My One-Year(ish) Anniversary

It took me literally a year and a half to figure out where this picture was taken, until I suddenly realized one day it's Barrie Street. From one of the many souvenir booklets of Kingston - I can't remember which one, but if/when I find it I'll add a link here.

It took me literally a year and a half to figure out where this picture was taken, until I suddenly realized one day it’s Barrie Street. From one of the many circa 1900 souvenir booklets of Kingston – I can’t remember which one, but if/when I find it I’ll add a link here.

I was going to do a post on the Prince Edward County town of Demorestville this week, but after a few long shifts at work and some procrastination I found myself behind schedule. Then I thought about doing a quickie post on the time W.B. Yeats gave a poetry reading at Queen’s, but there wasn’t much to talk about there (though I’ll probably do a short post on it one day). Then I remembered, hey, it’s my one-year(ish) anniversary of having this blog! And I had always planned to write something for this momentous occasion.

I started this blog because I had been reading tons of local history books and collecting images and information, and I wanted a place to sort everything out and, essentially, allow myself to remember what I had learned. I created it in late April 2014 but didn’t make my first post till May, which is why it’s a one-year(ish) anniversary. I haven’t tried to promote this blog very much – I’ve learned that local history is by definition a niche topic that people will either take or leave. It’s been my experience that when you tell people you’re interested in local history, the reaction is underwhelming (or nonexistent…), with typical reactions ranging from “Hmm” to “Oh” or simply changing the subject. That’s okay – not everyone can be a history nerd! – but while it can be disappointing, it’s also allowed me to focus and develop something I really enjoy doing without feeling the pressure of an immediate audience, if you know what I mean.

That said, I am very very grateful for the people who do read what I write and have told me they enjoy it and think I’m doing a good job. Thank you! I would also like to say that I’m always open to suggestions for topics to write about or ways I can improve. I have a few thoughts for going forward, like maybe museum/historic site reviews and one or two op-ed style articles I’d like to write. I’m also thinking of getting back on social media, but I’ve rather enjoyed a Twitter-free life recently so this is speculative.

However, I have to warn again: in addition to work I’m taking a post-degree course this summer from May-July, so posting here will probably be every two weeks instead of every week. But I’ll be around and I’ll try my best to post as often as I can.

Thank you again for supporting this blog throughout the past year!

19th Century

The 1847 Typhus Epidemic in Kingston

(my photo)

(my photo)

The waterfront at Macdonald Park, where (in better weather) people come to stroll, get their wedding photos taken, and host fitness classes, was once the last port of call for thousands of sick Irish emigrants fleeing the Great Famine, some 1400 of whom died in Kingston General Hospital, Hotel Dieu, and fever sheds set up along the shoreline. Although you read more often about the far greater numbers of emigrants who were quarantined at Grosse Isle, Quebec, receiving boatloads of seriously ill people strongly affected a small city like Kingston. It was a situation that to some extent divided the city, and even resulted in a lawsuit against Mayor Thomas Kirkpatrick and the Board of Health. The first emigrants arrived in Kingston in June 1847, and the worst of the problem was largely over by that October, which shows how intense the waves of immigration and disease were that summer. How did this tragic situation happen?

Hunger was certainly not without precedent in Ireland. Much of the rural population had been living on the bare minimum of food and shelter for decades before the Great Famine hit in 1845. As the poor lived almost entirely on potatoes, which were easy to grow and nutritious, when that summer’s crop was rapidly and unexpectedly hit by the parasitic fungus Phytophtora infestans, people lost their food and livelihoods. (The fungus was unknown at the time.) Next year’s crop was struck with blight as well, and the government’s short-sighted obsession with preserving the economy meant that they curtailed efforts, such as importing corn from the US and selling it cheaply, to relieve starvation. Make-work projects to give people jobs were pointless and often the site of riots. In 1846, the first deaths due to starvation were documented.

Those relatively unaffected (and with enough money) tried to escape the situation while they still could, and emigration to North America began to increase. Sadly, the ships that should have led to freedom were often old, heavily overcrowded, and stocked with poor food and water. In October 1846, the emigration superintendent at Grosse Isle noticed that the last few boatloads of emigrants had been particularly destitute and sick, and the pattern was continuing. Meanwhile back in Ireland, the famine had reached a critical level. Trying to escape starvation, emigrants were crowded into “coffin ships,” where close contact made them prone to “ship fever,” a potential combination of diseases, the worst of which was typhus.

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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, 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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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.

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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, 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

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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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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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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