HISTORY

Kingston waterfront in the 1800s

THE BUILDING

THOMAS KING WHITNEY

The roots of this property can be traced all the way back to the early 1800’s. The original owner, James McKenzie, a Scotsman, was sent here as a commanding officer in the British Army. For the tidy sum of 50 cents an acre, he bought the land Whitney Manor currently sits on – and the 350 acres or so surrounding it. 

As most of the men under his command were mechanics, stone masons, and carpenters by trade, McKenzie had no problems finding skilled laborers to complete the task of building his dream home. 

When work was completed in 1817, the over eight thousand sq. foot farm house stood out as an architectural marvel. It was built in the likeness of an English estate, with very large rooms and cathedral ceilings. The beams were hand hewn, all the rooms upstairs and down had fireplaces, and there was even a flat section of the roof on which a fish pond was built. 

Comprised mainly of limestone, the house featured a formal ballroom on the second floor, separate maid’s quarters, and a Chapel. No expense was spared during the construction, which included the decision to use rectangular blocks instead of ruble. Along with making the building more structurally sound, those blocks gave the manor a decidedly more detailed and unique appearance than many of the other properties built during that time.

THOMAS KING WHITNEY
1916-1996

The roots of this property can be traced all the way back to the early 1800’s. The original owner, James McKenzie, a Scotsman, was sent here as a commanding officer in the British Army. For the tidy sum of 50 cents an acre, he bought the land Whitney Manor currently sits on – and the 350 acres or so surrounding it. 

 

As most of the men under his command were mechanics, stone masons, and carpenters by trade, McKenzie had no problems finding skilled laborers to complete the task of building his dream home. 

 

When work was completed in 1817, the over eight thousand sq. foot farm house stood out as an architectural marvel. It was built in the likeness of an English estate, with very large rooms and cathedral ceilings. The beams were hand hewn, all the rooms upstairs and down had fireplaces, and there was even a flat section of the roof on which a fish pond was built. 

 

Comprised mainly of limestone, the house featured a formal ballroom on the second floor, separate maid’s quarters, and a Chapel. No expense was spared during the construction, which included the decision to use rectangular blocks instead of ruble. Along with making the building more structurally sound, those blocks gave the manor a decidedly more detailed and unique appearance than many of the other properties built during that time.

 

Ready to begin his new life in North America, Captain McKenzie sent word for his wife to join him from England. Despite the luxurious trappings of her new home, she did not feel at ease in her new rural surroundings. She longed for a return to her home on the busy streets of London. Not long after construction was completed, she was on a boat heading back across the Atlantic. Heartbroken over his loss, James McKenzie stayed behind, passing away shortly after his wife’s departure.

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

A man who is fondly remembered for always having a smile on his face and a penchant for whistling while he worked, King Whitney was a well-respected pillar of the Kingston community. A veteran of World War II, he beat the odds to return home, raise a family, and open a successful home furnishings store in downtown Kingston. Later in his life King became the 15th owner of this historic property, renaming it Sopwell Hall. This property remained in his family for another two generations, and it is named in his honor.

The earliest picture of the property on record was taken in early 1900s and featured in William Patterson’s book on the history of former Pittsburgh Township, "Lilacs and Limestone".

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The first owner of Whitney Manor was James McKenzie, Captain of the Frontenac, the first Canadian built steamboat on the Great Lakes.

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An illustration of the building drawn by Heather Haynes, granddaughter of King Whitney (the 15th owner of Whitney Manor). A professional artist, you will find many of Heather's original paintings in our current suites.

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The earliest picture of the property on record was taken in early 1900s and featured in William Patterson’s book on the history of former Pittsburgh Township, "Lilacs and Limestone".

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THE FIRST OWNER

Born on June 3rd, 1782 in Scotland, James McKenzie was known as a true ‘born and bred’ seaman. The earliest nautical experience on record had him joining the British Merchant Navy at the tender age of 14. He went on to serve in the Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, attaining the rank of Master. 


In the spring of 1813, McKenzie was assigned to the defense of the Great Lakes, where he accompanied Sir James Lucas Yeo, to Upper Canada, and served in several many roles during the war with the United States. James McKenzie was described by Yeo as “a very worthy man and excellent officer.”


By 1817, and with the war now over, McKenzie set down permanent roots in the area by building Greystone Manor (now known as Whitney Manor). He also became Ontario’s premier steamboat captain, on The Frontenac, the first Canadian built steamboat on the Great Lakes.


The Frontenac was launched on September 7, 1816 and began services between Kingston and Niagara (on the lake) the following June. In its 10-year career under the command of McKenzie, the Frontenac endured only one major accident, a well-publicized but relatively harmless grounding in the Thousand Islands, suffering only minor damage.


McKenzie fathered a total of five children—three with his first wife, Catherine Milton, and two with his second wife Margaret Badden. He was described as very well-read in shipping and engineering, and a “jolly” individual with “broad shoulders and a triple chin”.


McKenzie eventually retired in 1831 and sadly passed away shortly after from the cholera pandemic. Following his death one admirer went as far as to call him the “father of steam navigation in Upper Canada”.

1921-1995
DID YOU KNOW??
Interesting facts and stories from our past
  • Hockey Hall of Fame inductee and World War I veteran, Bill Cook, owned the property in the 1930s.
  • Whitney Manor was designated a historic property in 1973, having been recognized to have "cultural heritage value or interest".
  • The property's third owner, Henry Sadlier, had royal ancestors  -- one of them was good friends with William Shakespeare!
  • The property was known as the Greystone Manor when it was first built, before being renamed Sopwell Hall in 1852.