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William Coverdale (1801-1865), son of Christopher Coverdale, came to Kingston in 1832 or 1833. There is conjecture that the family came to Lower Canada about 1810 from England. The first two children of Catherine and William Coverdale were born at Île aux Noix, Lower Canada, the remainder in Kingston. The earliest mention of Coverdale in Kingston appears in the St George’s Church parish register, recording the birth of a son on 23 Sept. 1833.
Coverdale became the “master builder” at the penitentiary in June 1834 and held the post 14 years. During that time the main building and gatehouse were slowly constructed, mostly with convict labour. In 1848, a bill introduced by Henry Smith, son of Warden Henry Smith of the penitentiary, passed parliament; the bill cut the architect’s salary and increased that of the warden. Coverdale resigned and, because of the constant difficulties he had experienced with the warden, refused reappointment when the salary was restored.
In 1859 Coverdale also became the architect – the term he had used to describe himself after 1842 – for the asylum in Kingston and continued on this project to his death. The building he planned was erected mainly by convict labour and took over eight years to finish; the centre and the east wing were formally opened in March 1865.
The penitentiary and asylum buildings, both still standing, mark the beginning and end of Coverdale’s work in Kingston. Between his activities on these two massive works, he designed and built every manner of structure. The residences he planned ranged from workmen’s cottages to country mansions. Although his account book lists a few commissions in an area extending from Prescott to Port Hope and up to Perth, most of his work was in Kingston.
In 1844 Coverdale took over the superintendence of the building of Kingston’s magnificent town hall from George Browne. When the rear wing burned in 1865, he prepared plans for its rebuilding, but was unable to complete the project, passing away in 1865. The work was carried out after his death by his son, William Miles Coverdale (1828?-1884). W. M. Coverdale had trained under his father, and in addition to rebuilding City Hall he completed a number of building and restoration projects on his own before becoming City Engineer, a post he held until his death on 11 June 1884.
William Hugh Coverdale (1871-1949), son of William Miles Coverdale, was a collector of Canadiana and President of Canada Steamship Lines, 1922-1949. W. H. Coverdale is recognized as one of the first collectors to take an interest in objects reflecting the traditional culture of French Canada.
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