The founding of Fort Frontenac and the beginning of the French history of the Kingston region cannot be understood without taking into account the strategy of the fur trade. To supply the bourgeois population of France with beaver hats and coats as was the custom of the age, the search for good pelts drew the distant French traders from the coasts of the Gulf of St Lawrence deep into the North American interior. The requirements of the fur trade broke through the restraints set by Paris for the new colony. Political and military considerations for New France were synonymous with those of the fur trade; fired with the vigour of handsome profits and backed by force, traders infiltrated the west.
The French, capitalizing on their 16th century discoveries, exploited the St Lawrence route to the interior. Their advance, marked by the founding of Quebec in 1608 and Champlain’s explorations and alliance with indigenous peoples open the Great Lakes basin to trade. Soon European rivalries manifest themselves in North America and translated them in geographic terms, as first the Dutch, and after 1664, the British, explored the potential of the Hudson River system. The lands of the Haudenosaunee confederacy, between the Hudson and Lake Ontario, could not supply the Dutch and British trade demands and, anxious to maintain their role as middlemen, the Haudenosaunee extended the Hudson system north and west, around Lake Ontario, coming into direct conflict with French claims.
The competing political spheres and trade systems met at the Eastern end of Lake Ontario, at the source of the St Lawrence River and the mouth of the Oswego. In a bold thrust, extending New France decisively in the interior, Count Frontenac established a fort in 1673 at Cataraqui, beside the strategic junction of the rival systems. While Fort Frontenac stood for most of a century little tangible evidence survives today as it had not been built as a monument for posterity.
This tour of French Kingston focuses on pre-20th century French occupation and does not extend in any great detail into what constitutes the contemporary Franco-Ontarian community which today inhabits the area.
Adapted from Heritage Kingston by J. Douglas Stewart and Ian. E. Wilson, 1973