20th Century, Miscellaneous, People

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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20th Century, Miscellaneous

Thousand Islands Postcard

(my photo)

(my photo)

(my photo)

(my photo)

While away in Stratford last week I picked up this interesting postcard of the Thousand Islands. (I’m always on the hunt for local postcards in antique shops, specifically those that have writing, but postcards are a huge pain to look through. There are usually at least fifty of them and they take forever to go through. If only there was a better way…) It’s a design I’ve never seen before: intended to be romantic, but also a little sinister, if you want to look at it that way. Where is the man rowing so late at night? Why is his back to us? Is he going to knock the woman over the head with the paddle, dump her body in the river, and pretend it was all a horrible accident?! So many possibilities here.

I jest of course, but this postcard is more interesting than most of the ones I’ve seen of the area. The message is interesting too, sent in January 1912 by (presumably) a Queen’s student to his cousin in Cobourg. I’m guessing it’s from a man based on the writing and the tone. It reads:

Dear Coz:-

Well I suppose by this time, at least, Pinser & Ley [?] have skating at the rink, have they? There is good skating here now. The whole bay is frozen over now, but it is too cold to venture out there. We have a Yankee professor lecturer here who is spending his first winter in Canada. He froze his ears yesterday. He was telling me afterwards that they don’t have this sort of weather “way down in Tennessee”. He is from Tenn. Well so long yours truly

R.D. [?]

I love the tiny glimpses into historical people’s lives which postcards sometimes offer. Most of the time they only have very cursory greetings on them, but if the sender went to more effort they can be very fun to read. I remember reading one that instructed the receiver to destroy the card (I can’t remember why), which they obviously didn’t do.

Meanwhile, I wonder if I could find out who this Tennessee lecturer was, or the identity of R.D….

20th Century, Miscellaneous

Kingston and Kitchener

I came across this bit of history from a link sent to me by the 18th Battalion CEF blog – be sure to check out the original post here!

As you probably know, the city of Kitchener was originally named Berlin, and the area has a strong German heritage to this day. However, when the First World War began and the evil doings of the Hun were being spread as propaganda, this German image became a little… uncomfortable. (A bust of Kaiser Wilhelm I in Victoria Park in Kitchener was at one point thrown into a lake, and later stolen for good. It’s important to note here that before the war, German culture was seen by many Canadians as admirable and significant – wealthy Canadians sometimes sent their children to Germany to finish their education. Once the war began though, love for Germany and love for Britain were seen as incompatible. Berlin, a proudly German-Canadian town, was therefore thrown into a deeply ironic and delicate position.)

People soon felt that Berlin’s name should be changed, but it wasn’t just erstwhile Berliners who were looking for a rebranding – Kingston city council was adamant that the name change be immediate and permanent. They sent the following petition to Prime Minister Robert Borden in January 1917, several months after Berlin’s name had been changed to Kitchener on 1 September 1916. If you read through, what it’s huffing about is that some people were showing “disloyalty” by continuing to send mail with the name Berlin instead of Kitchener. Kingston city council, who for some reason felt they had a say in this matter, wanted the government to force the Postmaster-General to rescind his proclamation that the name Berlin was still an acceptable address. The petition is as follows:

Library and Archives Canada, RG 3, series C-2, vol. 640, file “Asking that the name of the Berlin, Ontario Post Office be changed to Kitchener” (click image to go to source)

Library and Archives Canada, RG 3, series C-2, vol. 640, file “Asking that the name of the Berlin, Ontario Post Office be changed to Kitchener” (click image to go to source)

Although in hindsight the petition seems a little ridiculous, it’s important to remember that public sentiment of this sort was high at the time. In the midst of the most terrible war experienced in generations, people got a little (okay, a lot) paranoid. Still, I find it odd that Kingston, which is nowhere near Kitchener, was so caught up in the name change issue that it sent in this petition to the Prime Minister. Who knows what they were thinking? Did other cities do the same?

