20th Century, Institutions

The Faces of Kingston Penitentiary

A young inmate from Gananoque. Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 4349019. (click image to go to source)

A young inmate from Gananoque. Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 4349019. (click image to go to source)

There is an interesting collection of pages from old Kingston Penitentiary inmate description ledgers available on the Library and Archives Canada website. Ranging from the early 1900s to about 1919, these pages provide information such as the convict’s name, age, birthplace, crime committed, distinctive marks, and for men only, two mugshots. I’m not sure why they didn’t photograph women – or if they did, why they kept the photos elsewhere.

I don’t know much about the history of the Penitentiary and it’s never been a real interest of mine (I’m bored to tears by virtually all crime/prison books, movies, etc.) but it’s hard to deny the fascination that these pages contain. Despite the lack of information on these people, I feel a tinge of sympathy for some of them, like the boy above convicted of “Buggery,” which was, in 1919, a vague and yet very specific offence (read more about it here – scroll down to “Background”). Here are a few interesting pages from the Archives’ collection:

Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 4349308 (click image to go to source)

The circa 1916 newspaper article above is about a woman, Louise Cull, convicted of manslaughter after a woman she performed an abortion on died. Cull “protested her innocence of any criminal intent” but there was much evidence that she regularly performed abortions and was paid for it. A widowed former nurse, originally from England, Cull’s sentence was decreased to five years’ imprisonment due to her age, fifty-seven.

Continue reading

20th Century, Culture

The Ku Klux Klan Rally in Kingston

Photo from the 1927 Klan rally in Kingston. Vintage Kingston Flickr page (click image to go to source)

Photo from the 1927 Klan rally in Kingston. Vintage Kingston Flickr page (click image to go to source)

March 5, 2016 update: A commenter has clarified that this rally took place instead of a rally in Detroit, which was thwarted by the mayor. This is alluded to in the 1927 Whig article but I wasn’t aware of any direct link when I wrote this post.

Anyone who’s dabbled in local history or Ontario history will have likely learned about the Ku Klux Klan’s Canadian operations in the 1920s, and perhaps even seen the photo above. Surprising as it seems, the KKK were here, and in 1927 they spent a day in Kingston burning crosses and inducting Klansmen and women. This story will hit you first with its shock value, but I found that researching the Ku Klux Klan in Ontario was extremely fascinating, and revealed a lot about the province’s past and how much we’ve changed in the ninety years since these events took place.

There were three iterations of the KKK which were for the most part unrelated. You can read some information on all of them on this History Channel page if you like (heads up: a video will begin playing). However, the version that we are concerned with is the one that arose in 1915, spurred in part by the D.W. Griffith film Birth of a Nation, as well as the turbulent labour and immigration climate in the United States at the time. While the original Ku Klux Klan of the 1860s was contained to the American South and concerned with bringing down the growing presence of blacks in public and political life, the Klan of the 1910s and 20s had branched out in geography and intolerance. New targets of hatred included not just non-whites, but Catholics, Jews, immigrants, and in Canada, French-Canadians. See the ad below for the Kingston demonstration:

Ad from the 30 July 1927 Kingston Whig-Standard.

Ad from the 30 July 1927 Kingston Whig-Standard.

Continue reading

20th Century, Buildings, People

The Winter Bird’s Paradise at Pleasant View

Pleasant View. April 2014 image from Google Streetview.

Pleasant View. April 2014 image from Google Streetview.

Here is a cute bit of Kingston ephemera from about 1919. I first learned about it while looking through the book Cataraqui Village and subsequently found it on archive.org. (It’s occurred to me that archive.org has a name, Internet Archive, and yet I always refer to it by its URL. Oh well.)

This house, at 2312 Princess Street, is unmistakable and hard to miss, being as it is surrounded by stores such as Rona and FreshCo in a busy suburban area of Kingston. Set back far from the road, it is a reminder of the surprisingly not-so-distant days when this area was a separate rural town called Cataraqui Village (or sometimes Waterloo Village). Built between 1865 and 1869, the house was constructed by Lewis Johnson Day, who literally built his house with bricks from his own brickyard.

