Six Questions with Vintage Kingston

Vintage Kingston

Confederation day in Market Square, July 1, 1867. Source: Queen’s Archives

You might have stumbled across Vintage Kingston already. If not, here’s the scoop: it’s a creative community project that takes a nostalgic look into Kingston’s past through vintage photography. Bill Stevenson is the creator of the project’s Facebook page, which at about a month old is just shy of 4000 subscribers. As a big fan of all-things retro, I was excited to have the opportunity to chat with Bill about what makes Vintage Kingston stand out from other initiatives across the country and how the project has rekindled this city’s interest in its roots: from historic architecture and civic events to offering a peek into the social lives of everyday Kingstonians, one old 35 mm photograph at a time.

1. What initially prompted you to create Vintage Kingston? Was it an interest in old photography, Kingston heritage and culture, or a bit of both?

For me, it is about showing our heritage and culture and making sure everyone sees how important it is to the city. I had been collecting pictures of Kingston and area for a while, but my friend Brent Nurse (co-founder) kind of jumped the gun on me and started the page. I guess that was the signal to get it going. It’s difficult to talk about Vintage Kingston without talking Vintage Toronto, though, which I started last winter. On the Toronto page, the focus is on change – what’s been lost over time with urban development. I think a lot of people are saddened when they see some of Toronto’s architectural heritage overshadowed by modern buildings with less character. But here in Kingston, it’s different. We have managed to preserve much, although not all, of our historical architecture. Vintage Kingston also puts the spotlight on snapshots of Kingston’s social history as well. Downtown especially stands out.

2. What kind of change or constants have you noticed about the community and lifestyle of this city through Vintage Kingston?

Kingston has always been a vibrant place, and part of that comes from appreciating the old alongside the new. Vintage Kingston has certainly inspired some nostalgia for Kingston the way it was – but it is new methods of communicating and circulating photographs, like social media, that make it possible. I think people are starting to see what a rich heritage Kingston has; and projects like this have a way of reminding communities how important it is to preserve that foundation and recognize how it contributes to our city’s identity today. Tourists and travelers often visit this area specifically to see a glimpse of Kingston’s past in the present: the Fort, the old limestone homes, Queen’s, etc.

3. Vintage Kingston was inspired by Vintage Toronto. Similar creative projects in other cities have popped up as well, some of which you also manage. What makes Vintage Kingston stand out from the rest as a unique success?

To make project like this work, you have to be vigilant about keeping it fresh. I started Vintage Toronto in January 2011, and not a day goes by that I do not post at least five pictures – either ones that I have found myself, or pictures that members of the Vintage Toronto community have submitted. Maintaining user interest is often a function of consistency: sharing old photos, and doing so so on a regular basis, offers patrons a small way to travel back in time. This project is for everyone who loves Kingston: those who have lived their entire lives here, those who fell in love with the city and decided to stay, and people who come and go but have fond memories of the Kingston experience. Other pages, like Vintage off-shoots in Halifax, Ottawa, Hamilton and Vancouver, strive to do the same thing. Those that fall short generally do so because they aren’t engaging as frequently or offering as many opportunities for fans to tell their own visual stories.

4. Vintage Kingston is still young; it only went live on Facebook at the end of October. What role do you think social media has played with engaging people in this initiative?

Social media has played a huge role in Vintage Kingston’s growth and popularity. Word of mouth buzz is crucial for us. The momentum of friends telling friends has directly contributed to the growth of Vintage Kingston.

5. Where do you find Vintage Kingston’s photographic gems?

Google is a surprisingly good start. I also source a lot of old photographic materials from assorted archives, eBay, and my own collection. I’ll be going through the collections of friends and family in the new year as well. I’ve also has some absolutely fantastic submissions from people following the Vintage Kingston page.

6. What images have been your favorite or most curious submissions so far?

A few. City Hall with the Market Battery in front of it and an aerial shot of the old Kingston Shopping Centre from are both great. One that really surprised me was a photograph of a family farm house on what is now the DuPont/Invista property. I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve driven past that place, but I never considered that someone might have lived there before it became an industrial spot. I also quite like “before and after” comparative looks at the same spot in old and new photos – the current Frankie Pesto’s used to be a historic Grand Trunk Railway Station. It’s interesting to see how things have evolved.

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