping back in time.

Visitors will see that Park’s Canada took much care designing and decorating a historically accurate period recreation of Sir John A.’s family residence. Tour the beautiful grounds to explore the family orchard, kitchen garden, and an ornamental garden.

Touring Bellevue is like traveling back in history. Period costumed tour guides greet visitors and are available throughout the house for questions or assistance. The Front Hall forms the building’s central tower with high ceilings and a grand doorway made to impress guests. Several large wooden doors lead to the rest of the house.

There was a grand dining room where large dinner parties would be held, but due to Isabella’s ill health, the family did not entertain many guests. The first-floor Drawing Room with large bright windows is lavishly furnished and displays their grand wealth.

A first-floor library or sitting room became Isabella’s bedroom due to her poor health. The wallpaper has been reproduced from the original found during the 1966 restoration.

The basement shows the larder ( where dry goods were stored, like flour) and the kitchen where the servants ate. All meals were cooked over the open hearth, and all water was brought from a pump in the garden.

The tour continues to the upstairs with the maid’s quarters. The Macdonalds had up to 3 live-in housemaids; one for general duties, one to care for Isabella and her infant son, and one for the kitchen. The largest brightest upstairs room was the guest room with a private balcony.

The nursery was home to infant Johns Alexander and his nursemaid. There is an original cradle that belonged to the Macdonalds. It is believed that the cradle was brought with the MacDonald family when they immigrated from Scotland in 1820. Sir John a. may have even slept in it as a babe.

The upstairs Study was a quiet space and refuge. Some of the items actually belonged to Sir John A., including a wooden chest, a chair, a Kingston Directory from 1857, several volumes of the Waverly Novels, and other books. The Master bedroom overlooks Lake Ontario and the kitchen garden. All bedrooms were equipped with a chamber pot as the house did not have indoor plumbing.

It is recommended to spend at least one to two hours at Bellevue to tour the house and the gardens. There is also a very informative exhibit called The Many Voices of Confederation, which includes an interactive photo booth and to share your dream of a future in Canada. 

Check out the Kingston 1000 Islands Boat Cruise which is in Kingston ON too.

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