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

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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19th Century, Miscellaneous

The Divine Revelation

Just a quickie post to note something that caught my attention in the August 15 edition of the National Post. Throughout the summer the National Post has been producing a series of articles “on the revolutionaries, luminaries and criminals who have taken time out from shaping world events to pay us a visit — and how that visit shaped them.” Us, meaning Canada.

This last edition detailed the visit that Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, paid to Southern Ontario in 1833 in the hopes of evangelizing the Canadians to his faith. You can read the article online here, but this is the part I like best:

Although this was Smith’s first trip over the border, the British colony had played a curious role in one of his first divine revelations. Via the seer stone, Smith had declared in 1830 that if his followers went to Kingston, Ont. — the terminus of the still-under-construction Rideau Canal — they would secure funding to distribute the Book of Mormon.

The seer stone was the device that Joseph Smith used to decode Egyptian text on the buried plates shown to him by the angel Moroni. This decoded text became the Book of Mormon, published in 1830, the same year the Kingston revelation was made. However, God’s message to visit our nascent city couldn’t have been terribly urgent, because Smith never actually came here. Maybe he found the money to distribute his book anyway?

I know very little about the Mormon faith, but it made me smile to see Kingston as the subject of a divine revelation – something that has certainly never been mentioned in any of the local history books I’ve read!

Update: Joseph Smith did visit Bath in 1833 though. Close enough.

19th Century, Institutions, Miscellaneous

Birthday Bonus: David the Goat

An 1836 watercolour of Fort Henry by George St. Vincent Whitmore. Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. R9266-519 Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana. (click image to go to source)

Today is my birthday, so I’ve written something short that otherwise wouldn’t fit into a typical blog post. (Birthdays are good excuses for doing stuff like this.) I’m going to write about David, the mascot of the Fort Henry Guard. Why? It mostly just has to do with my interest in Wales. Also goats are cute, although sadly I can’t supply a photo here due to copyright. I run a pretty tight ship on this blog.

David goes way back to 1842 when the 23rd Regiment of Foot, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, were garrisoned at Kingston. They were a regiment from northern Wales who brought with them their goat mascot, who was named, appropriately, Billy. As far as I know nothing spectacular happened while the Royal Welch Fusiliers were in town: they left in 1843. However, their capric legacy – check it out, it’s a real word – lingered in Kingston, like so many other things from the brief yet heady days while we were capital.

But in reality, it’s not quite accurate to say that the memory of Billy the Goat somehow remained, ghost-like, in the hearts and minds of Kingstonians until we just had to get one of our own. What happened was that in 1953, the St. David’s Society of Toronto, whose purpose is “to keep people in touch with their Welsh ‘roots’,” donated a goat to Fort Henry in memory of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. How they found out about their brief stay in Kingston, or why they thought it was important to commemorate, I don’t know. But the gift has lasted, and today David, still snowy-white, is in his tenth incarnation.

The Royal Welch Fusiliers museum is in Caernarfon Castle in Wales; I think it would be fun to go there and tell them about our custom.

Fun fact (sourced by Wikipedia, so take with a grain of salt)*: The Royal Welch Fusiliers full dress uniform was distinguished by the “flash” they wore, a bunch of black ribbons sewn on the upper back of the jacket; this custom has partial basis in another time the regiment was stationed in Canada, this time in Nova Scotia. Soldiers wore their hair in queues held in little black bags up to this point, but the practice was stopped in 1808. However, being overseas the RWF did not get this message and later returned with their outdated hairstyles. Somehow out of this, the flash was born as a way to distinguish the regiment.

*The flash is certainly real, but details may be hit or miss as with everything on Wikipedia, not to mention what 200-year-old origin stories are usually like. Here is the link which includes more information.

December 9, 2014 update: Here’s a first-hand account by a man who as a child, briefly lived in Kingston while the 23rd Regiment of Foot was in town. It’s typical soldiery stuff but still kind of fun. Source

[Kingston] was an important military post. The Twenty-third Regiment, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers – I think the full regiment – and some batteries of artillery were stationed there, in addition to the artillerymen at the fort. Frequent reviews, held near Barriefield, across the bay, were a source of much interest to the citizens. The Twenty-third Regiment had a very large fife-and-drum band – I think nearly a hundred in number, it being a hobby of the colonel’s – and the nightly tattoos (sometimes by the whole band) were great attractions. Many of the men of the Twenty-third were a rough, drunken lot, and fights amongst themselves and with some of the rougher element in the city were frequent, so people avoided the vicinity of the barracks after tattoo, when the guards were searching for drunken men.


Sources and Further Reading

Fort Henry’s page on David

Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum

St. David’s Society page

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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