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- City of Kingston
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Kingston's municipal concerns were nascent for the first century after Fort Frontenac had been built at the mouth of the Cataraqui River in 1673. The French fort, on a good harbour near the source of the St. Lawrence River at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, remained little more that a trading post until 1758, when Col. John Bradstreet captured the fort and brought the surrounding land to British control. Col. Bradstreet destroyed the fort and the area remained virtually deserted until the main body of United Empire Loyalists arrived in 1784 to create the village of Cataraqui, and to settle the surrounding lands. By 1785, some fifty houses had been laid down on the 1783 townplan of J. F. Holland. With the influx of settlers, merchants, and the army troops that had preceded them, some form of local government was obviously needed, and was vigorously demanded.
As early as 1783, Michael Grass and other loyalists were petitioning the government for incorporation of municipalities with the rights of self-government previously possessed in New York. All matters which could not be disposed of in a summary manner by a magistrate were taken to the courts in Montreal, and complaints, protests and petitions resulted, until in 1788 four new administrative districts were created to the west of the French limits. Cataraqui, now known officially as Kingston, was in the Mecklenburg, later renamed Midland, District. The proclamation creating the new districts also made provision for Courts of Common Pleas for civil suits, and Courts of Quarter Sessions of Justices of the Peace, and of Oyer and Terminer and General Gaol Delivery for criminal cases.
In 1793, Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe passed an act permitting the nomination and appointment of parish and town officers. These town officers were responsible only to the magistrates of the Court and not to the people who elected them. Thus the Court of Quarter Sessions was the most important part of local government in that period. The Kingston town wardens were paid by the Court of Quarter Sessions but the business of governing was carried out by the appointed magistrates and church-wardens.
In 1816, when the population, only 300 in 1794, numbered at least 2250, an act was passed to regulate the police within the town of Kingston. By 1828, agitation for local government resulted in a move to incorporate Kingston. It was in March of 1838, that the endeavour was successful and Kingston was incorporated as a town.
The limits of Kingston were to be defined by Justices in Quarter Session. The town was to be divided into four wards, and each ward was to choose one alderman and one common councilman. These representatives were to choose the mayor from a duly qualified inhabitant. One of the first actions of the new council was to pass regulations for prevention of fires and to appoint officers for a volunteer fire company.
In 1840 the Act of Union was passed and the United Province of Upper and Lower Canada came into existence. Kingston was chosen as a suitable site for the capital. The Governor-General, Lord Sydenham, secured the land now comprising City Park and the playing fields for the projected Parliament buildings. In the meantime the new, as yet unused, hospital building provided accommodation for the Legislature.
By 1841 there was a move to erect a town hall and market building which would be in keeping with Kingstons position as a capital city. Mayor John Counter journeyed to England to raise money for the project. He returned successful in March 1843, and advertising for tenders commenced. On June 5, 1843 Governor-General Sir Charles Metcalfe laid the cornerstone of the town hall. The building was completed and ready for occupancy by the fall of 1844, just at the time the seat of government of the Canadas was moved to Montreal.
In 1846 Kingston was incorporated as a city. There had from the beginning been considerable dissatisfaction with the original incorporation act. It had been felt that there were too few councilors, and there was no provision for proper assessment. After 1846 the council increased in size and the councilors were elected annually. The city limits were extended and the whole was divided into five wards: Cataraqui, Frontenac, Sydenham, Ontario and St. Lawrence. By the 1849 Baldwin Act, city limits were again increased and Rideau and Victoria wards were added. At that time the Council consisted of the mayor, fourteen aldermen and fourteen councilmen. In 1867 the Council was reduced to the mayor and twenty-one members, three from each ward, and all were called aldermen.
The new City of Kingston came into existence effective January 1, 1998, as a result of the amalgamation of the old City of Kingston and the former Townships of Kingston and Pittsburgh. It began with a council of 17 members, consisting of one councillor from each of 12 new wards, plus the Mayor, plus four members of a board of control. Before the first term of the new council was up, it decided to abolish the board of control, thus bringing membership to the present complement of 13.
Until 2005, Kingston was operating as a Committee of the Whole system. The Committee of the Whole was composed of exactly the same members as the council. It has traditionally been used for two purposes: either to move in camera for closed discussions or to conduct informal discussions, free of the usual rules of procedure. Under a full-fledged Committee of the Whole system, council meets one week as Committee of the Whole and the next week in a regular council meeting, at which it ratifies matters arising from the Committee of the Whole deliberations. In 2005, five new 'Standing Committees' have replaced the Committee of the Whole committee system. Each Standing Committee will debate and recommend issues to City Council.