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A brief guide to the urban legends of Kingston

Water tower, Queen's West Campus
The water tower on Queen’s west campus was never actually used for hanging people. Courtesy of Queen’s University Archives

It took many years for someone to convince me that the limestone tower on Queen’s west campus was never, in fact, a hanging tower. Maybe I just didn’t want to believe it, because obviously a hanging tower was way more interesting than a water tower for Kingston Penitentiary. Besides, isn’t that a little far away from where KP is now?

There is no shortage of urban legends in Kingston. Nor is there a lack of ghost stories, but as the Haunted Walk of Kingston covers the paranormal so perfectly, we’ll leave it to them to tell those stories.

The iconic Time sculpture in Breakwater Park was commissioned in 1973, and was created by Kosso Eloul. Growing up in the 80s, I was told that the entire purpose of the art installation was that the two pieces would touch by the year 2000. They are 19 years too late, and I suspect now that if they ever touch, it will be a very bad thing indeed.

There are rumours of tunnels in a variety of places. Perhaps there is one between St Lawrence College and the former Kingston Psychiatric Hospital. Or is it Kingston Penitentiary and KPH? No, KP and the Prison For Women makes much more sense. Are they some kind of secret escape tunnels, or were they intended more for infrastructure? It seems certain that some form of tunnels exist in Portsmouth Village, and that there may be more downtown under the Prince George Hotel building, or even St. George’s Cathedral.  My favourite tunnel rumour is that the Martello Towers are all interconnected, but there are lots of other tales of tunnels in the downtown area. 

Mutterings of IKEA coming to Kingston have been going around for years, even beyond clever April Fools Day gags. That doesn’t really fall into the urban legend category, but all the talk of tunnels reminded of another persistent false hope that a tunnel to Wolfe Island would come to fruition some day. Back in the 90s, I saw a poster for a Guns n Roses concert in Market Square that was to be a benefit for the Wolfe Island Tunnel Fund. I always suspected Bill Stevenson of being behind that prank. 

Anyone who grew up in Strathcona Park likely knows about the dinosaur print in the park itself. This is not an urban legend, because it is true. It is a real-life dinosaur footprint nicely preserved in dirt in a suburban park.

I have to give credit to the Discovery Channel, who about five years ago tried to start a story that sharks were making their way to Kingston down the St Lawrence River. The ‘amateur’ video created a massive stir in the area, but it all turned out to be an elaborate prank to promote Shark Week programming on Discovery.

Last, and most certainly not least, is the rumour that is still brought up to this day, though the restaurant has been closed for about 20 years, is that ordering a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at Lino’s was a secret code (that everyone knew) for spending time in an upstairs room with a sex worker. The other Lino’s rumour was that actually trying that trick would get you kicked out of there in a heartbeat.

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7 thoughts on “A brief guide to the urban legends of Kingston

  • July 3, 2019 at 8:38 am
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    I grew up in Strathcona Park and never heard about a dinosaur print!! Do you know the location?

  • July 3, 2019 at 6:14 pm
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    Speaking of connecting tunnels the story going around Kingston during my growing years was that a tunnel ran between the defensive tower on Cedar island and a shoreline tower near what would later become Fort Henry.The story goes that if the Cedar Island defensive position was ever overrun by the American Navy a retreat by the Cedar island defenders would be possible to the mainland.It sounds a bit like something out of the James Bond era but at the time it was the buzz around Kingston.Regards,Ron O’Shea former Kingston resident.

  • July 3, 2019 at 11:01 pm
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    So what was it .. What was the porpose. I grew up thinking it was a hanging place. My mom worked at the Prison For Women. Because I heard that and I asked her and she replied ” I don’t know what it was for. I really never got an answer as to its purpose. Would love to know.

    • July 4, 2019 at 10:50 pm
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      I too would also really like to know the story behind that structure. It deff looks like the same batch of limestone quarried from Portsmouth and a look a like to the old walls of P4W & KP

  • July 4, 2019 at 11:47 pm
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    I have heard that the building was a water tower that provides the water to kingston pen. I also heard that there use to be rooms in the old water tower that guards could stay in if they were working late or something like that. I have also heard the rumours of it being a hanging tower

  • July 5, 2019 at 9:43 am
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    I doubt that the limestone structure at Queen’s West Campus was a KP water tower. A water tower with all those windows? Some sort of guard tower seems more likely. Note the gun slits at the top, a good place for guards to hole up with rifles if the convicts got unruly. (Back in the day, there would have been fields all around where convicts worked.)

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