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.

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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, 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?

19th Century, Culture, Miscellaneous

A Waterloo Benefit and “The Nun of Canada”

Short posts again for the next few weeks, however the course I’m taking finishes at the end of July so I should have some more time to blog after that.

And speaking of my course (online first-year Canadian history), I have two tidbits to share with you here that I included in a recent assignment I did. Fortunately or unfortunately, a lot of school projects I’ve done in the past year or two have skewed towards local history, a bias which is hard to shake because… I really like researching local history. Anyway, we had to do a little project on a topic of our choice, and I did “Cultural Life in Early British North America” because it’s a time period that interests me, and a subject that interests me.

I’m going on a bit of a tangent here, but bear with me: speaking historically, I’ve always had a curiosity about Canada’s upper echelon of society, partially because it seems like we never really had one – not in the way other countries do, anyway. (When is the last time you heard the phrase, “Canadian socialite”? Exactly.) Certainly Canada has had its big important families, but we don’t care very much about how they lived, I don’t think. Maybe this isn’t exactly a huge loss, and of course the trend in scholarship is to focus on previously under-appreciated groups, such as women, minorities and the working class. But I found that thinking about Canada’s élite helped me place the young country in a more global context. By learning a bit about Canada’s connections to the international culture, fashions, news, and events that would have been enjoyed mostly by those in the upper classes, I got a greater appreciation for Canada’s place in the world. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel that a lot of Canadian history paints the country as rather an isolated backwater (which, to be fair, in some senses it was) without acknowledging that many people had wider connections and remained up-to-date with contemporary cultural life. This is getting long-winded, but hopefully you understand what I’m getting at.

On that note, you may be interested to learn that in 1816 the Kingston garrison’s theatre club put on a benefit for the families of casualties from the Battle of Waterloo – the bicentennial of which, as you may know, was about three weeks ago.


(click image to go to source)

I’m not 100% sure which regiment(s) were in Kingston at this time*, but the performance produced a sum of £100 that was sent to the Waterloo Fund in London. It’s strange seeing something like Waterloo being talked about as a current event, and although this performance wasn’t exactly high culture, it does show that scrappy little Kingston was connected to world events through its garrison. I would be interested to know how much the cost of admission would be today, and who would have been able to afford to go to the theatre society’s performances regularly.

*I believe De Watteville’s Regiment was here in 1816; they were an interesting pan-European bunch and I’ll have to research them sometime.

Next, I’ve mentioned this in the past, but did you know that the first novel by a Canadian-born writer to be published in Canada was published in Kingston?

Historical Perspectives on Canadian Publishing, McGill University (click image to go to source)

Julia Catherine Beckwith (married name Hart) was born in New Brunswick to a French-Canadian mother and English-Canadian father, and was just seventeen when she wrote the manuscript for St. Ursula’s Convent, or the Nun of Canada. However, it wasn’t published until eleven years later when she was living in Kingston. Apparently it’s rather a melodramatic and convoluted story, and it wasn’t reprinted again until 1991, but it’s clearly a milestone in Canadian publishing history, and women’s history as well.

So that’s it for now – I’ll be back again in a few weeks, hopefully with a post about the soon-to-be demolished Film House at Queen’s. (The Film House is actually two houses. You’ll see.)

19th Century, Culture, People

“An 1890 Childhood”

The 1890s – when kids still had tea parties with their dogs. Attributed to James Ballantyne/Library and Archives Canada/PA-131941 (click image to go to source)

Before you ask, no those kids in the picture aren’t from Kingston or the child referred to in this post, they’re children who lived in Ottawa in the 1890s. But it’s a cute photo and has the right vibe for the text of this post, which is why I included it.

The title of this post is the original title of a piece composed by Daisy Chown for the 1973 book I Remember When: Stories of Kingston Folk. I believe members of Rideaucrest Home contributed stories for it, and a lot of them are really interesting, especially if, like me, you enjoy reading about the minutiae of daily life 100+ years ago. The Chown family was basically Kingston royalty, and there are still places around the city named for them (e.g. Chown Hall residence at Queen’s). Daisy Chown was born in 1881, and so was around ninety-two when she recounted her early life on what was originally called Gordon Street, now University Avenue. I’m copying it here word-for-word, except for a few typos which I’ve corrected. It’s a bit of a disjointed narrative, but I think that adds to the charm.