After living there for thirty years, Day sold the house in 1899 to a man called Robert A. Marrison, who wrote and privately published the short book The Winter Bird’s Paradise at Pleasant View (1919). He named the house “Pleasant View,” probably because the house sits on a ridge of land (the view from which is somewhat obstructed today), but the name stuck around at least while Pleasant View Greenhouses was at that location. Interestingly, it was Marrison who began the house’s association with gardening, as he opened an orchard and market garden as well as beehives on the property. He was also a great animal lover, as his book attests.

Grainy photo of Marrison and what appears to be a chickadee from his book.

Grainy photo of Marrison and what appears to be a chickadee friend from his book.

Okay, so this is not really a book you’re going to read for its entertainment value. But it’s pretty cute to look through; Marrison seems to have been a nice man who really loved animals and had a wide assortment of pets throughout his life:

Now I shall tell you what great pets my little feathered friends are. But before I begin I should like to say that I have always given names to all the pets I have ever kept, except snakes and mud-turtles. These never seemed to know when I talked to them.

Birds were his favourites. At one point Marrison had four pet cats, but by the time he wrote his book there was just one left, Pete. When he discovered Pete was wreaking carnage among his birds, and in particular caused the demise of a chickadee called Dell, he had Pete shipped off to the local baker:

He promised to show great kindness to Pete, and to put him in the store-room, where he kept his flour, and where rats and mice abounded. But I shall never keep a cat again so long as there are birds around my home, that I swear!

I don’t really blame him. When my cat, who mysteriously disappeared in 2014, was young, she liked to eat or otherwise destroy goldfinches’ heads and leave the bodies lying around the yard. Also victimized were mice, insects, chipmunks, cute baby bunnies, and once she tried to attack a dog. Cats left to their own devices are vicious marauders. But I digress.

Marrison fed nuthatches, woodpeckers, and chickadees, and gave them all names and described their personalities. He had a particular love of chickadees, and enjoyed their simple song (which you can listen to here if you don’t know it, click “Typical Song”), of which he said, “to me its notes are as sweet as any strain sounded by living creatures, or on any musical instrument.” He was devastated when his chickadee Nell, who he supposed was blind, died after flying one too many times into the glass feeder.

He found his nuthatches, which he called “Grandma and Grandpa Nuthatch” fascinating as well, and documented how Grandpa mourned his mate when she got sick and died (just three days after Nell). Marrison put her in a box and placed it near the feeder. He then waited until Grandpa returned to find her and hid nearby with a camera, taking two photographs which are included in the book (I’d put one here but the scan quality is really bad).

The book ends rather abruptly and was only distributed to family and friends. The archive.org edition, which you can find at the end of this post, has an inscription that reads, “to St. Andrews Sunday School with best wishes from R.A. Marrison.” Robert Marrison died in 1924 in Florida. His son, who was given the unfortunate name Guthbert, was a popular photographer in downtown Kingston.

What is the point of reading ephemera like this? Personally, I enjoy it as a slice of historical everyday life and an example of the kind of hobbies practiced by people a century ago – what people did before the internet, you might say. It also “peoples” the house at 2312 Princess, which often just looks kind of empty and alone sitting there amongst the big box stores. I have no idea if it’s currently occupied; last time it was in the news was six years ago when its owner was fighting a heritage designation. It’s a beautiful house, and I like that having read this little book, I can better imagine what winters of 100 years ago were like in this part of Kingston, then just a hamlet on the far outskirts of town.


The Winter Bird’s Paradise at Pleasant View (archive.org link).

Schliessman, Paul. “Owner to fight city plan to have house designated heritage site.” Kingston Whig Standard, 13 January 2010.

Smithson, Gordon D. Cataraqui Village: An Illustrated History of Cataraqui, Ontario. Amherstview, ON: published by the author, 2003.

20th Century, Businesses

Kingston in the 1920s: Familiar Problems


Editor's note from the 3 January 1928 Daily British Whig

Editor’s note from the 3 January 1928 Kingston Whig-Standard

For my last short post in this series, we’ll look at some complaints the Kingston Whig-Standard had in 1928 about the progress of the city that will no doubt sound very familiar. The first paragraph of this editor’s note is concerned with the lack of industry in Kingston, and hopeful that the new mayor will follow up on his promise to encourage industries to settle in town. They write,

There is no good reason why Kingston should not become a far more important industrial centre than it is at the present time. With the new block of power that it [sic] to be available to Eastern Ontario, Kingston should concentrate in a serious and businesslike way on the matter of securing new industries and encouraging those already established.

