Downtown Kingston has a wealth of history waiting to be discovered. This new series of articles ‘Here in Kingston’ will focus on locations in and around the city that have unique or special stories that may have been forgotten or are unknown by readers. In this inaugural piece, 285 King Street East will be highlighted. Today it is the home of the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, but it has a historical tale waiting to be told.
At the corner of King and Clarence stands 285 King St. E. The Four Points by Sheraton stands tall at this address, casting a shadow over the corner, but if you travelled back in time to this very spot in 1842, you would find a hotel standing there, too. Shorter in height with less rooms than the Four Points, Daley’s would stand out for its comfort and class, and for a famous guest. In May of 1842, on this spot where Clarence and King Street meet, noted author Charles Dickens, would check in to a suite in the establishment for three days.
Dickens was on tour in America, and after having visited Niagara Falls and spent days staring at the natural wonder, the British wordsmith would make his way around Lake Ontario with his wife, Kate, stopping in Toronto, and finally visiting Kingston, the capital of the United Province of Canada.
Dickens was less than impressed with what greeted him on the morning of his arrival in our fair city. It was May 7, 1842, when Dickens sailed into Kingston Harbour and a city that was rebuilding from the previous year disaster when warehoused kegs of gunpowder stored in the Kingston harbour front had exploded, causing devastation and turning the majestic waterfront into charred embers.
Checking into the finest place he could, Dickens took a suite at Daley’s for he and his wife. Dickens himself took note of the city’s appearance and reflected on what Kingston looked like in his work, American Notes.
“Kingston, now the seat of government in Canada, is a very poor town, rendered still poorer in the appearance of its marketplace by the ravages of a recent fire. That one half of it appears to be burnt down, and the other half not to be built up.”
During his stay Dickens would travel out to Kingston Mills and view the Rideau Canal waterway. At Fort Henry, Dickens took a tour of this important garrison that stood at the meeting place of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, protecting British and Canadian interests from the Americans.
He left on May 10, 1842 aboard the steamer Gildersleeve for Montreal and Quebec City. He may not have had a favourable impression of the aesthetic qualities of our town, but to Charles Dickens, “Canada has held and always will retain a foremost place in my remembrance!”
The owners at Daley’s would commemorate the author’s stay with a bronze plaque on the wall of his suite, reminding guests that a great literary mind had stayed here for three days in May of 1842.
When the hotel in its last form, the British American, burned to the ground on March 19, 1963, the bronze plaque with Dickens’ name melted in the inferno. This hotel which was once a posh social centre of Upper Canada had seen better days when she was consumed with flames on that night in March of 1963.
The hotel’s last owner was Nate Hendin. Trying to build something new on the site of this famed hotel, Hendin opened a Brewer’s Retail, which closed in the 1990s. A planned office building with underground parking was the next step for this corner of King and Clarence Street. However, financial problems would stop the project, and the giant crater that was dug as the precursor to this office building would be left to fill with water and sit vacant for years.
The ‘Hendin Hole’ would become an eyesore of downtown Kingston, with tourists and locals wondering how deep it was and how much water was in there. The Melo family purchased the property in 1994, and six years later the current resident of this famous corner of Kingston, the Four Points would open its doors.
285 King Street East has hundreds of years of history with socialites and famous authors coming to this corner to rest their weary feet during their travels. It’s nice to see that this site in Kingston continues the long tradition that its predecessors started.
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.