Recent History


It’s probably obvious by virtue of the fact that I write this blog that I can get a little sentimental about the past. Now that the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts is about ready to open, I’m starting to miss the old days when I took dance lessons at the J.K. Tett Centre and went to archaeology camp in the Stella Buck Building. (Who are J.K. Tett and Stella Buck? I’ve always wondered). The whole waterfront here had a distinct vibe that became very familiar to me. I spent many, many hours here over the years.

One cloudy May day six years ago, I brought out my then-new camera and took a few shots of the area. I wish I had taken more. Particularly I wish I had one of the little public-art sculpture, probably dating to the 1970s, which was supposed to represent the ocean or the lake or something. Alas, I’m sure it’s long gone by now.


I went by the area last summer for the first time in I think literally years, and was surprised to see construction there, having totally forgotten that it was being revamped. However, the set of buildings on “Morton Street,” as it’s officially called, have gone through quite a number of changes in their long lifetime, so perhaps I shouldn’t feel wistful. The Timeline on the Bader Centre site goes through the major events.

Some of them I already knew about, like the site’s origin, in 1832, as a brewery largely operated by James Morton. He later expanded it with a distillery. James Morton also operated the Ontario Foundry, which made locomotives for the new railways and was the largest employer in Kingston by 1858. Somewhat surprisingly, James Morton went bankrupt and died in 1864, “after years of over-extending himself,” as the timeline states. The site continued as a brewery and distillery until about 1900 when it was used for grain storage.


I remember hearing that the site was used for some military purpose during World War II, but the timeline doesn’t have anything specific about that. I was surprised to learn that it was a military hospital from 1918-1923, and even more so that it was “Military Regional Headquarters” from 1927-1968. That’s forty-one years, just about the length of time it’s been a centre for the arts.


I wonder whether the legendary ghost of the night-watchman will make another appearance now that the site is being made over. Apparently, various strange occurrences around the Stella Buck Building – missing items, weird noises, unseen presences – were attributed to a night-watchman of the brewery that was murdered there, I think by an escaped convict (this is me going off memory). Although a night-watchman really was murdered there many years ago, I never found the place particularly scary. Oh no, should I not be spreading tales of murder and superstition before the new centre opens…?


Despite having to say a final goodbye to one of my childhood haunts, I’m excited to see the new centre and am looking forward to seeing some shows there in the future, and maybe spending some time there next year too as I finish my degree. What I’ve seen in photos looks great and it’s high time that the various arts departments at Queen’s got some love. As a film student, this move also means saying goodbye to the Film House, the department’s home on Stuart Street… but that’s a whole other blog post.



All photos are my own.

I’ve linked to the Bader Centre’s website in the text.

Osborne, Brian S. and Donald Swainson. Kingston: Building on the Past. Westport, ON: Butternut Press, Inc. 1988.



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