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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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

20th Century, Culture, People

Poetry Corner with Alice and Margaret King

It’s been a really long time since I last posted. Sorry. But I have just one more essay to write for school: an exhibition proposal, which I’ve given the fancy title Mirth and Madness: The Metropolis and German Expressionist Art. I have high expectations for this proposal, and Germany at the turn of the twentieth century was a pretty interesting place, so it’s been fun to research. I can see the light at the end of the academic tunnel.

Anyway, recently while poking around archive.org I found a microform copy of a document called The Old Limestone City with a date of 1910. It had the tag “French Canadian poetry,” which I (correctly) doubted, but I was bored and curious so I clicked it anyway, with low expectations. Amateur poetry is awful, but amateur poetry from the Victorian/Edwardian era is wretchedly awful. I should mention I am not a poetry fan, so my appreciation scale usually goes from “Okay” to “I literally can’t even look at this.” I expected these to fall into the latter category, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by what I found.

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20th Century, Culture, Miscellaneous

A Smooth Move

Hello again! I’m breaking my hiatus and taking a study break to bring you the inspiring true story that follows. I meant to write this a long time ago but never got around to it; however I was at the public library the other day and managed to remember to get the source for this excerpt.

It’s from a book compiled in 1973 called I Remember When: Stories of Kingston Folk. This is a section of the piece submitted by one Len Booth, called “Marching Men.” Mr. Booth remembered a lot from his Kingston days in the 1910s and 20s, but:

One incident that still stands out among my many memories of dear old Historic Kingston occurred one morning as with a number of other passengers, I was about to board a streetcar going down Princess Street.

A lovely young lady of secretarial personality in front of me was about to step on the car when a pair of frilly “unmentionables” dropped around her ankles. What a girl! A real “soldier.” Cool as a cucumber, and seemingly in keeping with the military atmosphere of the time she simply took the situation in stride, and without batting an eyelash stepped out of them and boarded the car.

That was a long time ago. She’s probably a great-grandmother today, but I’ll bet my last poker chip that SHE REMEMBERS WHEN!

This is an amusing story (and honestly, you have to applaud the woman), but you may be thinking: how did her underwear just fall down like that? Well, it has much to do with what women’s underwear was like a hundred years ago. I’ve always been interested in the history of underwear (no, really) so let’s explore that.

The underwear that our secretarial young lady was wearing was probably some version of the following “Serviceable Drawers”:


Note the drawstring waistband, which was featured on a number of similar styles in the Eaton’s Spring and Summer 1917 catalogue (where this illustration is from). It’s easy to see how hastily getting ready one morning or wearing a size too large could result in the above scenario. Also note the “open or closed style” option, which means exactly what you think it does. Women’s closed-crotch underwear is actually a relatively recent phenomenon.

In addition to chemises, corsets, corset covers, petticoats, and the like, the Eaton’s catalogue also featured a wide variety of other underwear options, many of which are uncomfortably medieval-looking products for menstruating women. In the following illustration we can find rubber belts and aprons, and some kind of abdominal support “shaped to . . . hold the vital organs in a natural position.” But here we also have a “Nature’s Rival” bust enhancer made of shirred fabric (and another made of rubber), as well as a “bustle,” really just something to fill out a flat derrière.


Men’s underwear looked almost equally uncomfortable. Summer or winter, the following are the only options Eaton’s has for you. Sometimes you’ll get a design in short sleeves, but that’s about it. (The illustrations cut off below the thigh, but these would have been full-length long johns).


The Fall/Winter 1913-14 catalogue and the Spring/Summer 1917 catalogue both only feature variations on this style, but I can’t imagine that men wore long underwear all the time (or maybe they did?). Meanwhile, if you think weird underwear products were only for women, as far as I know this chest protector-thing is no longer with us:


And neither are these mysterious “body bands” and “knee warmers,” although it should be noted that rubber belts would have been necessary for women to wear, whereas these were of course optional:menskneewarmersMen also had the option of wearing this hot red number:


Dress reform had begun mainly in avant-garde circles in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century, leading to women doffing their corsets and other restrictive clothing. (Jane Morris et al. had also done this in England in the 1850s). But as far as I know, it’s unlikely that most Canadian women would have been of the same mindset.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading about that little incident, and now you know what to do if a similar crisis ever befalls you. For me, back to essays on German Expressionism and the Gothic Revival…



Eaton’s Fall/Winter 1913-14 catalogue

Eaton’s Spring/Summer 1917 catalogue

Culture, Miscellaneous, Surrounding Areas

Just Some Spontaneous Human Combustion

Leeds and Grenville – it’s a spooky place. William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada/PA-008791. (click photo to go to source)

Yes, spontaneous human combustion. A look through Thaddeus Leavitt’s idiosyncratic History of Leeds and Grenville Ontario, from 1749 to 1879, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers yields a few tall tales from this region. I love folklore and legend (wish we had more of it around here to be honest) and while only one of these stories is still well-known today, the rest are enjoyable as oddities.

As usual, I’ve indicated short edits with an ellipsis . . . and long edits with an ellipsis in square brackets […]. In this case, I’ve also decided to modernize the spelling and punctuation quirks in the text.

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