“I remember when we moved from Bagot Street to University Avenue, then called Gordon Street, in November 1887. The sidewalk was two planks wide, laid lengthwise. Later sidewalks were planks, maybe 5 feet wide, laid horizontally. Finally, there were cement walks.

“When I was teaching in Whitby Ontario Ladies College in the 20’s, one of my duties was to take as many as 100 girls walking – we called it a division. The sidewalks were of boards, and often a board came off where one could tumble and break an ankle. The front girls in the line said ‘board off’ to the ones behind them, and the word was passed back until it reached me at the end of the line.

“I started school at Gordon Street School which was on the corner where Ban Righ Hall now stands. It was a four room school which would be called a fire trap now, the staircase to the upper two rooms being in a shed-like addition at the back. The only entrance to the upstair front room was through the back room.

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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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Culture, Pre-17th Century


A primordial-looking swamp near my house. It's probably full of plants introduced by Europeans but hey, I'm doing my best here. (my photo, obviously)

A primordial-looking swamp near my house. It’s probably full of plants introduced by Europeans but hey, I’m doing my best here. (my photo, obviously)

February 19, 2015: Oops! Forgot to mention that the Queen’s Native Students Association will be showcasing a Historical Indigenous walking tour of Kingston in the Lower Ceilidh of the JDUC on March 16. This should have some good information for those interested!

For a while I have wanted to write something about the pre-colonization history of the Kingston area. The idea came to me strongly one night when I was looking at an 1884 plan of Gordon Street (University Avenue) which shows the stream that used to run through it between Union and Earl. (You can see the plan here; the “old water course” is drawn as running through lots, including buildings, so maybe by this point it had been dammed up or something.) This stream was likely fed by a pond located around present-day Victoria Park, as quoted by Agnes Maule Machar.

Anyway, to make a long story short, it suddenly hit me that at one time there was no Gordon Street, there was no Victoria Park, there was just a little forest stream making its way through the trees. When you’ve spent a long time thinking about a place in terms of the built environment, as my interests generally lead me to do, it’s a strange feeling to realize that city streets and buildings have a relatively short and abrupt history here. This led me to want to investigate the pre-contact Aboriginal history of the place that would be Kingston.

I’ve found this is easier said than done. In the first place, this is an area that I don’t have expertise in (I learned a lot, but please forgive any mistakes!), and secondly, Kingston was not a hotspot for the Indigenous peoples who lived in southern Ontario. They appear not to have concentrated here, at least not in large numbers, or for significant periods of time. So what I’ve done in this post is outline the broad settlement developments of southern Ontario, using the book Before Ontario: The Archaeology of a Province, supplemented by some Kingston-specific information. There are some Aboriginal archaeological sites around Kingston, but I haven’t looked into them for this post. (Ding ding, future blog idea!)

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20th Century, Culture, Surrounding Areas

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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19th Century, Businesses, Culture

Photography’s Early Days

An 1856 daguerreotype of Mr. John Shiels of Kingston, taken by Henry K. Sheldon. Art Gallery of Ontario. (click image to go to source)

I’ve posted this daguerreotype on the blog before; you can read a short post I wrote about it here. I’m using it again because I think it may be the earliest photograph I’ve seen that was taken in Kingston (but I’m not sure). The photographers I’ll be talking about in this post are 10-15 years earlier than this, however, and I assume no one has any idea what’s happened to the pictures they took. It would be really interesting to find out what the earliest known photograph of Kingston is!

The following paragraphs have been copy-and-pasted from a short assignment I did recently for class, where we had to go through old Kingston newspapers online and find any and all references to photography between 1839-1845. The tone is a bit drier than usual because of this, and I don’t go into the usual amount of detail, but I’ve found that after I complete an assignment it gets marked “DONE” in my head and I find it hard to go back and delve into it again. Anyway, with that in mind, read on to learn (a very tiny bit) about photography’s early days in Kingston!

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19th Century, Culture, Institutions, People

Hunky Guys of Kingston’s Past, Part Two

This is the second section of Hunky Guys of Kingston’s Past (see Part One here), featuring a few more contentious figures than the first section.

Read on for Part Two! Sorry it’s so long, there’s a lot to pack in here. Continue reading