20th Century, Businesses

Kingston in the 1920s: Familiar Problems


Editor's note from the 3 January 1928 Daily British Whig

Editor’s note from the 3 January 1928 Kingston Whig-Standard

For my last short post in this series, we’ll look at some complaints the Kingston Whig-Standard had in 1928 about the progress of the city that will no doubt sound very familiar. The first paragraph of this editor’s note is concerned with the lack of industry in Kingston, and hopeful that the new mayor will follow up on his promise to encourage industries to settle in town. They write,

There is no good reason why Kingston should not become a far more important industrial centre than it is at the present time. With the new block of power that it [sic] to be available to Eastern Ontario, Kingston should concentrate in a serious and businesslike way on the matter of securing new industries and encouraging those already established.

And yet here we are in the twenty-first century, lamenting the loss of yogurt factories and such. (Okay, that one wasn’t our fault, but still.) At least in 1928, the Canadian Locomotive Company was still in full swing in Kingston, but by now its days are long gone, the land replaced by – what else? – condos. Today, Invista (DuPont) and Novelis (Alcan) are virtually the only significant industries in Kingston, and much reduced from earlier days. After nearly a hundred years with little industrial development, it seems that Kingston is destined to remain an institutional town.

Next, the 1928 mayor of Kingston, William H. Craig, was concerned about chain stores wanting to set up in Kingston. The chain stores of 1928 would probably seem quaint in comparison to the depressing Walmart Superstores of today, but the problem was fundamentally the same: large retail chains pull money away from smaller, local businesses and the city’s own merchants and distinctive character may suffer. The newspaper saw it differently, however, and argued that “big chain stores” were evidence of healthy development in Kingston, and that they could attract more shoppers who normally wouldn’t shop in town. (They don’t mention where these people would be coming from though…)

Another benefit which isn’t often applicable today was that chain stores leased “main street” (likely Princess Street) business spaces from Kingston owners, which prevented them from sitting idle. Today, chain stores are more likely to set up big box locations in the suburbs, and store fronts sitting idle in downtown Kingston remain a big problem. There is also a strong whiff of snobbery in Mayor Craig’s talk of “outsiders” coming into town, the exact context of which is unspecified in this article.

Looking back through the twentieth century, it’s interesting how many of Kingston’s essential characteristics have remained the same. It seems like Queen’s University, KGH, the military, and tourism will remain the big players for a long time to come. I wonder what Kingston will be like ninety or a hundred years from now?


Editor’s note. Kingston Whig-Standard, 3 January 1928.

KEDCO. Kingston’s Major Employers (click pdf)

List of Kingston’s mayors