And yet here we are in the twenty-first century, lamenting the loss of yogurt factories and such. (Okay, that one wasn’t our fault, but still.) At least in 1928, the Canadian Locomotive Company was still in full swing in Kingston, but by now its days are long gone, the land replaced by – what else? – condos. Today, Invista (DuPont) and Novelis (Alcan) are virtually the only significant industries in Kingston, and much reduced from earlier days. After nearly a hundred years with little industrial development, it seems that Kingston is destined to remain an institutional town.

Next, the 1928 mayor of Kingston, William H. Craig, was concerned about chain stores wanting to set up in Kingston. The chain stores of 1928 would probably seem quaint in comparison to the depressing Walmart Superstores of today, but the problem was fundamentally the same: large retail chains pull money away from smaller, local businesses and the city’s own merchants and distinctive character may suffer. The newspaper saw it differently, however, and argued that “big chain stores” were evidence of healthy development in Kingston, and that they could attract more shoppers who normally wouldn’t shop in town. (They don’t mention where these people would be coming from though…)

Another benefit which isn’t often applicable today was that chain stores leased “main street” (likely Princess Street) business spaces from Kingston owners, which prevented them from sitting idle. Today, chain stores are more likely to set up big box locations in the suburbs, and store fronts sitting idle in downtown Kingston remain a big problem. There is also a strong whiff of snobbery in Mayor Craig’s talk of “outsiders” coming into town, the exact context of which is unspecified in this article.

Looking back through the twentieth century, it’s interesting how many of Kingston’s essential characteristics have remained the same. It seems like Queen’s University, KGH, the military, and tourism will remain the big players for a long time to come. I wonder what Kingston will be like ninety or a hundred years from now?


Editor’s note. Kingston Whig-Standard, 3 January 1928.

KEDCO. Kingston’s Major Employers (click pdf)

List of Kingston’s mayors

20th Century, Culture

Kingston in the 1920s: Girls (and Veterans) and Cars


Article on Frederick Sawyer's car accident in the 20 May 1921 Daily British Whig.

Article on Frederick Sawyer’s car accident in the 20 May 1921 Daily British Whig.

By the 1920s, people knew automobiles weren’t going away anytime soon. Judging from the Kingston papers of this time, which sometimes had an entire page devoted to talking about cars, it seems like automobiles were to the 1920s what bicycles were to the 1890s: a fun new pastime as well as a good way to get around, and one that began to specifically target women as consumers. However, the invention of a new technology is also the invention of its accident, and that is exactly what began to occur in and around Kingston at this time.

The above example of a car accident in Kingston, although it doesn’t appear to have resulted in a fatality, is quite tragic as it was apparently caused by a drunk-driving shell-shocked veteran. Frederick Sawyer, travelling south on Montreal Street, lost control of his car at the intersection of Princess Street and crashed right through the plate glass window of Marshall’s Hardware Store (now the Rocking Horse toy store). The car, the shop, and Sawyer himself were seriously injured, and two bottles of liquor were found in his car. Of course, the article doesn’t state whether he really was drunk, but considering he lost control on a downtown street at 3 p.m. on a pleasant May afternoon, it seems an unfortunate likelihood. Frederick Sawyer does not appear in the Kingston directories of the time and there are no soldiers I can find with that name who have a connection to Kingston. He may have just been passing through town.

Cataraqui Village (the area around Princess Street/Highway 2 and Sydenham Road) was a common scene for car accidents due to the amount of traffic on the highway. Particularly, the railroad crossing in Cataraqui was a problem. Today, Princess Street swoops up onto a bridge that goes over the tracks that lie just south of Taylor-Kidd Boulevard, but in the 1920s the street lay on the ground and necessitated an intersection with the train tracks. Sadly, in 1928 there were a number of deaths here, ostensibly because a house nearby blocked the view of oncoming eastbound trains and there were no crossing gates. Page 9 of the book Cataraqui Village includes a newspaper clipping from 31 December 1928 about the deaths of two French Canadian families who were “enroute to new homes in Ontario.” The clipping goes so far as to include photographs of the crushed automobile and wreck scene with the helpful directions “Crossing here – Wreckage carried 1000 feet.” (As we learned in my previous post in this series, vintage journalism didn’t skimp on the details of tragedies.) However it also shows that the view-blocking house was definitely in the way, sitting just to the left of the crossing, and it was demolished in 1930. It does make me wonder though – weren’t there whistles that could have alerted motorists to oncoming trains?

