Please note that the Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation and the Kingston Archaeology Centre have closed. This site is still available for historical and informational reasons, but none of the services or products described here are available anymore.


During the spring of 1980, the Government of Ontario finalized plans for the construction of a building in the city of Kingston to house the administrative staff of the Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan, known as the Macdonald-Cartier building. The site chosen for the OHIP building was the NE corner of Place d’Armes and Wellington Streets along the west bank of the Cataraqui River. Due to its location on Kingston’s Inner Harbour and the close proximity of Fort Frontenac (1673-1758), the historic significance of the site was immediately recognized by the Historic Planning and Research Branch of the Ministry of Culture and Recreation. Therefore before building could commence, archaeological excavations were undertaken.

The early history of the Kingston Harbour Front Site must be viewed in relationship to the more general history of Kingston. The first significant European occupation within the area of the site was Fort Frontenac (1673). During the French occupation, the strengthened fortifications underwent several periods of abandonment and reconstruction before being finally lost to the British in 1758. Maps and plans from the French period do not indicate the presence of any structures in the immediate area of the Kingston Harbour Front Site, despite the close proximity of the French fort.

With the influx of Loyalists from the United States and the re-occupation of Fort Frontenac by the British in the late 18th century, the newly established town of Kingston began to grow. The British military occupied most of the area immediately adjacent to the old French fort, including the area of the Kingston Harbour Front Site. By the late 1790s, maps of the Kingston harbour area indicate the presence of 4 structures along the shoreline within the area of the site. Labeled as the Royal Engineers’ Houses, the buildings are depicted on maps until 1816 when they were replaced by a complex of structures known as the Royal Engineers’ Yard. Prior to the laying of Place d’Armes St in the mid-1820s, the yard extended south to Barrack St. With the new street the yard was limited to the section north of Place d’Armes. During the mid-1850s, the Royal Engineers’ workshop and office was relocated across the Cataraqui River at Point Frederick.

Soon after the departure of the Royal Engineers, the grounds of the former yard were utilized as a Hay and Wood Market for the city of Kingston. In 1866 the City of Kingston purchased the property from the military. The market continued to occupy the greater part of the site until 1877 when the city divided the property into regular lots. Shortly after the division of the property, various lots were sold for private development. Ownership of the property was once again consolidated in 1911-12 with the purchase of all lots in the block by the Grand Trunk Rail Road. The Grand Trunk established it’s freight yard on the property with a series of 7 sidings originating off the main line. At the corner of Wellington and Place d’Armes was the freight office. The yard served as the main Grand Trunk/Canadian National freight depot for Kingston until the mid-1960s. By 1969, the last traces of the once busy freight yard disappeared with the removal of the sidings and the main rail line.

In short the Kingston Harbour Front Site saw 4 distinct phases since the arrival of Europeans: The British Military Royal Engineers phase from late 18th century to858; the Commercial/Industrial phase from 1858 to 1912, and the concurrent Domestic Housing phase from 1872-1912; and the Rail Road Freight Yard phase from 1912 to 1969.

Due to development of the site in from the 1870s through the 20th century, much of the evidence relating to the earlier occupation of the site was not expected to have survived. Archaeological excavations revealed that some areas of the site remained undeveloped and showed evidence of the earlier occupation. A limestone wall was associated with the Royal Engineers’ workshops. The wall, averaging 0.70 to 0.80 meters in width and about 0.50 meters in height, was heavily damaged in three spots due to the placement of wooden piles for the rail road period freight shed. Historical plans of the yard provided a variety of possible configurations for the workshop complex and excavations were expanded to the south in order to determine the more accurate of the plans and to orientate the section of wall located. This revealed the south-east corner of the structure and helped in identifying it as the Royal Engineers’ black smith's shop. Unfortunately, there was no possibility of excavating within the area of the structure due to its location under Wellington Street.

The weigh house, relating to the Hay and Wood Market, was represented by a limestone wall which runs north-south but had been partially dismantled to accommodate the cement foundation of the later city weigh scales. Also relating to the Commercial/Industrial Phase of the site history was a feature, previously identified as a mid-19th century wharf structure, that was actually part of a large planing mill dating from the late 19th century. A second section of the mill was located through the excavation of a wooden ‘basement’ feature. The limestone foundations for Angrove’s Brass and Iron Foundry (1901-11) were located. By combining the information available from the excavations and the 1892/1904 Fire Insurance Map, the overall dimensions o f the structure can be estimated at a minimum of 16 meters north-south by 14.6 meters east-west. Heavy deposits of cinder possibly originating in the foundry have been found at various locations around the foundry.

Following the division of the Hay and Wood Market property in to city lots ca. 1877, four dwellings were constructed along Wellington Street. One of the house structures was substantially excavated. The overall dimensions of the main structure were 11.90 meters north-south by 7.90 meters east-west. Added onto the back or east side of the house was an appendage 7.30 meters north-south by 4.25 meters east-west. According to the 1892/1904 Fire Insurance Map, the house was a two storey brick structure while the appendage was constructed of wood. The predominance of brick as a building material is substantiated by the thick deposit of plaster, brick and mortar rubble recovered from the interior of the house. A series of outbuildings located along the eastern periphery of the house lots were depicted on the 1892/1904 Fire Insurance Map. Several of these features were located during the excavation.

Rail road tracks belonging to the Grand Trunk and Kingston-Pembroke Rail Roads had crossed the north-east corner of the property as early as 1876 but the real impact of the rail road was not felt until 1911-12 when the Grand Trunk purchased all the lots which make up the present area of study. At that time the houses along Wellington Street were demolished to make way for the construction of a freight office and shed. Angrove’s Foundry was also torn down to accommodate the various spur lines which were laid out across the site. The freight office, approximately 9.8 meters north-south by 12.2 meters east-west, was a single storey frame structure set on a cement foundation. Wooden forms were used in the construction of the interior of the foundation bu t apparently not for the exterior of the foundation walls. Extending north from the freight office was a freight shed. The shed, a wood frame structure approximately 85 meters by 12 meters was constructed on wooden piles rather than an 'in-ground' foundation. The demolition of the shed and office occurred in the mid-1960s and the removal of the tracks a few years later.

The present Macdonald-Cartier building that houses the administrative staff of the Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan was constructed in 1983.