Here in Kingston at 1 Lappan’s Lane

The old Novelis sign still stands at 1 Lappan’s Lane. Photo by Kristy Douthwaite.

 

Here in Kingston at 1 Lappan’s Lane is Novelis Inc. Formerly Alcan, this land, and the high, all-seeing sign that has dominated the Kingston landscape for decades, was also the site of a very famous visitor to Kingston. William Cody and his Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show came to Kingston on August 20, 1885 during their Canadian leg of that year’s tour.

Setting up their show on the land which was known as the ‘Cataraqui Race Course,’ adults could expect to pay a fifty-cent admission, while children’s admission would cost half that. What could Kingston residents expect as they made their way out to the show grounds? An epic show that would be equaled by no one – at least, according to the ads Buffalo Bill used to promote the tour. The advertisements would also use phrases like ‘the greatest novelty of the century’ to describe the action that guests would see from the grandstands.

Photo by Kristy Douthwaite.

The show was meant to capture the life of the cowboy on the frontier. Buffalo Bill Cody was a former army scout, avid outdoorsmen, and displayed all the traits of what people would think a cowboy/frontier adventurer would be. His name may have led the show, but Cody wasn’t alone as the show began that day in Kingston in 1885.

Amongst the 150 performers and dozens of horses, elk, and buffalo, was legendary sharpshooter Annie Oakley. A crack shot with skills that surpassed the legendary Buffalo Bill himself, Oakley (born Phoebe Ann Moses) had been shooting since she was young and discovered she had a natural talent. While with Buffalo Bill’s show, she would travel the world showcasing her marksmanship. Destroying targets while riding a horse or a bicycle, Oakley would command the arena as the audience would marvel at her perfection.

Buffalo Bill Cody was not just a ringmaster to other people’s talents. Those in Kingston who sat around the track didn’t just watch the performers re-enact famous western battles and display the talent of riding a horse at top speed around a course – They also witnessed Cody himself take to the arena and display his own shooting talents

The third draw for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show would be the presence of the American Sioux Chief, Sitting Bull. Known for his defeat of US Army General George Custer on the banks of the Little Big Horn River in 1876, Sitting Bull would join Cody’s show and travel around promoting the Sioux life and earning funds for his people.

It must have been extraordinarily difficult for Sitting Bull to participate in a show that celebrated the defeat of so many American Indian tribes in battles against the US Army and frontier settlers. Sitting Bull was passionate about protecting the Sioux way of life, and Cody wove the struggle of the frontier settlers and the American Indians into the narrative that he showcased around the world. Not only was Buffalo Bill Cody trying to promote a perceived notion of what it meant to be a frontier settler, but his show would also recreate famous battles that saw the defeat of American Indian tribes at the hands of the US Army.

Photo by Kristy Douthwaite.

Here in Kingston at 1 Lappan’s Lane, one of the greatest spectacles of the 19th Century rolled into town before departing for Toronto. On a piece of land that is now fenced off, cowboys rode their horses at breakneck speeds, legends of the American West like Cody and Oakley displayed their supreme abilities with a firearm, and the legendary figure who defeated General Custer was on hand for spectacle.

That was what Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was truly about: Spectacle. During this tour Cody tapped into the current North West Rebellion battles between the Canadian army and the Metis. Trying to connect with the climate of the day, and play to his audience, the advertisements promised grand battle scenes reminiscent of the North West Rebellion battlefields like Fish Creek, Cut Knife, and Batoche. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was a spectacle to be seen, political climate didn’t matter.

Photo by Kristy Douthwaite.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show would come to Kingston two more times in 1897 and 1909. The stars would be older, and the arena would be smaller, moving from the Cataraqui Race Course to the Midland fair grounds. Audiences would continue to be amazed by the feats of daring riding, and, though he was older, Buffalo Bill Cody could still amaze the audience. As the British Whig Standard reported from the July 1, 1897 Dominion Day performance, “It was bewildering.”

Here in Kingston we have stories all over the city and at 1 Lappan’s Lane, on the site of a major factory that seems to have always been there, once rode a cowboy looking to entertain, a champion shooter who would never miss, and a living legend named Sitting Bull.

Photo by Kristy Douthwaite.

 

Bill Gowsell was born and raised in Kingston. With an interest in history, food, wine, and all things Disney, Bill has been writing for the last eight years on a variety of topics. During the summers he can be found at the family cottage north of Kingston, or at the bottom of Lake Ontario… scuba diving.

Bill Gowsell

Bill has been an elementary school teacher for the last 12 years. His passion for writing includes a wide variety of interests, from history, food, pop culture, and anything to do with Disney. Recently he published his second book, Extra Magic Days: Thirty Years of Walt Disney World Vacations. Learn more about Bill...

One thought on “Here in Kingston at 1 Lappan’s Lane

  • The caption on the first picture suggests that Novelis is no longer in operation. This is not true. It’s thriving at the moment.

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