Cars were quickly becoming necessities, however, and in particular they gave women a new sense of freedom as well as recognition of their growing power in society. This advertorial-type article, published in the 21 January 1928 Daily British Whig, is entertaining and represents cars as part of the changing modern world that includes independent, “intensely efficient” women. I am quoting it in full (although it ends rather abruptly) because it’s funny. Enjoy!


Feminine Driver Will Not Tolerate Mediocrity

by E.L. Cord

President Auburn Automobile Co.

The greatest change that affects the motor industry is the change in people – in the public’s attitude toward motor vehicles. This change is so vast that it is almost impossible to grasp it. It is hard to define. Yet it is more pronounced this season than in any previous year of the automobile industry’s history.

While a motor car is fundamentally an utilitarian vehicle for personal transportation, it has always been and always will be a style vehicle. By that I mean pride of ownership. The decided trend is toward finer cars; toward better performance than has ever been available before.

Others besides automobile manufacturers are baffled by the changing status of women and young girls. It is a common sight to see women touring the entire United States alone in motor cars. They come and go with safety and comfort. Note the increasing number of women at the wheels of motor cars on our city streets. And it is well known that women are shrewd buyers. They will not tolerate mediocrity. Men might put up with certain inconveniences, they might know the “old bus” was not what they really should have, but still they endure its handicaps.  Women are intensely efficient. They demand a car that relieves them of all possible effort, work and worry. They want a car to do what they want done the way they want it done and to be reliable and enduring. This influence in the sum total cannot be measured. Obviously we expect a woman to express preference about such things as beauty of design, color and upholstery. But it is not to these things that I refer. It is rather to the fundamental performance and service of motor cars, because the woman of today is a user of cars and not a mere passenger.

Every year sees our methods of living more and more predicated upon the motor car. Distance must be overcome quicker and more comfortably, with greater safety and with less expenditure of personal effort.

The new type of car that will enjoy public preference must be capable of lifting the driver to a totally higher and different plane of experience. Today’s car must relieve the drivers and passengers of all effort. It must operate so smoothly and efficiently that the driver is practically unconscious of its mechanism. It must steer with such hair-trigger ease and [travel?] all manner of roads with such [illeg.] and safety that the driver will feel fresh and rested after a long drive.


“Ran Car Into a Store, Is Seriously Injured.” Daily British Whig, 20 May 1921.

Smithson, Gordon D. Cataraqui Village: An Illustrated History of Cataraqui, Ontario. Amherstview, ON: published by the author, 2003.

“Women Want Best in Cars.” Daily British Whig, 21 January 1928.

20th Century, Miscellaneous, People

Kingston in the 1920s: Collins Lake Picnic Tragedy

Collins Lake north of Glenburnie. Photograph from blog The Wilds of Ontario (click image to go to source)

Just a heads up: this story is sad, and while I was researching it I felt depressed and creepy, so you might want to queue up some happy, holiday-themed articles to read after you’re done. (Then again, I live a ten minute drive from where this happened, so the feelings are literally closer to home for me.) Also, I forgot my USB when I was looking at the library microfilm, so I don’t have any actual images from the Daily British Whig newspaper articles that accompanied this story. Sorry about that – a headline or two would have been great.

I discovered this story by looking through some Kingston death records from the 1920s – as one does on a Tuesday night – and noticed two girls amongst them who were the same age and both worked at a “confectionery” store. Then I noticed they died on the same day, in the same place (my own community of Glenburnie), and shared the same cause of death: drowning.

I was interested, and the next day went to check contemporary newspapers to see if I could find any information about this story. Turns out, it was the biggest story in Kingston during that cool, fateful August of 1923, and although not scandalous or particularly remarkable as tragedies go, its very ordinariness and preventability is what makes it so sad.

So without further ado…

Continue reading

20th Century, Buildings, Institutions

Kingston in the 1920s: Rideau Public School Built

From the 3 October 1925 edition of the Daily British Whig.

Excerpt from the 3 October 1925 edition of the Daily British Whig. (not the full article)

December 27, 2015 update: The book Williamsville Revisited has tons more on Rideau Public School. Like, way more than I remembered. As well as photographs showing the still semi-rural nature of this area of town into the twentieth century.

