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.

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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, Institutions

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

19th Century, 20th Century, Institutions

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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19th Century, 20th Century, Institutions

Christmas at Rockwood

Rockwood Hospital (my photo)

Rockwood Hospital (my photo)

A little over a month ago I visited the former Rockwood Hospital for the first time – that’s why none of these photos look very Christmasy; I remember it was Remembrance Day and something like sixteen degrees outside. But anyway, it was the first time I’d ever been there, and I found the experience really interesting. The building itself is massive and almost threatening, and has a spooky aura now that it’s been abandoned for fifteen years or so. Fluted stone steps lead down to the broken remnants of a fountain that once stood before the front door, which is boarded up and locked. Weeds grow tall within the fenced-off area, although the rest of the grounds are maintained, and otherwise the building looks strikingly fresh and new as the day it was built.

For some reason I had never been particularly interested in Rockwood, despite the pull of an abandoned psychiatric hospital. But now I wanted to know a bit more about it, and I remembered copies I had seen online of a little journal called the Rockwood Review. Although it does not contain much information about what went on within the hospital walls, I was immediately drawn to its yearly column, “Xmas at Rockwood.” Continue reading

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

18th Century, 19th Century, Institutions, People, Surrounding Areas

Hunky Guys of Kingston’s Past, Part One

It can be easy to see historical figures as people who seem somehow disconnected from a personality. Sometimes you just can’t get excited about the old guy in the portrait, despite the laurels to his name, and history starts to appear ever more dull. Well, that doesn’t always have to be the case. To spice things up a bit – inspired by this Tumblr and others – I bring you five men from Kingston and the area who not only made history, but looked great doing it. Yes, it’s Hunky Guys of Kingston’s Past!

Due to the surprising amount of stuff that these guys did in their lives, I’ve needed to break up this post into two sections. The next one will be coming shortly. They’re arranged broadly in chronological order, for lack of a better method.

Anyway, here is Part One. Enjoy!

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20th Century, Institutions, People

KFPL’s Home Town, Home Front Project

The 46th (Queen’s) Battery in England, several weeks before heading to the Front. Queen’s Picture Collection V28 Mil-FieldCo-5. Queen’s University Archives. (click image to go to source, where you can see a larger version)

This post has been a long time coming – and I should probably warn you I’ve turned it into a 2000-word saga – but I think I’m finally ready to present my account of the soldier I received for the Kingston Frontenac Public Library’s “Home Town, Home Front” project, which marks the centenary of the First World War. The idea of the project was to send postcards to older homes with the name of a soldier or nursing sister who once lived there. Then, the library provided resources for the current residents of the home to research their subject.

The house I live in is a 1986 bungalow so I obviously wasn’t counting on receiving a postcard. However, a request to the library gave me a name to research, after I specified I’d like someone from the area around Queen’s. (I didn’t care where the person lived in Kingston, but considering how much time I spend at Queen’s working and going to school, it seemed like a good option). After a short wait, the name I received was…

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19th Century, 20th Century, Institutions, Miscellaneous

Dodgy Medicine Ads

I haven't looked this up to see what it is, but it sounds weird.

“Cascara sagrada” is a potent laxative and possible carcinogen, in case you were wondering. Also, not related to this picture, but for some reason the text formatting keeps messing up in this post. I can’t seem to help it. Sorry!

I have been having a semi-terrible week (my cat went missing, among other things) so my mental energy is not really high enough to do a full-length post. Instead, let’s look at some weird advertisements posted in the Kingston Medical Quarterly around the turn of the twentieth century! This journal was a publication affiliated with the medical faculty at Queen’s which ran for at least seven years (1896-1903) and occasionally included some interesting case studies of Kingstonians. It also included ads for some pretty dodgy-sounding medicines. In case we forget, medicine was still quite touch-and-go in the early 1900s. An article in the Kingston Medical Quarterly Vol.5 No.1 of October 1900 states:

Medicine is ceasing to be empirical and becoming scientific. By empirical, I mean, as the dictionary has it, “practiced only by rote, without rational grounds.” The reign of science has not yet been completely established but we can look forward to it as the time when the physician shall be as beneficial in act as he always was benevolent in intention.

Yikes. Well, at least they were trying.

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