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.

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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.

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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 (It’s occurred to me that 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 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 ( 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.

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…

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Appreciation Post: Clifford M. Johnston

Clifford M. Johnston, pictured above taking mirror selfies about a hundred years ago, was the guy who took the photos I use as the headers on this blog. He was born in Parry Sound in 1896 and came to Kingston as an engineering student at Queen’s, and was an enthusiastic amateur photographer. Throughout the 1930s and 40s he participated in international photographic “salons,” was on the executive board of the Camera Club in Ottawa, and in 1936 became a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. He died in 1951.

As you can tell his Kingston photos are his “early work,” and a lot of them aren’t particularly polished, but I like them for the different viewpoints (often literally) from which you can see Kingston. It’s almost as if having an out-of-towner taking the photographs resulted in a more interesting and refreshing documentation of the city, something apart from the typical images taken by commercial photographers. Of course, Johnston was also just talented. Here are some interesting pictures of Kingston by him; all were taken sometime between 1914-1917:

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Art Nouveau Porch

Porch at 254 King Street East. (my photo)

Porch at 254 King Street East. (my photo)

April 15, 2016 update: I literally saw a drawing of this house from a 1970s calendar which shows a plain, modern porch and a sign for tourist housing or some such thing. So perhaps a later owner recreated the original one? Who knows? This is getting confusing.

July 29, 2015 update: I recently viewed a photograph of this house while a dentist, Dr. Clements, was living there, so pre-1910. The porch was there at that time, suggesting it’s original or nearly original to the building.

An entire post about a porch? Yes.

Art Nouveau is a bit of a catch-all term for a design and architecture movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the decorative arts, it lasted from about 1880-1910, while as an architectural style it was most popular from about 1893-1903. The term Art nouveau (“new art”) is more specifically used for the French-Belgian variety, which tends to feature long, curvilinear, plant-like lines. Jugendstil (“youth style”) is used for the Austrian-German variety, which generally features a sleeker, more open and square-ish aesthetic. However, Charles Rennie Mackintosh et al. in Scotland were also creating their own niche in the Art Nouveau world, as was Antoni Gaudí in Spain, and others around Europe. There isn’t terribly much linking these groups together stylistically, except for the plant themes that keep popping up and the desire to create a modern aesthetic, free from nineteenth-century fuss, that became instantly popular with the upper-middle classes.

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RMC a Century Ago

RMC circa 1920. Library and Archives Canada. (click image to go to source)

Throughout my time as a Queen’s student, I’ve sometimes forgotten that there are other institutions of higher education in Kingston. (Didn’t Queen’s have a mantra in the 60s that went, “Queen’s is the ONLY university”?) Except I’m being serious. While I sometimes forget about St. Lawrence College and its significant student population, I especially forget about that collection of buildings, over there in the distance across the Cataraqui River… Oh, right. It’s RMC.

This is perhaps not especially strange because RMC rarely makes the headlines in the paper, if you know what I mean, and you’re lucky to catch a rare glimpse of a cadet around town. (I retract this statement. I’ve had like seven come into my work recently.) It’s also on Point Frederick, physically separated from the city centre in a way that Queen’s isn’t. I used to go there quite often when I was younger, mostly for archaeology camp in the summer, but haven’t been back since I was fifteen.

My recognition of RMC was rekindled several months ago when I came across an article about its activities during the First World War. Since the blog was getting pretty war-heavy at the time I decided to file the topic away for a while, but now I think it’s been long enough that I can blow off the dust. So this is the last (?) of my unplanned series of posts on First World War activities in Kingston and the area. (The others are here, here, and here. Sorry, this stuff just falls into my lap.) The last two are about Queen’s students and there is some overlapping material. Continue reading

Two Early Films of Kingston and Area

I was really excited to find two brief, relatively early, locally-shot films while on Youtube the other night. Films of the Kingston area are few and far between, especially from, say, the pre-1950 era, and most that survive are in archives or perhaps in private collections. So it was great to run across these two just sitting there on the internet! I am also happy to say I can tell you a little bit about the background of both of them.