I’m back! Last time I was here I was planning on doing a series on 1920s Kingston; as it’s been a while since I looked at the microfilm newspapers it may take me a while to get back into the swing of things, but I’d still like to do a few posts on this topic. Here’s one I was working on before my blogging time was tragically cut short by grad school applications.

It’s about an article I found on the construction of Rideau Public School in 1925. As you may know, Rideau Public School is located at Dundas and Macdonnell, in an area of town considered pretty central today. In the 1920s, it was an emerging suburb that came out of the village previously known as Williamsville, which had at one time been considered separate from Kingston.

The size of the school shows the population of children the neighbourhood was dealing with. (click image to go to source)

The size of the school shows the population of children the neighbourhood was dealing with. (click image to go to source)

The historic centre of Williamsville was at the intersection of Princess and Victoria, and while there were several streets laid out in that area by the late nineteenth century, there wasn’t a lot of development. However, with the turn of the century, Kingston began expanding westward towards Williamsville, with homes designed for middle-class families. (You can easily see this going west on Johnson Street from downtown. Older limestone buildings shift to red brick Victorians, which shift to boxy, plain Edwardian houses, which shift to 1920s and 30s bungalows, especially after Macdonnell.)

There was a previous Rideau School on the corner of Princess and Nelson, but probably it became too small to meet the needs of the neighbourhood. So a new one was built:

[Mrs. Newlands, chair of the Board of Education] rejoiced with the people of Rideau ward that they were to have a model school, and said that no longer would their children need to wander afar in search of accommodation. She claimed that a fine building aroused in the children a feeling of pride in their school. She rejoiced to think that the objective which had been hers since she had been elected to the Board six years ago had been attained.

It’s interesting to read her statement that schools should be educating “true citizens,” defined as “loyal, honest, kind, intelligent, industrious, thrifty, healthful, self-reliant and progressive.” Would we say the same thing about the purpose of elementary schooling today?

Principal Taylor of Queen’s was also there, and had some… interesting remarks to make:

He contrasted the wonderful structures and facilities found in Canada . . . with those of the Old Country, where, as in Glasgow, half the children are bow-legged and the average height is five foot two. Here in Canada everyone had the opportunities for developing a healthful life.

Okay… anyway, Principal Taylor also stressed the need for a religious atmosphere in the home (not just Sunday school), the “besetting sin” of lack of punctuality, and manners. Plus this: “The boy who had learned loyalty to women would keep his head up in life.” He finished up his comments by saying this neighbourhood was headed to be one of the best in the city (probably the least weird remark he made that afternoon).

Finally, school board Trustee Elliott (research has shown him to be Joseph G. Elliott, at one time the president of the Whig newspaper) said that he had long hoped for a new school in this district, and that this one would be architecturally superior “to any other in the city.”

His next remarks are interesting to note, as they will certainly sound familiar:

Was there over-education? Were too many seeking “white collar” jobs? Mr. Elliott believed that even a drain digger would be better off educated than ignorant, getting more joy out of life, and doing his work to better advantage.

I don’t know much about labour in the 1920s, but apparently there must have been concerns, like today, that people were forgoing the trades for “white collar” professions. Although it seems like a strange topic to address at the opening of an elementary school, this was an era when it wasn’t unheard of to drop out of school. Trustee Elliott was stressing that a good education wasn’t just for people seeking professional careers, and that over-education shouldn’t be a worry.

Finally, the national anthem was sung and the ceremony ended. However, the article notes that inside the cornerstone (inscribed with “Erected 1925”) a time capsule was inserted, containing copies of the two newspapers of the day, the Standard and the Whig, plus a list of civic officials and the Board of Education members, and “the coins of the realm.”

This area of town was once very different than it is today – photographs of the Williamsville area from the early twentieth century show large trees, lawns, pretty houses, and the occasional cow – but the increasing popularity of cars fundamentally changed the landscape. First, as Highway 2 became the main automobile artery across eastern Ontario, Princess Street began to sprout gas stations, restaurants, and auto repair shops. Then, when traffic was diverted after the construction of the 401, these businesses began to move out to more lucrative locations. Essentially, the street never fully recovered from this change in fortune and we’re still trying to figure out how to “revitalize” Williamsville (which has also reverted to its old name). The neighbourhood is no longer full of families, however this article reveals a time when the upper Princess Street area was still up-and-coming, hopeful for the future and awaiting its next chapter. And in fact, with the new attempts to improve the area, you could say it’s in a similar place today.

