Historic tavern in Kingston, Ont., sold to Toronto condo broker

Once a favourite haunt of John A. Macdonald's political party, the Royal Tavern in Kingston, Ont., has now shut its doors for good and the heritage property was sold for $1.7 million, according to land transfer records. 

The Royal Tavern, once owned by John A. Macdonald, sold for $1.7M

The Royal Tavern was sold in mid-January to a Toronto condominium broker. The pub has a long and storied history, once owned by Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. (Michelle Allan/CBC)

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Once a favourite haunt of John A. Macdonald's political party, the Royal Tavern in Kingston, Ont., has now shut its doors for good and the heritage property was sold for $1.7 million, according to land transfer records.

Records show real estate holding company BJL Properties Inc., which bills itself as "Toronto's top condominium broker," bought the property on Jan. 12.

The Royal Tavern is protected by the Heritage Act, and the property falls under the official Lower Princess Street Heritage Area, according to Ryan Leary, the senior heritage planner for the City of Kingston.

Leary says BJL Properties Inc. would need to get approval from both the Heritage Kingston Committee and Kingston city council before making any changes to the building. The decisions made by the committee and council can be appealed. 

'Unofficial' party HQ for Macdonald

While unassuming from the outside, Kingston history buffs say the stone building has a storied past and significant heritage value.

Vincent Durant, president of the Kingston Historical Society, says the tavern is one of the oldest pubs in the province, purchased by Canada's first prime minister in 1851.

Durant said Macdonald later sold the building to the Grimason family, who named it Grimason House. MacDonald maintained a lifelong friendship with the owner and operator Eliza Grimason who was an ardent supporter of his political career.

Durant says the tavern served as Kingston's "unofficial Conservative Party headquarters."

"She would open up the tavern at night for a political campaign sort of thing to try and make sure that he got elected," said Durant. "She was able to sway a fair number of votes in the Kingston area."

The pub was also a "watering hole" for many farmers. 

Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, owned the historic Royal Tavern and it became a political haunt for his political brethren. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/National Archive of Canada)

Kingston housing crisis presents issue

Leary says the building's brick facade and parapet walls are characteristic of Georgian influence style, which give the building charm and heritage value that are worth preserving. 

"It's important because the characteristics of an old building are what makes downtown different and special from other downtowns," Leary said.

"It's those special features like an old carriage way or narrow doorway or an interesting window that remind people that this street, this area of the city, this building has has a story to tell."

The tavern remained in the Grimason family until 1923, and eventually it was sold and renamed the Royal Tavern in 1971, Durant said.

While preserving heritage value is important to the local officials in Kingston, Leary says there is also a real need for intensification in the city's downtown. Kingston is experiencing a housing crisis, and Leary says it can be difficult to create needed space for people and businesses while maintaining heritage.

BJL Properties Inc. did not respond to requests for comment.

The Royal Tavern has now shut its doors for good after the heritage property was sold for $1.7 million, according to land transfer records.


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