Kingston General Hospital National Historic Site of Canada

Kingston, Ontario
General view showing the classical design. © Parks Canada
General view.
© Parks Canada
General view showing the classical design. © Parks CanadaClassical features of the Empire Wing. © Parks CanadaView of east and north elevations. © Parks Canada
Address : 76 Stuart Street, Kingston, Ontario

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1995-11-24
  • 1833 to 1924 (Construction)

Other Name(s):
  • Kingston General Hospital  (Designation Name)
Research Report Number: 1995-057


Existing plaque:  76 Stuart Street, Kingston, Ontario

An enduring witness to the evolution of public health care, Kingston General is one of Canada's oldest functioning hospitals. Most of its early buildings have survived, notably the Main Building and the Watkins Wing which date to a time when hospitals were places for the care of the poor. Expansion in the late-19th and early-20th centuries marked the transformation of this charitable hospital into a centre of scientific medicine. The Nickle Wing for patients with infectious diseases, the Doran Building for the care of women and children, and the Fenwick Operating Theatre all date to the 1890s. They show the gradual shift away from treatment in the home in favour of the hospital, which offered new surgical techniques and an antiseptic environment. The new nurses' home, completed in 1904, acknowledged the advance of nursing as a profession critical to the institution. Opened in 1914, the Empire Wing with its private and semi-private rooms demonstrates the hospital's acceptance by the well-to-do. These early buildings form an integral part of a larger hospital complex that continues to reflect new approaches to medical treatment.

Description of Historic Place

Kingston General Hospital National Historic Site of Canada is a complex of limestone hospital buildings of classically inspired design, built between 1833 and 1924. The seven interconnected buildings that make up the national historic site are set within a larger hospital campus of post-1924 buildings, known as Kingston General Hospital. The hospital is located in the city of Kingston, on the southern edge of Queen’s University Campus and adjacent to Lake Ontario. The original hospital building (Main Building, 1833-5) and its two lateral wings (the Watkins Wing, 1862; and the Nickle Wing, 1890-1) face northward onto Stuart Street. A semi-circular building housing a 19th-century operating amphitheatre (Fenwick Operating Theatre, 1895) is adjoined to the rear of the Main Building. Behind these buildings are a late-19th-century maternity hospital (Doran Building 1893-4), an early-20th-century nurses’ residence (the Ann Baillie Building National Historic Site of Canada, 1903-4) and an early 20th-century wing of private and semi-private rooms (the Empire Wing, 1914; 1923-4). Most of the buildings are directly adjoined or connected by passageways. Some are also adjoined or connected to other more recent hospital buildings. The arrangement of buildings has created an informal courtyard at the rear of the Main Building. The formal recognition is confined to the seven identified buildings on their footprints.

Heritage Value

Kingston General Hospital was designated a national historic site in 1995 for three reasons: It is the oldest public hospital in Canada still in operation with most of its buildings intact and thus effectively illustrates the evolution of health care in Canada in the 19th and 20th centuries; The Main Building and the Watkins Wing are noteworthy for their lengthy association with the origins of hospitals as institutions of poor relief in the pre-Confederation era; and The Nickle Wing, Doran Building, Fenwick Opening Theatre, Ann Baillie Building, and the Empire Wing chronicle the transformation of charitable hospitals into centres of scientific medicine during the 1880-1920 period.

The seven buildings comprising the Kingston General Hospital National Historic Site illustrate the evolution of hospitals in Canada from 19th-century charitable institutions, to 20th-century centres for scientific medicine. The Main Building of Kingston General Hospital was the third, purpose-built, public general hospital in Canada and is the oldest one still operating as part of a modern hospital.

In the early 19th century, the sick usually were cared for at home. Charitable institutions cared for the destitute sick. The Main Building of Kingston General Hospital was built in 1833-5 to provide a permanent charitable hospital. Its domestic scale and design reflected the early-19th century preference for home-like settings. It also served as Parliament for the United Canadas for several years, before opening as a hospital in 1845. The Watkins Wing, added in 1862, provided additional patient space and reflected advances in the care and treatment of the sick and in public attitudes, providing isolation wards for smallpox cases, wards for paying patients, and a surgery/lecture room for instructing medical students.

The Nickle Wing, added in 1890-1, provided isolation units for patients with infectious disease, and accommodation for nurses and students of the nursing school established at the hospital in 1886. The Doran Building, built in 1894, provided separate facilities for maternity patients, gynaecology, and children. Its pavilion-style design and interior finishes responded directly to the use of isolation, asepsis and antisepsis to prevent infection. Its surgery reflected a renewed emphasis on surgical procedure in obstetrics and gynaecology. The Fenwick Operating Theatre, added in 1895, provided an operating amphitheatre with seats for observers, reflecting the growing importance of surgeons and medical training and the need for a sterile, well-lit environment. It is the only extant pre-1920 operating amphitheatre in Canada. The construction of the nurses’ residence (Ann Baillie Building) in 1904 to plans by William Newlands reflected the critical importance of nurses at the hospital and the success of the nursing school. The construction of the Empire Wing with private and semi-private rooms in 1912-14, and its subsequent expansion, reflected the increasing proportion of paying patients and the acceptance of hospitals by the well-to-do.

Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1995 and November 1989.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements associated with the heritage value of Kingston General Hospital as a charitable institution for the care of the destitute and sick during the pre-Confederation era include:
the classical design, domestic proportions and limestone construction of the Main Building and the Watkins Wing; features of the Main Building, including its low, hipped roof punctuated by massive chimneys, its identical front and rear facades with a frontispiece on each, and its large windows and balconies on each storey to provide cross-ventilation.
Key elements associated with the heritage value of the Kingston General Hospital’s association with the evolution of hospital care in Canada and as a centre of scientific medicine during the 1880-1920 period include: the sober design and classical features of the Nickle Wing, Doran Building, Fenwick Operating Theatre, Ann Baillie Building and Empire Wing, including their low, hipped roofs with large chimneys, pedimented frontispieces on the Nickle Wing, Doran Building and Empire Wing, and a monumental, columned portico on the Ann Baillie Building; the limestone construction or exteriors of the late-19th century and early-20th century buildings, maintaining the architectural character set by earlier hospital buildings; the decorative detailing of the Nickle Wing, restricted to the stonework around the entrance and the circular windows on either side; features of the Doran Building that typify a ‘pavilion hospital’, including the rectangular plan, two-storey height, former sunporches, and numerous windows; features of the Fenwick Operating Theatre (1895), including its semi-circular plan, two-storey height, and physical connection to the Main Building; the Ann Baillie Building, including its two-storey height and cross-axial plan, hammer-dressed limestone exterior, string courses delineating each storey, and its monumental portico of Beaux-Arts inspiration, with classical, stone columns and pilasters, and wooden balustrades; surviving original interior features of the Ann Baillie Building, including the cross-axial plan, original layout and partitions, plain plaster walls, and fireplace in the main floor sitting room; features of the Empire Wing that typify a ‘pavilion hospital’, including its separation from other buildings, the long, rectangular plan, its three storey height and raised basement, and the brick passageway connecting it to the Main Building, designed to isolate patient wards from operating rooms; surviving original interior features of the Empire Wing, including the layout, with private rooms arranged on either side of a central corridor, and an elevator passageways between buildings; renovations to the Main Building and the Watkins Wing undertaken in 1929-31 reflecting the 20th century trend towards monumentally scaled, integrated hospital blocks, including additional storeys, an addition adjoining the Watkins Wing to the Doran Building, limestone exteriors on the new additions, remodelled balconies on the Main Building, and surviving original interior finishes and partitions.