June 2015 Field Trip
Preserving and Promoting local history for the former Rideau Township
Log Fence

A chest used by Sir John to store private papers was one of the artefacts on display at the house.

Leaving Bellevue House, next up was a tasty lunch at the Kingston Brewing Company, which bills itself as Ontario's oldest brew pub ( est. 1986). The bad part about this segment of the tour was that we were right beside the waterfront open market, without nearly enough time to fully enjoy the view or the wares. That's how it goes in Kingston, one should be sure to allocate ample time to amble!  

Lunch at the Kingston Brewing Pub

Lunch at the Kingston Brewing Pub

After lunch we re-boarded the bus and drove past the Macdonalds' residence where they lived after they left Bellevue House, at 180 Johnson Street. We also passed offices that John Macdonald once used at 110 Rideau Street. Our final stop was Cataraqui Cemetery,where Macdonald and various family members are buried. 

 Sir John A's cemetery plot

Sir John A's plot at the Cataraqui Cemetery

We drove back on Highway 15, through Portland, before turning east at Smiths Falls. The terrain gave Bill Tupper a naturally-occurring "teachable moment". Our former president (and retired geologist) explained we were transecting a portion of the Frontenac Arch, which contains some of the oldest rocks on the North American continent. How old? Well, the exact number is hard to establish. But the scientific estimate is at least one billion years. The youngest edges of the arch are comprised of sandstone formed by sand deposits when the Atlantic Ocean came this far inland. Those sandstone deposits are called Nepean or Postdam, depending on where they are quarried. That sandstone was quarried for use in many notable regional buildings, including Parliament Hill.

The land just beside the Frontenac arch was scoured by glaciers 12,000 years ago. The resulting thin soil and poor drainage make for an area of marginal agricultural value.

Tupper's bonus narration just goes to show that, where ever we roam, RTHS members have a very broad range of expertise to share. Full marks go out to Owen Cooke, who organizing a most enjoyable day. 

Lastly, dear readers, this will be my final article for our newsletter. My husband Craig Miller and I are moving to Vancouver Island over the summer. Barring any unforeseen mishap, we will be gone by the time meetings resume in September. Much as we have loved living in Kars and North Gower, circumstances call us westward.

It has been a great pleasure to be among you and learn about local heritage together. I, for one, hate to leave! But the book of life continues-with more chapters as yet unwritten. With sincere gratitude for your friendship and kindness, I bid you all a fond aloha.  

23 members took advantage of the bus trip

Photo by Ed Wills

Twenty three members of the Rideau Township Historical Society took the trip on a beautiful Saturday.

The last event before the summer break was our traditional field trip. In this case, we hit the road for a day that focused on Sir John Alexander Macdonald's many connections to Kingston, Ontario.  

We were treated to a perfect June day: neither cold nor hot, with blue skies, sunny warmth and gentle breezes. Twenty-three members and interested guests gathered at the client centre on Roger Steven's Drive for the 90 minute trip t9 Kingston. We rode on a very comfortable charter bus from Howard Transportation of Athens. Driver Ed Wills gave us a choice of routes. By popular acclaim we took the 416 to the Thousand Islands Parkway to enjoy lovely river views.  

Arriving in Kingston via the south causeway, Owen Cooke provided a running narrative of prominent historic sites, such as Ft. Frontenac, Ft. Henry, the Royal Military College facilities, Kingston City Hall (completed in 1844) and a statue of Macdonald in City Park. Our first stop was Bellevue House, a few blocks west of Queen's University. The property was made a National Historic Site in 1995.  The house and grounds reflect life there in the 1840s.

 Belleview House

Bellevue House, a few blocks west of Queen's University

Bellevue House Bellevue House was built for Kingston merchant Charles Hales between 1839 and 1840, in the style of an Italian villa. Kingston lawyer John A. Macdonald (1815-1891) and his first wife, Isabella Clark Macdonald (1811-1857) lived there from 1848 to 1849. Their short residence at Bellevue was marred by ill health for Isabelle, and sorrow for all when their first son, John Jr., died at Bellevue at age 13 months.

Tours at Bellevue House are self-guided, with docents in period dress on hand to take questions. That was something many in RTHS could either relate to, or use for comparison, in the operation of Dickinson House.

We were told Bellevue House has a small (but meaningful) handful of artifacts that actually belonged to the the Macdonald family: a family cradle from Scotland, the trunk in the study, the office chair and some dictionaries in French and Latin are displayed in the study. The separate visitor's centre (which we saw first) had a display of papers and photographs relating to Canada's first prime minister.  They are on loan from Library and Archives Canada. 

Outside Bellevue House's rear door there is a quiet expanse lawn and a gazebo, shaded by a number of stately trees. South of that lawn is a large, sunny and well-tended garden showcasing an interesting array of flowers, vegetables and herbs known to be in cultivation at that time.  

 The garden at Bellview House

Many RTHS members very much enjoyed the gardens at Belleview House.

The working garden was very engrossing to many on our tour. Head Gardener Kris Dimnik explained the produce is sent to a local restaurant, Sir John A's Public House, as well as to Loving Spoonful, a charitable organization working to enhance access to healthy food through various outreach programs.  

Dimnik and another colleague (whose name I failed to collect, sorry!) tend the large garden in period dresses and bonnets. We were told the heavy clothing tends to be hot and the off-the-shoulder pattern can leave upper arms sore and bruised. In the 1840s those jobs would have almost certainly been held by men. In the off season, Dimnik works at a Kingston Flower shop.   .  

The RTHS 2015 June Field Trip

Kingston and Sir John A. Macdonald Sites

Article and photos by Lucy Martin (except as noted)