Let’s start with the earlier one: a 1919 travel film about the Thousand Islands, made by the Ford Motor Company. It belongs to the Thousand Islands Museum in Clayton, New York, and was apparently not uploaded by them, although the uploader says it was “provided” by them. The film basically just has the camera on a boat and travels around the islands with a few title-cards interspersed. Therefore, it’s not much you haven’t seen before, just the Thousand Islands in black-and-white. However I still find it interesting to watch, and the Bach soundtrack someone has added makes the whole thing kind of hypnotic and meditative…

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Thousand Island Cookies

Cookies 016

I have a memory of being at some historic site when I was a kid (it might have been Dundurn Castle) and going into the kitchen area and eating cookies they had made from a nineteenth-century recipe. They were little jam-filled sandwich cookies and they tasted kind of fascinatingly old to me, as if they weren’t just made from a 150-year-old recipe, but had actually travelled through time to reach me and had maybe turned slightly stale in the process. About a year ago I was thinking about this, and considering how easy it is to find old books online, I thought I could try making an antique cookie recipe myself. The ones I especially wanted to try were in an English cookbook from the eighteenth century, but the huge quantities and weird ingredients made me think again. One day though, one day…

Instead I eventually found this recipe for “Thousand Island Cookies” in a 1909 cookbook published by the Ladies’ Aid of the Cobourg Congregational Church (a lot of Victorian cookie recipes were very plain, so I branched out to a later period). What makes them “Thousand Island”? I have no idea. My pet theory is that when they bake up they look like little granite islands – albeit without trees, grass, and million-dollar cottages on them. Here is the original recipe:

thousand island cookies

I don’t know who Mrs. Turpin was, by the way. This recipe is moderately large, and, in the tradition of old cookbooks, gives virtually no instructions on preparation, assuming that good housewives would know how to make cookies. So here below is an adapted version of the recipe that I used, with a few more directions and some photos. The main differences are that I’ve halved the recipe and substituted nuts for the raisins. But if you’re one of those people, like my sister, who actually prefers raisins to nuts in baking (blasphemy!) you can do whatever you want; you could even put in both. The amount of cloves in this recipe may seem like a lot, but I didn’t find the taste overpowering. Of course if you don’t like cloves you can reduce the amount or replace them with another spice.

One more thing: I have notoriously unscrupulous baking habits. I hardly ever measure anything accurately, I have no problem adding or substituting ingredients, and I use gut feeling to tell when things are done. So this recipe will be less-than-scientific; hopefully if you want to try it, you won’t find this a problem!

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The Regi Chorus

Me in Grade Twelve.

Me in Grade Twelve, apparently pointing to a drawing of myself…

Full disclosure: I went to high school at Regi, from September 2006 to June 2010. I had a relatively miserable time in high school but nevertheless thought Regi was a good place to be. Apparently the local history spark was in me even then, because in the front foyer they had class photos and memorabilia going as far back as the early 1900s, which I was always dying to look at. But I never saw anyone else doing it, and I was (okay… still am) paranoid and thought people would think I was weird for studying them intently. I shouldn’t have worried though, because I’m pretty sure everyone thought I was weird anyway.

Moving along to the point, I played clarinet in senior band, and while cleaning my room recently I found my sheet music for the Regi Chorus! This is a piece of music written before Regiopolis and Notre Dame were combined, that someone dug out one day and which the band sometimes plays at school events. I had fun playing it and will get to it in a minute, but first I’m going to go through a brief – but fun! – history of Regi, because it has signified a number of things over its long life and I didn’t know much about it myself up till now. Regi always seems slightly missing-in-action in Kingston histories (too Catholic?), despite the fact that it’s as old as the hills. There are lots and lots of dates in the next few paragraphs, but I hope it won’t be too dry.

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