The first more permanent encampments by aboriginal people in the Kingston area began about 1500 years ago.
European commercial and military influence and activities centered on the fur trade developed and increased in North America in the 17th century. Fur trappers and traders were spreading out from their centres of operation in New France.
To establish a presence on Lake Ontario for the purpose of controlling the fur trade with local Natives, the French established Fort Cataraqui, later to be called Fort Frontenac, at a location known as Cataraqui in 1673. The fort served as a trading post and military base, and attracted Native and European settlement until it was captured and destroyed by the British in the Battle of Fort Frontenac during the Seven Years' War in 1758.
Settlement resumed in the early 1780s when the area soon to be called Kingston became a receiving centre for Loyalist refugees who fled north because of the American Revolutionary War.
In the 1840s, the Upper Canadian government built Fort Henry and a series of distinctive Martello towers to guard the entrance to the Rideau Canal, the shipyard on Point Frederick, and the harbour. All still exist, and Fort Henry is a popular tourist attraction.
Kingston had the largest population of any centre in Upper Canada until the 1840s, and was incorporated as a city in 1846.
Kingston's economy gradually evolved from an industrial to an institutional base after World War II. Queen's University grew from about 2,000 students in the 1940s to its present size of over 20,000 students, more than 90 per cent of which are from outside the Kingston area.