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, 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

18th Century, 19th Century, Buildings, Historic Sites, Surrounding Areas

Local Historic Sites: Old Hay Bay Church

Old Hay Bay Church. (my photo)

Old Hay Bay Church. (my photo)

I’ve been kind of beating you over the head with churches lately – my last historic site post was also about churches – but as you can see Old Hay Bay Church is something rather different. It was built on the south shore of Hay Bay, between Napanee and Adolphustown, in 1792 and stands as the oldest surviving Methodist meeting-house in Canada. To me, it looks like a piece of New England plunked into the Ontario countryside.

Reverend William Losee, an itinerant preacher from New York, came to Canada in 1790 and began converting people to Methodism, which rapidly gained as a religious movement. This meeting-house was built just two years later, and along with Fairfield House (1793) and Fairfield-Gutzeit House (1796) constitutes one of the very oldest structures in the area. (All three buildings are in the vicinity of Bath – Bath is a very lucky place!) Old Hay Bay Church also has one of the best signs I’ve seen in a long time posted in its entrance:

Yes. (my photo)

Yes. (my photo)

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18th Century, 19th Century, Buildings, Historic Sites

Local Historic Sites: A Kingston Church Sampler

At Sydenham Street United. (my photo)

At Sydenham Street United. (my photo)

June 20 was Doors Open Kingston, when various organizations and historic sites let people in their doors to look around for free. (The event is held across Ontario at different times – click here to find out when it’s happening elsewhere.) Since a lot of churches were taking part this year, I decided it would be fun to visit each of them and post about it here. Sadly though, I was too late to visit two of them – St. Andrew’s Presbyterian and St. Paul’s Anglican – which is kind of frustrating because they’re very interesting churches with a lot of history. I’ll have to get back to them later this summer, but I did manage to get to three this past Saturday: Chalmers United, Sydenham Street United, and St. George’s Anglican Cathedral.

Before I start, I have to say Kingston has had an extraordinary amount of churches. Just on Clergy Street there are St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, St. Andrew’s, and Queen Street United (formerly Methodist, and now being turned into condos). There were also once two churches on Brock Street, Cooke’s Presbyterian and Brock Street Methodist; plus the Congregationalist church on Wellington, now a daycare; the Catholic Apostolic church on Queen Street, now Renaissance Event Venue; St. James’ Anglican on Union Street… the list goes on, literally. The 1893-94 Kingston directory needs nearly two full pages to list all the religious groups in Kingston and their activities. Obviously, religion was an essential part of life to many people, which is why churches are such meaningful places for local history. I’ll begin my post here with the first place I visited, Chalmers United Church.

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19th Century, Buildings

7 Kingston Buildings That Have Had Their Tops Lopped Off

Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. At least I can’t.

There are a number of historic buildings in Kingston that are missing a little something: namely, their top storeys and towers. These buildings all looked normal to me until I saw photographs of them in their heyday, appearing somehow more complete than they do now. What was the difference? At some point their crowning glories – third floors, fancy roofs, or towers – were removed, changing the streetscape in a sometimes major way. Now I walk around like someone with an 120-year-old memory, wishing things still looked like they once did. Unfortunately, except for one instance, I don’t know why or when these buildings were altered. I assume in most cases (especially for roofs and towers) it was simply deterioration, and it was easier to remove rotting wood and shingles than trying to repair them. I have no doubt there are countless examples of this in other towns as well. Here are the ones I’ve found in Kingston, in no particular order:

Macdonald School, now used by Cogeco, corner of Colborne and Division 

(my photo)

(my photo)

Sorry, I don’t have a photo of this school before it was deprived of most of its attic space. However, I have seen a photo of it (during my volunteer gig at the Queen’s Archives, more on that later) and I can tell you it used to look a little more like this:

Garishly coloured postcard of KCVI, c. 1910. Vintage Kingston. (click image to go to source)

Garishly coloured postcard of KCVI, c. 1910. Vintage Kingston. (click image to go to source)

This is the original KCVI building, constructed in 1892 and destroyed some time prior to the 1970s (if anyone can tell me a more exact date that would be great). It has a typical turn-of-the-century school look with a big gabled roof similar to the one originally at Macdonald School.

