Jeff Green | Jan 14, 2015
The Frontenac County offices are located in what county staff call "The Old House", which is at the southeast corner of a horseshoe-shaped building complex that includes the Fairmount Long Term Care Home and the new Rotary Auditorium. The site is located in what was once Pittsburgh Township, which was part of Frontenac County before 1998 but is now part of the City of Kingston. The fact that its offices are located in a neighboring municipality is one of the many quirks of Frontenac County, but more on that later.
In the basement of "The Old House" there is a hallway leading to the offices of the county-run Frontenac Paramedic Services. The walls are full of photographs of Frontenac County wardens. The photos don't quite go back to the beginnings of the County in 1885, but they do go back about 100 years. The photos are predominately of men in the 50 and over demographic, and they demonstrate a change in facial hair fashion over the 20th Century. Moustaches, mutton chops and full beards grew less and less common as the century wore on. Still, very few women have served as warden. Exceptions were Isabel Turner – later the mayor of Kingston for one term, Frances Smith and most recently, Janet Gutowski.
The roots of the name Frontenac County go back to Sieur de Frontenac, an early governor of New France who established Fort Frontenac (a.k.a. Fort Cataraqui) at the mouth of the Cataraqui River in 1673. The fort was destroyed and rebuilt several times, and still functions to this day as the Canadian Army Staff and Command College.
In the early 1800s, as what was then a colony of England was working towards self-government, the establishment of individual townships and the overarching Midland District, which encompassed what are now the City of Kingston and the Counties of Frontenac and Lennox and Addington, took place.
In 1850, the City of Kingston was established as its own legal entity, and the United Counties of Frontenac and Lennox and Addington were also established.
Over the next 14 years, events took place that resonate to this day in determining the borders of townships and counties. In 1855, representatives from Barrie and Kennebec wards requested that they be attached to Lennox and Addington, and in 1857 Kennebec residents requested unity with Kaladar township. To make matters more complicated, changes to the Municipal Act permitted withdrawal from a county simply by passing a county bylaw. That same year, the United Counties moved into the newly built county courthouse, which was (and still is) located in the City of Kingston on Union street at the north end of City Park.
In 1860 two contradictory events took place. First, former United Counties Warden Roblin, who was by that time sitting as a member of the provincial legislature, introduced a bill to separate the counties. Later, a motion to keep the counties united was passed by the local council by a vote of 20-6.
By 1863 United County Council had swollen to 35 members. A motion to investigate the possibility of separating was approved by an 18-11 vote, and a further motion reaffirming unity was also approved, but only by a vote of 17-13.
Within a year, the document of separation was signed by the last warden of the United Counties, S. Warner, in front of 34 of the 35 council members. The date was September 17, 1864.
The new Lennox and Addington Council met shortly thereafter, but the first session of the New County of Frontenac did not take place until January 25, 1865. That's why although L&A County celebrated their 150th anniversary last year, the 150th anniversary of Frontenac County is being marked in 2015.
Although there was talk of revisiting the county borders when municipal amalgamation was mandated by the Province of Ontario 130 years later, in 1997, the province said the 1865 boundaries could not be altered. This was not well received by some politicians from Kennebec and Barrie Wards of Frontenac County and Kaladar ward in Lennox and Addington, who felt much as their predecessors had in the 1850s.
In 1865, Frontenac County was made up of the following townships: Barrie, Bedford and Palmerston, Clarendon, Hinchinbooke, Kennebec, Kingston, Loughborough, Olden, Oso, Pittsburgh and Howe Island, Portland, and Portsmouth.
While the City of Kingston was, and has remained, distinct from Frontenac County, there have always been a number of institutions tying the city and the surrounding county together, such as the Frontenac County Courthouse and the Kingston-Frontenac Public Health Unit. Other connections between Kingston and Frontenac are symbolic, such as the Kingston Frontenacs hockey team and the location of Fort Frontenac within the boundaries of the city.
Over time, the city has also swallowed up county territory. In 1952, Portsmouth Village was annexed by the city.
Pressure from the provincial government to amalgamate townships and institute a regional system of government started to build in the 1960s.
In 1969 Frontenac County Council sent a letter to local MPP, J.R. Simonett, advising him that the county rejected any suggestion that a regional government study be conducted for Frontenac County. In 1970 a second letter was sent. “Frontenac County does not wish at any time to enter into any form of discussion to consider any form of amalgamation or Regional System of Government. We have operated well and economically ... and we wish to continue with the same system,” the letter said.
That seemed to hold the forces of amalgamation at bay for 30 years, but everything changed in the mid-1990s.
The Conservative government, under Premier Mike Harris, mandated municipal amalgamation, telling local politicians that if they did not come to an acceptable arrangement the province would step in.
As a result of the ensuing negotiations, Frontenac County essentially ceased to exist in 1998.
Of its 15 townships, two (Kingston and Pittsburgh townships) became part of the amalgamated City of Kingston. The other 13 became the four Frontenac townships (North, South, and Central Frontenac and Frontenac Islands). The townships were designed to be able to handle all the responsibilities formerly taken up by the county. In place of the county structure the Frontenac Management Board, made up of the mayors of the four townships, was set up to oversee the Fairmount Long Term Care Home and the Howe Island ferry and act as a intermediary between the townships, the City of Kingston and the province. The city was charged with providing social services to the Frontenac townships under a local services re-alignment (LSR) agreement.
At the same time, the Frontenac Public Library and the Kingston Public Library amalgamated to become the Kingston Frontenac Public Library.
In 2004, partly because the Frontenac Management Board subsequently took on the responsibility of providing land ambulance service for the Frontenac townships as well as the City of Kingston and also embarked on a major re-development of the Fairmount Home, the Frontenac Management Board members decided to re-establish Frontenac County.
In 2010 Frontenac County Council was expanded to eight members (two representatives – the mayor and a council appointee - from each of the four townships)
To this day, just as in 1865, members of Frontenac County Council tend to be wary of attempts to undermine the independence of their own townships, while at the same time working to present a strong common front to both the provincial government and their city cousins in Kingston.
(Information for sections of this article was taken from chapter 7 of “County of 1000 Lakes – The History of Frontenac County 1673-1973”, a book published by Frontenac County in 1982 to mark the 300th anniversary of the establishment of Fort Frontenac. The chapter was written by John Smale)
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