20th Century, Buildings, People

The Winter Bird’s Paradise at Pleasant View

Pleasant View. April 2014 image from Google Streetview.

Pleasant View. April 2014 image from Google Streetview.

Here is a cute bit of Kingston ephemera from about 1919. I first learned about it while looking through the book Cataraqui Village and subsequently found it on archive.org. (It’s occurred to me that archive.org has a name, Internet Archive, and yet I always refer to it by its URL. Oh well.)

This house, at 2312 Princess Street, is unmistakable and hard to miss, being as it is surrounded by stores such as Rona and FreshCo in a busy suburban area of Kingston. Set back far from the road, it is a reminder of the surprisingly not-so-distant days when this area was a separate rural town called Cataraqui Village (or sometimes Waterloo Village). Built between 1865 and 1869, the house was constructed by Lewis Johnson Day, who literally built his house with bricks from his own brickyard.

After living there for thirty years, Day sold the house in 1899 to a man called Robert A. Marrison, who wrote and privately published the short book The Winter Bird’s Paradise at Pleasant View (1919). He named the house “Pleasant View,” probably because the house sits on a ridge of land (the view from which is somewhat obstructed today), but the name stuck around at least while Pleasant View Greenhouses was at that location. Interestingly, it was Marrison who began the house’s association with gardening, as he opened an orchard and market garden as well as beehives on the property. He was also a great animal lover, as his book attests.

Grainy photo of Marrison and what appears to be a chickadee from his book.

Grainy photo of Marrison and what appears to be a chickadee friend from his book.

Okay, so this is not really a book you’re going to read for its entertainment value. But it’s pretty cute to look through; Marrison seems to have been a nice man who really loved animals and had a wide assortment of pets throughout his life:

Now I shall tell you what great pets my little feathered friends are. But before I begin I should like to say that I have always given names to all the pets I have ever kept, except snakes and mud-turtles. These never seemed to know when I talked to them.

Birds were his favourites. At one point Marrison had four pet cats, but by the time he wrote his book there was just one left, Pete. When he discovered Pete was wreaking carnage among his birds, and in particular caused the demise of a chickadee called Dell, he had Pete shipped off to the local baker:

He promised to show great kindness to Pete, and to put him in the store-room, where he kept his flour, and where rats and mice abounded. But I shall never keep a cat again so long as there are birds around my home, that I swear!

I don’t really blame him. When my cat, who mysteriously disappeared in 2014, was young, she liked to eat or otherwise destroy goldfinches’ heads and leave the bodies lying around the yard. Also victimized were mice, insects, chipmunks, cute baby bunnies, and once she tried to attack a dog. Cats left to their own devices are vicious marauders. But I digress.

Marrison fed nuthatches, woodpeckers, and chickadees, and gave them all names and described their personalities. He had a particular love of chickadees, and enjoyed their simple song (which you can listen to here if you don’t know it, click “Typical Song”), of which he said, “to me its notes are as sweet as any strain sounded by living creatures, or on any musical instrument.” He was devastated when his chickadee Nell, who he supposed was blind, died after flying one too many times into the glass feeder.

He found his nuthatches, which he called “Grandma and Grandpa Nuthatch” fascinating as well, and documented how Grandpa mourned his mate when she got sick and died (just three days after Nell). Marrison put her in a box and placed it near the feeder. He then waited until Grandpa returned to find her and hid nearby with a camera, taking two photographs which are included in the book (I’d put one here but the scan quality is really bad).

The book ends rather abruptly and was only distributed to family and friends. The archive.org edition, which you can find at the end of this post, has an inscription that reads, “to St. Andrews Sunday School with best wishes from R.A. Marrison.” Robert Marrison died in 1924 in Florida. His son, who was given the unfortunate name Guthbert, was a popular photographer in downtown Kingston.

