Description of Historic Place
Kingston City Hall is a monumental town hall, built of stone in the mid 19th century. Constructed in the Neoclassical style, it is prominently located in the heart of Kingston’s historic downtown, facing the waterfront. The property takes up a full city block. To the rear is a large, open area that accommodates the open-air stalls of a seasonal farmer’s market. The formal recognition consists of the building and the property surrounding it.
Kingston City Hall was designated a national historic site in 1961 because it is an outstanding example of the Neoclassical style in Canada, and it is a representative example of a combined-function city hall.
Designed by architect George Browne as his first major commission, Kingston City Hall follows the precedent for public buildings of its time in its composition and the emphasis on portico and dome. The Tuscan portico, removed in 1958, was rebuilt in 1966 to replicate the original. The design follows Neoclassical taste in its massive scale, the bold projection of the end pavilions and portico, and the strong emphasis on individual design elements.
Like many mid-19th-century town halls, Kingston City Hall was designed to combine the functions of town hall and market place in one building. Its impressive scale and design were in keeping with the anticipated prosperity and stature of the city as the provincial capital. The city hall provided two large meeting halls, offices and meeting space for city officials, and quarters for the custom house, post office, police station and jail. A rear section contained market space. This rear wing that was rebuilt in 1865 and again in 1973 and the dome was rebuilt in 1910. The Tuscan portico that was reconstructed in 1966.
When Kingston’s selection as provincial capital was revoked and the city’s fortunes changed, surplus space in the city hall was rented out to a variety of private interests, including saloons, shops, churches, private associations, a bank and a small theatre. Although the allocation and use of space has changed over its more than 150 years of civic use, the property’s two main functions, as town hall and marketplace, continue to the present day.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, 1984 and 1999; and Parks Canada, Kingston City Hall National Historic Site of Canada Draft Commemorative Integrity Statement, April 2003.
Key elements contributing to the heritage value of Kingston City Hall include:
- its monumental scale and T-shaped plan, consisting of a long, rectangular three-storey façade with slightly projecting end pavilions, and a rear wing projecting from the centre above which rises a large drum and dome;
- its Neoclassical style, evident in its symmetrical plan, the prominent central dome and portico, projecting pavilions, semi-rounded wings, the placement of windows within round and segmental arches, the hierarchical division of the façade into ground and upper stories, the light colour of the limestone exterior, and the symmetrical interior layout and classically inspired decoration of interior spaces;
- the division between the rusticated ground floor of channelled ashlar masonry and the smooth ashlar masonry on the upper stories;
- the existence of a central drum and dome with windows, clocks, and copper roof;
-the existence of a pedimented Tuscan portico;
- the regular, symmetrical arrangement of door and window openings along the façade;
- the profile and proportions of window openings, including, rectangular, second-storey windows set in segmental arches, and round-arched, first-storey windows set in round arches;
- its exterior detailing, including inset windows and doors, string courses, pilasters and parapets on the end pavilions, and a dentilled cornice;
- the linear quality of the façade, created by the blind arcade mouldings around the windows, the channelling of the masonry on the lower storey, the wide plain pilasters on the end pavilions, the panelling in the parapets over the end pavilions, and the string courses between storeys;
- the elegant curvature of its rear elevation;
- the strong cornice line uniting the length of the building;
- vestiges of the original carriageway through the city hall leading to the market area;
- surviving remnants of the rear market wing as rebuilt in 1865;
- its symmetrical interior layout;
- the generous provision of natural light through the use of large windows on all storeys and an oculus in the dome;
- the rational unity between interior and exterior spaces, including, the curving end walls of the pavilions and the curved ends of the assembly rooms;
- surviving Neoclassical elements in the two large interior halls, including, symmetry of features, shallow vaulted ceilings with intricate coffering and decoration, Corinthian (in Memorial Hall) or Doric (in Ontario Hall) capitals, broken pediments over the doors and a hemicycle at one end;
- its siting facing the harbour with viewscapes to and from Lake Ontario;
- the use of the building as a town hall and in particular the use of Memorial Hall as a public gathering space;
- the accommodation of a farmer’s market on the property.