Additional Source

Williamsville Heritage Overview

20th Century, Culture, Institutions

Kingston in the 1920s: Queen’s Initiation

Kingston Hall circa 1922. From a pamphlet produced by the Alumnae Association. (click image to go to source)

Kingston Hall circa 1922. From a pamphlet produced by the Alumnae Association. (click image to go to source)

A while back, I remember thinking that you don’t hear much about Kingston in the 1920s. (Well actually, most scholarly interest in Kingston drops off after about the 1860s, but that’s another story.) However, the idea of the 1920s – loosened social mores, flappers, jazz, consumerism, abundance – holds a great deal of cultural caché for us, and it’s hard to not be interested in the kinds of things that might have been going on in your own city.

In this blog series, I’ll find some interesting things that were going on in Kingston in the 1920s and post about them. Finding Kingston news during this period is a tedious process, because it involves rolls and rolls and rolls of microfilm, and just as many hours. So I’ll only be going through an item or two a week. This week I’ve got for you one of my favourite topics that I’ve written about before – Queen’s history, specifically around the beginning of the school year.

From the 6 October 1925 Daily British Whig.

From the 6 October 1925 Daily British Whig.

What we now call Queen’s Frosh Week was rather more spirited in days gone by, and this description is representative of what went on for years, and I imagine even decades before 1925, when the article was published. Note that at this time, the American terms “freshmen” and “sophomore” were still being used, and also note that this article came out in early October, when the school year used to start at Queen’s.

The initiation took place at Richardson Stadium with over 200 first-years. It’s not clear whether women were initiated as well as men, but I doubt they would have taken part in the same kinds of activities. And I don’t think it would have seemed appropriate to talk about women this way at the time:

The sophomores, working on the theory that a freshman must be impressed with a sense of his unimportance, prepared a very extensive programme which was enjoyed by all but the freshmen. The human sacrifices were annointed with oil molasses [sic], eggs and a number of other disagreeable things, but they bore up well under their trials and presented smiling faces at all times.

One activity involved all the first-years’ shoes being put into a pile, which they were then forced to pick through to find their shoes while rotten eggs were thrown at them. However, the frosh were also able to throw eggs back!

There was also the “submarine dive,” a rather dangerous event where you had to slide down some kind of greased incline into a “tub of mud and slime” at the bottom.

Next, the first-years were presented with their tams in a faux ceremony. I have to say the ironic style of writing at this time makes me smile, so I’m quoting:

To wind up the proceedings what was announced to be “the senate of the university” appeared on the scene in a cloud of tobacco smoke. The various noted personages were robed in gowns of office, and their facial adornments were fearful and wonderful. After addresses by some of the dignitaries, the freshmen were called forward and as they bowed the knee before the pro temp chancellor, they were presented with a tam in the Queen’s colors, which they are to wear until further notice.

The writer of this article went to some length to assure readers that there was “a total lack of any animosity” between freshmen and sophomores, suggesting that maybe there actually was, or there had been in the past. Photos of Queen’s initiations during this time show the (male) students enjoying themselves, often shirtless, a bit surprisingly for the time, and covered in muck. However it’s possible a situation had played out with angry parents, or initiation rites gone too far, as sometimes happened at RMC.

Those of you who have taken part in university orientation/initiation events of any kind (I chickened out of mine, and also didn’t want to pay the stupid $100 fee, sorry Queen’s): how does this compare with what you experienced?

20th Century, Miscellaneous

Thousand Islands Postcard

(my photo)

(my photo)

(my photo)

(my photo)

While away in Stratford last week I picked up this interesting postcard of the Thousand Islands. (I’m always on the hunt for local postcards in antique shops, specifically those that have writing, but postcards are a huge pain to look through. There are usually at least fifty of them and they take forever to go through. If only there was a better way…) It’s a design I’ve never seen before: intended to be romantic, but also a little sinister, if you want to look at it that way. Where is the man rowing so late at night? Why is his back to us? Is he going to knock the woman over the head with the paddle, dump her body in the river, and pretend it was all a horrible accident?! So many possibilities here.