What is the point of reading ephemera like this? Personally, I enjoy it as a slice of historical everyday life and an example of the kind of hobbies practiced by people a century ago – what people did before the internet, you might say. It also “peoples” the house at 2312 Princess, which often just looks kind of empty and alone sitting there amongst the big box stores. I have no idea if it’s currently occupied; last time it was in the news was six years ago when its owner was fighting a heritage designation. It’s a beautiful house, and I like that having read this little book, I can better imagine what winters of 100 years ago were like in this part of Kingston, then just a hamlet on the far outskirts of town.


The Winter Bird’s Paradise at Pleasant View (archive.org link).

Schliessman, Paul. “Owner to fight city plan to have house designated heritage site.” Kingston Whig Standard, 13 January 2010.

Smithson, Gordon D. Cataraqui Village: An Illustrated History of Cataraqui, Ontario. Amherstview, ON: published by the author, 2003.

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…

Continue reading

19th Century, People

De Watteville’s Regiment

Belt plate of de Watteville's Regiment with the battle honour

Belt plate of de Watteville’s Regiment with the battle honour “Maida.” Image courtesy of the Niagara Falls Museums. (click image to go to source)

Occasionally I tend to obsess over the Kingston garrison. This time the object of my fascination is de Watteville’s Regiment, a very interesting bunch of people that refutes the popular image of Upper Canada as being settled exclusively by ex-Americans and (generally speaking) other Anglo-Saxons. But let’s start at the beginning – who was de Watteville and why is his regiment worth talking about?

Louis de Watteville, sometimes referred to by his germanicized name Abraham Ludwig Karl von Wattenwyl, was born in Bern, Switzerland in 1776. During the Napoleonic Wars, he first fought with the Swiss army, then with a Swiss corps of the Austrian army which was subsequently taken over by Great Britain upon Austria’s peace with France in 1801. The re-organization of the corps was named de Watteville’s Regiment, actually after Louis’ uncle Frédéric, its colonel – but Louis was made lieutenant-colonel and spent the next dozen years fighting in the Mediterranean. In 1812 he was made colonel of the regiment.

As de Watteville’s biography states,

Although it [the regiment] was a Swiss unit in the service of Britain, it was largely made up of Germans, Italians, Poles, Hungarians, and Russians, with a handful of Greeks and Frenchmen. Roughly a fifth of its strength, including nearly all the officers, was Swiss.

In 1813, the entire party consisted of 41 officers, 1414 men, 8 servants, 45 wives, and 38 children, who after spending two years in Cádiz, Spain, were ordered to proceed to Canada where the Americans were making a nuisance of themselves. (That must have been a rough transition in terms of climate, and basically everything else. Luckily they arrived in Canada in June. Still, from Cádiz to Kingston…) Upon arriving in town on 29 June 1813, de Watteville met and befriended Sir George Prevost, who on top of being commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America and governor general, was also part Swiss! Early that July, de Watteville became commandant of the Kingston garrison, and was promoted to major-general, which meant he had to give up personal command of the regiment.

He then spent a pretty boring summer in Kingston, waiting for instructions and falling ill at one point. However, that fall he learned he was posted to command troops in the Montreal district, and he left town, leaving his regiment behind. I’ve tried to find information on them at this point, but there is apparently only one extant edition of the Kingston Gazette available for the years 1813-1814. So, moving ahead – in October 1814 de Watteville (who had been off fighting in the meantime) learned his wife and children had arrived in Quebec from Switzerland to be with him. A few months later, he learned the Treaty of Ghent had been signed, meaning the War of 1812 was over.

De Watteville actually stayed in Upper Canada after the war, first commanding troops at Fort George, and then in July 1815 moving back to Kingston with his family (maybe he liked it here?). He was appointed commander-in-chief of the troops in Upper Canada, but decided to retire instead. He left Kingston a year later and returned to Switzerland.

