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Bellevue House National Historic Site of Canada was the home to Canada's first Prime Minister Sir John Alexander Macdonald from 1848 to 1849. The house is located in a residential neighbourhood bordering the Queen's University student housing area in Kingston, Ontario. Coordinates:
Bellevue House was constructed around 1840 by Charles Hales, a wealthy Kingston merchant who profited greatly from the prosperous decade of the 1830s. Bellevue House, located at 35 Centre St. between Union and King streets in Kingston, Ontario, is one of the first and finest examples of Italian Villa architecture in Canada. Sir John A. Macdonald moved into the house with his wife Isabella Clark and their son John Alexander in 1848.
Bellevue House in Kingston is notable for the non-symmetrical Italian Villa style of its architecture. The house has three main floors, but is further divided by seven separate levels. The first floor is notable for the very large drawing room, containing a parlour piano manufactured in London, England in about 1820 and two oil paintings whose subjects are unknown. The first floor of the house also contains the formal dining room and a room that is currently interpreted as Isabella's bedroom (though this would likely have been a morning room for other families living at Bellevue in the 19th Century).
Moving down toward the cellar, one can see the large, bright and airy kitchen. The basement contains both a storage area (used for the storage of fruits, vegetables, and preserves) and a laundry room. On the top floor of the house, several rooms are interpreted. These include a guest room, maid's bedroom, nursery, study, dressing room and master bedroom. On the observation floor of the central tower of Bellevue, characteristic of the Italianate style, one finds a picturesque view of Lake Ontario.
Much of what is known about the stay of Sir John A. Macdonald and his family at Bellevue has been gleaned from both general historical knowledge of the 19th century in Kingston and from five letters that Macdonald himself wrote while living at Bellevue. The Macdonalds rented Bellevue, a grand house that was beyond their middle-class means, in the sincere hope that the fresh air of what were then the outer suburbs of Kingston would assist in Isabella's recovery. Unfortunately, the experiment was largely a failure, and Isabella did not recover from her chronic malady. In addition to this burden, tragedy further struck the young family when their first-born son, John Alexander Jr., died in the house a month after his first birthday.
As a young lawyer and politician, as well as a prominent citizen of Kingston in this time period, Sir John would have been absent dealing with his political affairs quite frequently from Bellevue, something that very likely upset his wife. Despite her frail condition, she is said to have kept a watchful eye on the servants and the day-to-day affairs of the house.
While entertaining was indeed expected of prominent lawyers and politicians like Macdonald in the 19th century, Isabella's frail condition prevented her from fulfilling this part of her responsibility as a politician's wife. For this reason, the drawing room and the back parlour would have remained silent for most of the time while the Macdonald family stayed at Bellevue House. The only guest, in fact, that is known to have stayed at Bellevue House between 1848 and 1849 while the Macdonalds lived at the villa was Lt. Col. John Clark, an officer in the British military who was Isabella's brother and a trusted member of the family.
Given the expenses associated with renting Bellevue and the fact that Isabella continued to suffer from chronic illness, the Macdonald family moved from Bellevue House in 1849 to another house in Kingston.
Bellevue House is a National Historic Site of Canada owned and operated by Parks Canada. It is the only national park system unit commemorating Macdonald as first Prime Minister, and is one of the main attractions in Kingston. Admission lets visitors watch an informational video, browse artifacts and experience interpretative techniques meant to bring alive what life was like for the Macdonalds as a middle-class family in Kingston in the 1840s.
The Visitor Centre, located on the site of what was the old coach house beside Bellevue, welcomes visitors with an introductory multilingual video, a display area filled with artifacts related to Sir John, and a gift shop. Visitors are welcome to look around, take a photo with a life-size Sir John, and then continue to the historic house where guided and self-guided tours are available from interpreters dressed as gentlemen and maids from the 1840s.
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