Silenced voices of the complex legacy of the country’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald is now heard throughout Bellevue House, a National Historic Site, and is referred to as “Unpacking Macdonald.”

Within the tapestry of Canadian history, intertwining threads connect the narratives of extraordinary individuals with the landscapes they called home.

One such place is a National Historic Site administered by Parks Canada, Bellevue House, located among the charming streets of Kingston overlooking Lake Ontario, where the past whispers secrets of bygone days. This was the home of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1815, Macdonald served as Canada’s first and second longest-serving prime minister, holding office for 19 years. He was instrumental in uniting the British North American colonies, laying the groundwork for Canada’s Constitution with the British North America Act. He oversaw the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway and expanded Canada’s territory by adding Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island to the Confederation. He spent only 13 months at Bellevue House.

Macdonald’s history has been a linear one. Now, more voices are heard in this new journey through the past that include Indigenous, Chinese and Black voices.

“The story that we’re sharing is taking a more inclusive approach,” notes Tamara van Dyk, Site and Visitor Experience Manager. “For Bellevue House, it was a step forward to include the various perspectives and voices.”

Elizabeth Pilon is the Bellevue House Renewal Lead and Product Development for Eastern and Central Ontario, Parks Canada. She said the renewal project started in 2015 with the Visitors’ Centre, and over the past six years, has focused on the historic house restoration, with work totalling $2.1 million.

“In 2018, we took on a restoration project to restore some significant assets of the historic house, and as well, we took the opportunity to continue the renewal of the visitor experience that we’d started in the Visitor Centre … to continue that approach,” Pilon explains. “The more inclusive, truthful approach on our history with the many voices approach as other voices have contributed to the story.”

They looked to the Community Advisory Committee to provide input on the untold or unheard stories from minority or racialized groups and communities that could be included.

“Creative displays become touch points for the visitor,” says van Dyk. “The staff will then expand on the narrative. But it’s a way to meet the visitors where they’re at in their learning of Canada.”

The visitor experience is streamlined, designed to hit a number of targets. There is a 15- to 20-minute dialogic tour as an introduction to the site and how the staff at Bellevue House is shifting the way they’re sharing the site’s history.

“It’s an engaging program designed to ask the visitor the question, and it’s more visitor-led,” van Dyk explains. Each visitor will have their own unique experience.

“We ask that the visitor has an open heart, and an open mind,” van Dyk says. “We want to provide them with experiences that will align with their needs.”

Bellevue House offers many options to enjoy the site. There are self-directed experiences, like Xplorers for kids and families, or immersive guided tours, like the conversation-style program of Unpacking Macdonald and Keeping up Appearances where visitors are given a package which encourages them to take part in challenges like baking sourdough bread. Group and school tour options are also available. “We want to offer people a place to have serious conversations but also a place for the lighter side of exploring the historic site,” she says.

Indigenous employees and volunteers help with the medicine garden, a new piece to enhance the self-guided tour. It’s Haudenosaunee driven and also reflects the Anishinaabe ways. 

“The site has the heritage kitchen garden, and this year, with the guidance of an Indigenous employee and volunteers, we are adding a medicine garden,” van Dyk says.

Start your journey in the Visitor Centre. On the front of the building, find an incredible work of Indigenous art, Creator’s Drum, crafted by Chris Mitchell in 2023, to represent peace, coming together and new beginnings.

You will have an opportunity to choose your experience once inside.

“This is where they start and where they can end,” van Dyk says. “This is where we share the programs. We provide an overview and ask what they’d like to learn, take part in, and if there is anything special happening on the site this is where that information is shared.”

You will be able to see The Many Voices of Confederation exhibit at this early stage of the tour. You will have the chance to read through Macdonald’s timeline, and if you choose, you may opt to see the history that has not been spoken about so often, by following an interactive ribbon of information.

“This is the introduction to the way we’re sharing history now,” van Dyk explains. As you step across the threshold of Bellevue House, you will be transported back in time to an era of elegance and intrigue. The air is filled with the scent of wood polish and aged leather, while the walls echo with memories of generations past.

For years, Bellevue House has stood as a silent sentinel to the passage of time, its weathered façade bearing witness to the ebb and flow of history. But now, a new chapter is set to unfold as Parks Canada unveils this innovative interpretive experience that promises to breathe new life into this historic gem.

You will find a dynamic journey through Bellevue House’s past, guided by cutting-edge technology, immersive storytelling, and tactile experiences.

From the elegant parlors where Macdonald once held court to the sun-dappled gardens that provided respite, every corner of Bellevue House comes alive with the sights, sounds, and sensations of the past.

Through interactive exhibits and engaging narratives, you will discover the untold stories of the people who shaped the nation before Bellevue House and beyond. From the servants who toiled behind the scenes to the Indigenous peoples whose lives were impacted by Macdonald’s policies, each voice adds depth and richness to the montage of history.

But the new interpretive experience at Bellevue House is more than just a journey into the past. It is a testament to the enduring power of storytelling, a reflection of the diverse voices that make up the mosaic of the Canadian identity.

As you linger, reflect on the lessons of the past and the challenges of the present. For in the stories of those who came before, we find echoes of our own struggles and triumphs — reminders of the resilience and strength that define us as a nation.

As Bellevue House opens its doors to a new generation of visitors, it does so not as a relic of the past, but as a living testament to the enduring power of history. Through its new interpretive experience, Bellevue House invites us to embark on a journey of discovery, to uncover the stories that shape our shared heritage, and to find inspiration in the echoes of the past.

There are lots of little gems throughout this tour and be sure to check out the kids’ interactive options from the Visitor Centre while browsing the merch store for that memorable piece of history that commemorates your experience at Bellevue House.


  • The home was first built for a wealthy tea merchant Charles Hales. The building was also known as the Tea Caddy Castle, and it sat on 9.5 acres of land.
  • Bellevue House is constructed as an ornate Italianate villa. Check out the balconies, tall windows, the finial, round arches and stucco on the exterior. The building is made from the famous limestone of the area, but finished in stucco to give it the Italianate look.
  • First opened as a national historic site by Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II for the centennial of Confederation in 1967.
  • Located at 35 Centre St, Kingston. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., between Victoria Day long weekend and Canada Day, the site is open Thursday to Monday. From Canada Day to Labour Day, it is open seven days per week. From Labour Day through to Thanksgiving in October, it is open Thursday to Monday.

Please visit Bellevue House for admission fees.