What had his regiment been doing all this time? (August 12, 2015 update: A fellow Twitterer has informed me the regiment fought in the Battle of Fort Oswego [1814] and the Siege of Fort Erie [1814]. They must have arrived in Kingston in 1813, left for a time to fight, and then returned to Kingston as a garrison after the war. Yay for social media.) I can find only two newspaper clippings about them either during or after the war. The first is rather sad:

27 April 1816 edition of the Kingston Gazette. (click image to go to source)

27 April 1816 edition of the Kingston Gazette. (click image to go to source)

The second, however, is interesting because it shows what happened to some of those mercenary Germans, Italians, Poles, Hungarians, Russians, Greeks, Frenchmen, and Swiss after they were disbanded:

1 June 1816 edition of the Kingston Gazette. (click image to go to source)

1 June 1816 edition of the Kingston Gazette. (click image to go to source)

They populated the Upper Canada countryside! Well, some of them did anyway – I believe it was common for discharged soldiers at this time, especially those not English-born, to give up and go home due to lack of farming experience and the language barrier. But a few must have remained, and though they were a minority in Upper Canada, they would have provided some interesting multicultural neighbours. This 1814 muster roll shows the great variety in ethnicities in de Watteville’s Regiment: being Italian, I’m particularly interested in the Italian-sounding names: Gartano Lucente, Gioanni Piereni, Carlo Persetti, Placido Dellaqua, Anton Ricci. Many, however, look as if they might have been Frenchified, e.g. Jean Glocowitz or François Wischnofsky.

I think it’s important to remember history like this – even though this is a small example – because it shows how easy it is for Canadian history to be whitewashed and declared boring or conventional. But as I have explored before (here and here and here), Canada was home to diverse sets of people even in its early days, and it’s a lot of fun to discover them in your own neighbourhood.


I mostly used the Dictionary of Canadian Biography page on Louis de Watteville for this post. There are also some interesting Wikipedia pages on de Watteville and the regiment.

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.

Continue reading

19th Century, People

George and William Chaffey: from Kingston to Ontario

Statue of George Chaffey in Upland, CA. Creative Commons-licensed image from Wikipedia. (click image to go to source)

I have to say that I’m a fan of Southern California: a trip to Los Angeles that I planned and took with my brother in 2012 was probably the most enjoyable thing I’ve done in the past few years. We basically just hung around the beach getting horribly sunburned, listening to alternative LA bands from the 80s and taking public transit everywhere. (Just try telling anyone from LA you’re taking the bus, they’ll look at you like it’s a suicide mission.) There were a few mishaps but overall it was fun, and contrary to stereotype, the people were very nice.

Anyone who’s spent time looking at a map of Southern California will notice that there is a sprawling city called Ontario inland from Los Angeles. This city, as you might guess, was named after the province Ontario and was founded by George and William Benjamin Chaffey, who were born in Brockville and raised in Kingston. Personally I think it’s a little surprising that you never hear about the Chaffeys in the annals of Kingston history. Although they’re not really “Kingston history” per se, it’s fascinating that that people who had such an impact on the development of California (and Australia, and some of their present-day water problems) were from our neck of the woods.

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!

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.

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading

18th Century, 19th Century, Businesses, People

“As white a heart as any man…”

Vandervoort's Hardware is the site of George Mink's first livery business with Serge Carmino in 1837. (my photo)

Present-day Vandervoort’s is the site of George Mink’s first livery business with Serge Carmino in 1837. (my photo)

Kingston has been seen as a conservative Anglo-Saxon bastion almost since day one, but of course it’s not surprising to learn that what we would today consider ethnic or racial minorities have also been part of Kingston since day one. Aside from the ever-present Native population in Canada, we began to acquire a black population immediately after the American Revolution when the first United Empire Loyalists arrived, occasionally with slaves in tow.

This is how George Mink, the son or possibly grandson of a slave brought under such circumstances, got his start in Kingston. Becoming a successful businessman and leader of the local black community, he also experienced conflicting levels of support and discrimination from white Kingstonians. Although early-to-mid nineteenth century Canada appears to have been a comparatively liberal place for blacks, as we’ll see, there could be limits to this freedom.

Continue reading