St. Mary’s of the Lake, located between King Street West and Union Street, has two separate connections to the francophone history of Kingston. The first of these began in 1867, when the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame, brought to Kingston from Montreal for the education of young Catholic girls, bought the land upon which the building now stands. A building, Hawthorn Cottage, already existed on the land, was converted by the Sisters into a boarding school for girls in the area, and renamed St. Mary’s of the Lake at the request of the Catholic Bishop of Kingston at the time, Father Edward Horan. The location of this new boarding school, however, proved to be too remote to work well in conjunction with the Sisters’ Convent, located on the corner of Bagot and Johnson Streets, and the Sisters of Notre Dame ended up having to sell the property and move their boarders back into the Convent by 1899. Thus ended the first chapter of the life of St. Mary’s of the Lake, and the building remained empty for a number of years following the departure of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame.
In 1904, however, the property was bought by a second group of francophone nuns: the Sisters of Providence, who came from Montreal as well to care for the needy, the infirm, and the orphans of Kingston. The Sisters of Providence’s foundation had been in need of expansion and they bought St. Mary’s of the Lake in order to make a stand-alone orphanage and novitiate so they would have more room to take care of the elderly at their House of Providence. It was not until 1908 that construction began to build this orphanage, however, as the Sisters did not have sufficient funds for the project until that year. St. Mary’s of the Lake Orphanage opened its doors to 24 novices, 5 Sisters, and 80 children. After four years, the novices returned to the House of Providence, as the location of the orphanage and novitiate was incompatible with their training. At the end of its second decade of existence, the orphanage had as many as 200 orphans living in it, and so the building was expanded to allow for the housing of more orphans. The end of the 1930s, however, brought with it a decrease in the number of orphans housed in St. Mary’s of the Lake, as the Social Welfare authorities had decided it would be better for orphans to be placed in adoptive or foster homes in order for them to be better integrated into society. The outbreak of the Second World War also caused a change in the orphanage: it was temporarily requisitioned by the Department of National Defence. The few orphans who still lived in St. Mary’s of the Lake at the time were transferred to the Sisters of Providence’s new Mother House, Heathfield, on Princess Street. St. Mary’s of the Lake was converted into a war hospital for the duration of the War, and returned to the Sisters in 1946. The building, having been used as a hospital for the past 7 years, it was no longer fit to be an orphanage. Rather than try and reconvert it back to its previous use, the Sisters decided to continue operating it as a facility for the treatment of the chronically ill, as the Kingston area lacked such a facility. The St. Mary’s of the Lake Hospital is now a part of Providence Care and operates as a hospital for complex continuing care, rehabilitation, specialized geriatric services, and palliative care.