I jest of course, but this postcard is more interesting than most of the ones I’ve seen of the area. The message is interesting too, sent in January 1912 by (presumably) a Queen’s student to his cousin in Cobourg. I’m guessing it’s from a man based on the writing and the tone. It reads:

Dear Coz:-

Well I suppose by this time, at least, Pinser & Ley [?] have skating at the rink, have they? There is good skating here now. The whole bay is frozen over now, but it is too cold to venture out there. We have a Yankee professor lecturer here who is spending his first winter in Canada. He froze his ears yesterday. He was telling me afterwards that they don’t have this sort of weather “way down in Tennessee”. He is from Tenn. Well so long yours truly

R.D. [?]

I love the tiny glimpses into historical people’s lives which postcards sometimes offer. Most of the time they only have very cursory greetings on them, but if the sender went to more effort they can be very fun to read. I remember reading one that instructed the receiver to destroy the card (I can’t remember why), which they obviously didn’t do.

Meanwhile, I wonder if I could find out who this Tennessee lecturer was, or the identity of R.D….

20th Century, Miscellaneous

Kingston and Kitchener

I came across this bit of history from a link sent to me by the 18th Battalion CEF blog – be sure to check out the original post here!

As you probably know, the city of Kitchener was originally named Berlin, and the area has a strong German heritage to this day. However, when the First World War began and the evil doings of the Hun were being spread as propaganda, this German image became a little… uncomfortable. (A bust of Kaiser Wilhelm I in Victoria Park in Kitchener was at one point thrown into a lake, and later stolen for good. It’s important to note here that before the war, German culture was seen by many Canadians as admirable and significant – wealthy Canadians sometimes sent their children to Germany to finish their education. Once the war began though, love for Germany and love for Britain were seen as incompatible. Berlin, a proudly German-Canadian town, was therefore thrown into a deeply ironic and delicate position.)

People soon felt that Berlin’s name should be changed, but it wasn’t just erstwhile Berliners who were looking for a rebranding – Kingston city council was adamant that the name change be immediate and permanent. They sent the following petition to Prime Minister Robert Borden in January 1917, several months after Berlin’s name had been changed to Kitchener on 1 September 1916. If you read through, what it’s huffing about is that some people were showing “disloyalty” by continuing to send mail with the name Berlin instead of Kitchener. Kingston city council, who for some reason felt they had a say in this matter, wanted the government to force the Postmaster-General to rescind his proclamation that the name Berlin was still an acceptable address. The petition is as follows:

Library and Archives Canada, RG 3, series C-2, vol. 640, file “Asking that the name of the Berlin, Ontario Post Office be changed to Kitchener” (click image to go to source)

Library and Archives Canada, RG 3, series C-2, vol. 640, file “Asking that the name of the Berlin, Ontario Post Office be changed to Kitchener” (click image to go to source)

Although in hindsight the petition seems a little ridiculous, it’s important to remember that public sentiment of this sort was high at the time. In the midst of the most terrible war experienced in generations, people got a little (okay, a lot) paranoid. Still, I find it odd that Kingston, which is nowhere near Kitchener, was so caught up in the name change issue that it sent in this petition to the Prime Minister. Who knows what they were thinking? Did other cities do the same?

Now – this is a little off-topic for local history, but Kitchener wasn’t the only name option open to ex-Berliners. There was a long list of possibilities, including some really strange and interesting ones, a few of which I can’t help sharing:

Khaki – This would have gotten old fast.

Brief – Too many underwear joke possibilities.

Cosmos – Why?

Engada – Obviously a combination of England + Canada, this one actually has a nice ring to it. These combo names seem to have been popular.

Uranus – Perhaps submitted by the same person as “Cosmos,” this option was not chosen, to the disappointment of seven-year-olds everywhere.

Windigo – Uh, did they not know what the Windigo is?

Ontario – ????

Imperator – Clearly the best choice.

Click here for the full list. Unfortunately, the names were narrowed down to a fairly boring short list and Kitchener was eventually chosen (Lord Kitchener, British Secretary of State for War, died when HMS Hampshire hit a German mine on 5 June 1916). However, I remember reading an article once on this subject that stated the vast majority of people didn’t even turn out to vote on the name change, so Kitchener was, statistically speaking, a minority choice. Sometimes I wonder whether the day will come when people file petitions to change the name back to Berlin – or has that already happened? Anyway, sorry for the short post this week, but hope you enjoyed it!