Now – this is a little off-topic for local history, but Kitchener wasn’t the only name option open to ex-Berliners. There was a long list of possibilities, including some really strange and interesting ones, a few of which I can’t help sharing:

Khaki – This would have gotten old fast.

Brief – Too many underwear joke possibilities.

Cosmos – Why?

Engada – Obviously a combination of England + Canada, this one actually has a nice ring to it. These combo names seem to have been popular.

Uranus – Perhaps submitted by the same person as “Cosmos,” this option was not chosen, to the disappointment of seven-year-olds everywhere.

Windigo – Uh, did they not know what the Windigo is?

Ontario – ????

Imperator – Clearly the best choice.

Click here for the full list. Unfortunately, the names were narrowed down to a fairly boring short list and Kitchener was eventually chosen (Lord Kitchener, British Secretary of State for War, died when HMS Hampshire hit a German mine on 5 June 1916). However, I remember reading an article once on this subject that stated the vast majority of people didn’t even turn out to vote on the name change, so Kitchener was, statistically speaking, a minority choice. Sometimes I wonder whether the day will come when people file petitions to change the name back to Berlin – or has that already happened? Anyway, sorry for the short post this week, but hope you enjoyed it!

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.)

20th Century, Miscellaneous

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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20th Century, Miscellaneous, Surrounding Areas

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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17th Century, 18th Century, 19th Century, Miscellaneous

Cryptozoological Curiosities

Mermen, centaurs, weird dolphins, guys with wings on their legs: detail of Raphael's Triumph of Galatea (1512) (click image to go to source)

Weird sea creatures cavort in Raphael’s Triumph of Galatea, 1512. (click image to go to source)

Arthur Britton Smith’s Kingston! Oh, Kingston! is a fun anthology which comprises a large number of mostly primary source accounts of Kingston. They range from the French occupation in the seventeenth century to the early twentieth century, and are really fascinating to look through, not least because some of them are really quite strange. I think Britton Smith, despite the fact that he was a lawyer and RMC graduate, must have had a slight taste for the weird as he compiled this book, which is fine by me!

For example, his book includes two accounts of enormous aquatic animals that were apparently seen in Lake Ontario, as well as a story about a strange colourful bird, and some kind of fruit-bearing plant with poisonous roots. Most of the events aren’t strictly about Kingston, they simply took place in Ontario, but I’m including them anyway. If you have any ideas as to what these creatures could be, please let me know!

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20th Century, Miscellaneous

120th birthday of William George Barker, Canadian flying ace and Victoria Cross recipient

This is basically unrelated to Kingston history, but the Bishop-Barker Company took several really nice aerial shots of Kingston (and other cities) in 1919, for example the one seen at the top of the Queen’s Encyclopedia webpage. You can see others by doing an image search for “Kingston from an aeroplane” on Library and Archives Canada; most of the photos are by Bishop-Barker. If I’m not mistaken Billy Bishop flew the plane and Billy Barker took the pictures. I might do a post highlighting these photos, which are among my favourites of Kingston. I’m sad to learn Barker had such a short life!

Library and Archives Canada Blog

November third marked the 120th anniversary of the birth of William George Barker, Canadian First World War flying ace and Victoria Cross recipient. One of Canada’s most renowned fighter pilots and the most decorated serviceman in the history of the British Commonwealth, Barker shot down 50 enemy aircraft during the First World War.

Major William G. Barker, 1918. Major William G. Barker, 1918 (MIKAN 3623168)

Barker was born in Dauphin, Manitoba on November 3, 1894. He enlisted in the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles in December 1914 and arrived in France in September 1915 where he served as a machine gunner. In early 1916, Barker transferred to 9 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He transferred to 15 Squadron in July and shot down his first enemy aircraft from the rear of a B.E.2 aircraft. He was awarded the Military Cross in the concluding stages of the Battle of…

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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

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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