Brit Smith, Kingston-born founder of Homestead Land Holdings, dies at 103

Brit Smith

The Kingston business community said goodbye to a local legend this past weekend. Kingston-born Arthur Britton Smith, more commonly known as Brit Smith, passed away Saturday at the age of 103.

“The impact that Brit has had on Kingston is hard to put into words,” said Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson. “I remember the first time I met him at my office in City Hall and how impressed I was by his sense of humour and how down to earth he was. His humility and giving nature led to unparalleled philanthropy over the years, enabling countless affordable housing and health-care projects to help individuals and families. His generosity has left a lasting mark on the community, a legacy of meeting the needs of others. He will be greatly missed.”

Smith was the founder of Homestead Land Holdings, its first CEO, and a board member into his nineties. Homestead operates 26,000 apartments across Southern and Eastern Ontario, including Ottawa, plus additional holdings in Calgary. Homestead is headquartered in Kingston and will mark 70 years in business in 2024. 

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In addition to his apartment rental business, which he liked to refer to as a “hobby,” Smith was a World War II veteran, lawyer, author, three-term city alderman and one of Kingston’s most generous benefactors, having donated well over $35 million during his lifetime through his charitable foundation and business. 

“The community has been good to me, so it’s to even the tally,” Smith once told a United Way volunteer when asked why he gave. “This is a great country and a great community. We’re showing our appreciation and this is the easiest way to help the less fortunate members.”

Tributes to Smith poured in Monday from the many charities he supported: the United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington; BGC Southeastern Ontario; RKY Camp; The Spire; Kingston Community Health Centres; Lionhearts Inc; and Queen’s University Faculty of Health Sciences, to name a few.

Just days before his passing, one of Smith’s charitable initiatives was steaming its way into Kingston. In 2016, he purchased the former home of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston – now the Great Lakes Museum – in order to donate the building back to the museum. This paved the way for the recent acquisition of SS Keewatin, a Titanic-era steamship. The ship, which Smith took a trip on as a boy, arrived two days before he passed.

Smith was named to the Kingston business hall of fame in 2006 and was named the 1990 Kingston Chamber of Commerce Businessperson of the Year. He was named to the Order of Ontario in 2018 and the Order of Canada in 2019.

Smith’s philanthropic interests will be carried on by a foundation on behalf of his family and friends. A private family funeral is planned in Kingston.

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