Here in Kingston at 270 King Street East is St. George’s Cathedral. This is not only a place of worship for the Anglican faith but a landmark of downtown Kingston.
Just after the dust settled following the American Revolution, Loyalists flocked to the British colony that is now Canada. In 1792, the first St. George’s was constructed across from today’s present-day Springer Market Square. John Stuart, himself a Loyalist refugee from the American War of Independence, was the first Rector and would be labelled as the ‘Father of the Anglican Church in Upper Canada.’
By 1825, St. George’s Cathedral moved to its present site at 270 King Street East. Designed by Thomas Rogers, the building would deviate from the original structure by being built out of stone. A decade later, the building would be enlarged with the portico and Doric columns being added to enhance the rectangular structure.
The most famous resident of the church would find his home in 1841. The Governor General of the United Province of Canada, Lord Sydenham died on September 19, 1841, and was buried in a vault under the nave. Having resigned his position some time before, and slated to return to England, Sydenham had fallen from his horse and was dragged for a period. The injury he sustained and the infection that developed ultimately killed the politician.
With the Governor General secured forever within the church, the decades went on and saw the creation of Canada as a nation. St. George’s stood those years in the warmth and cold, the storms and the cholera epidemics, and even the great fires along the shoreline that greeted Charles Dickens on his visit to our city.
It was a bitterly cold New Year’s Day when St. George’s would fall victim to fire as well. It was 1899 and the start of the new year brought a blast of frigid weather to city. Firemen responded to the call, but had trouble battling the blaze. Due to the freezing temperatures, the hoses froze and pumping water to combat the inferno became a serious issue. It was a dangerous fire, as two firemen named Burns and Sands were injured when they were struck by falling debris.
The flames wouldn’t stop St. George’s Cathedral, as it was rebuilt in eighteen months based on the 1890’s version of the building. Twenty-five years later, the building would be debt free and stand tall into the new millennium as a symbol of downtown Kingston.
St. George’s Cathedral is a place of worship, but is also a site to see for the multitude of tourists that walk the downtown streets of Kingston in the summer months. Tourists and locals alike are invited to visit the beauty of the building, to learn the history of the people who have come before, and to stare and marvel at the architecture of this building.
Their summer concert series draws in crowds from the curious passersby to the planned visitors. This summer take a moment to visit and talk to one of the numerous volunteers at St. George’s. These invaluable members of the church will take you on tour of the building and tell you about the history these walls hold.
When I walked in for a quick look around, I was met by a volunteer whom led me on a tour and described the history of Lord Sydenham and the church. My guide informed me about the legend of Sydenham, who was a member of the church but had fallen into dislike by the congregation for his social life. The bachelor politician had apparently taken up with a local woman, of whom the congregation disapproved. Sydenham being an outspoken character was fed up with the gossip of the congregation and confronted many churchgoers with the statement that he was fed up with St. George’s and the people, and that the only way they would see him in this church again was over his dead body.
As my guide related the story with some mirth, for this truly was an exaggerated tale, I laughed as well because I knew where this story was going to finish. Supposedly, it was just a few weeks later that many of those same church goers attended Lord Sydenham’s funeral in St. George’s Cathedral.
Here in Kingston at 270 King Street East is an artifact of our past. For many tourists this summer, a stop in St. George will be automatic. For the residents of Kingston, take a moment this summer to stop in at 270 King Street East. Walk through the doors and learn about a piece of our history. Just remember that St. George’s Cathedral is a place of worship. Have fun, but be respectful.
Bill Gowsell was born and raised in Kingston. With an interest in history, food, wine, and all things Disney, Bill has been writing for the last eight years on a variety of topics. During the summers he can be found at the family cottage north of Kingston, or at the bottom of Lake Ontario… scuba diving.