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20th Century, Buildings, Culture

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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19th Century, Buildings, Surrounding Areas

Gothic Revival Architecture

Elizabeth Cottage, built by Edward Horsey c. 1846. (my photo)

Detail of Elizabeth Cottage, built by Edward Horsey c. 1846. (my photo)

This blogging hiatus isn’t going as planned, but that’s okay. I’m going to use this post as a testing ground for a paper I’ve been researching on domestic Gothic Revival architecture in the Kingston area. My argument is that Gothic Revival was an unpopular style for houses in Kingston – and more broadly, Ontario – in the nineteenth century, and exploring why that might have been. This was despite a growing interest in Gothicism in England throughout the first several decades of the nineteenth century, and a later assessment of the Gothic as somehow being an inherently Canadian style. (The British thought this too. Even though the Gothic originated in France. Anyway…)

Nineteenth-century Gothic Revival architecture often has a heavy and sober appearance, but apparently it was still too fancy for most Kingstonians in the 1840s and 50s, who preferred plain, classically-inspired designs. The only examples of secular houses making a real effort at Gothic Revival in Kingston are Elizabeth Cottage (Edward Horsey, c. 1846) and McIntosh Castle (John Power, 1852). Allen Cottage (William Coverdale, 1848), a house on Wolfe Island which was demolished some eighty years ago was another good example, except it was built for the rector of a church. I may consider it in my essay even though I’m focusing on non-church-related architecture.

In this post, I’m just going to go over some local examples of Gothic Revival and save the theory for my paper.

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19th Century, Buildings, Neighbourhoods

The Barrie St. Divide

Earl St. west of Barrie - home of "El Drunko" (my photo)

Earl St. west of Barrie – home of “El Drunko” (my photo)

October 16, 2014 update: According to this post on the blog Kingston Cam, several houses along Barrie Street, West Street, and other similar areas used to be student housing before Queen’s and/or rich people bought them and fixed them up. Thought it was a useful piece of information in light of what I’ve written here. Moral of the story is remember I’m writing this blog with a memory that goes back to approximately 1996.

I was sitting at work a while ago looking at the Queen’s Journal (a recent issue for once, not one from 1895) and came across an article called “The Divide” which is about “housing disparities on either side of Barrie St.” (You can read the article here.) It describes how housing is generally better-kept outside of the student ghetto, the neighbourhoods west of Barrie St. where many students rent houses. The article uses William St. as an example, where rather nice homes can be found east of Barrie, and boxy, crowded houses west of Barrie.

The Barrie St. divide seems to bring up an interesting case of what you might call a collective city memory. Passed down from citizen to citizen, we’ve learned throughout the years that what’s on this side of Barrie St. is nice and should be kept that way, while what’s on the other side is somehow not as important. Although I’ll be telling this story with very broad strokes – to go into all the details of why certain neighbourhoods turn out as they do is beyond the scope of a blog post, not to mention my own capabilities – it’s likely that the Barrie St. divide is quite an old one.

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19th Century, Buildings

What’s Up With St. Helen’s?

Deliberately creepy photo of St. Helen's from the south. (my photo)

Deliberately creepy photo of St. Helen’s from the south. (my photo)

December 9, 2014 update: The news has gotten out that St. Helen’s and the adjoining property Stone Gables have been vacant for about three years. St. Helen’s is currently caught between the Correctional Service of Canada and the municipal government, the latter of whom wants the house’s interior heritage features to remain intact. Correctional Services doesn’t want to do this, finding such a ruling too restricting and inconvenient.

While wandering around King St. West recently, I noticed for the first time that it’s possible to access the rear lawn of St. Helen’s, the house at 440 King St. West long occupied by Corrections Canada. I was pleased and saddened and surprised all at once by what I saw: a once-grand but visibly dilapidated mansion staring out sadly towards the lake.

I was pleased because it’s a nice area to have access to and I (like many people) love nothing better than a crumbling mansion to set the tone; however, the place is literally falling apart and this is surprising considering the historical and architectural associations it has. I have no idea why it’s been left the way it is; perhaps there’s a reason I don’t know about. But St. Helen’s, or Mortonwood as it was also called, caught my imagination and I had to find out more about it.

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20th Century, Buildings, Institutions, Neighbourhoods

A 1920s Driving Tour of Kingston

what to see in kingston_Page_1_Image_0001I found this vintage driving tour of Kingston over a year ago on archive.org, and now it appears to be gone (or at least I can’t find it) so I can’t link to it. Instead, I’ll reproduce each page of the PDF I saved here.

The tour is undated, but it’s likely from after 1927 due to the inclusion of the Military Headquarters on King St. as a “place of interest.”  The style of the document suggests, to me, a publication date roughly around this time, as does the corkscrew route the tour takes, evoking a time when there were probably less cars on downtown streets.

Many of these sites are still existing, but some of them aren’t or have different uses today. I’m going to go over the sites that are now different or obsolete, although I’ve been a bit choosy about what I present. For example, the Whig building is fairly well-known appellation in Kingston even though the offices are no longer located there. Rockwood Hospital, empty now for a number of years, is another well-known though obsolete site. I’ll be limiting myself to structures that are totally gone today, ones that have changed completely in function, as well as the more obscure sites. Unfortunately, there are several I don’t know much about, so I’ve just tried to do my best.

Something to keep in mind: the dates beside some locations do not always denote construction. For example, the present St. George’s Cathedral wasn’t built in 1791; it was founded at that time.

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