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The Future of the Poker Run in Kingston

1,000 Islands Poker Run, Kingston, OntarioIf you were to list the top 10 things to see and do in Kingston during the summer, chances are the Poker Run wouldn’t make the cut. It’s not a question of whether or not this annual event is entertaining, rather there’s only so much excitement one can expect when watching speeding boats roar in and out of the harbour all day long. If you’re the type who can tolerate the gas guzzling exhibition that is Nascar, then the Poker Run is likely right up your alley. For the rest of us, not so much.  While I’ve enjoyed a stroll down along Ontario Street to lay eyes on the massive marine machines on display, I’m far from a fan or supporter of this event.  That said, the future of Kingston’s involvement in the Thousand Islands Poker run won’t come down to the event’s popularity or lack thereof, instead it comes down to dollars and green sense.

What should Kingston do about the Poker Run?

  • Nothing. It's great for businesses. (56%, 70 Votes)
  • Cancel it. Too much air/noise pollution. (25%, 32 Votes)
  • Let it continue, and enforce carbon offsets. (16%, 20 Votes)
  • Something else entirely. (3%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 126

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Proponents of the Poker Run argue that the event injects over $1 million into the local economy.  However it’s impossible to back up that claim, as we can’t accurately measure who spends what, and whether or not they even came to Kingston as a result of the Poker Run.  If the Limestone City were to move beyond the Poker Run, some other event would eventually move in to attract a new crowd to the city, while hotels, restaurants and cash registers would prosper.  While the Kingston Environmental Advisory Forum concluded that the environmental degradation of this event could be neutralized by carbon credits, the optics of Canada’s most sustainable city accommodating a 3-day long pollutions spewing spectacle just doesn’t add up.

Thanks to Jim Crocker for today’s photo of a few speed boats heading from Lake Rosseau to Lake Muskoka through the locks at Port Carling.

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Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

21 thoughts on “The Future of the Poker Run in Kingston

  • August 3, 2010 at 11:28 am
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    if kingston says no to the poker run some other town will gladly host it, so the pollution is going to happen either way. that being the case, why not just take advantage of the increased traffic to the city.
    also, instead of arguing that some other event will eventually move in, how about you go bring some of those events to town first before we go and shut down one of the few events we do have

  • August 3, 2010 at 11:50 am
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    Cancel it here and the organisers will just find a different place to host it causing a loss to business owners and the city of Kingston.

  • August 3, 2010 at 12:24 pm
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    It used to be in Gananoque and from what I've read that town or another community in the 1000 Islands would grab up the event. So I don't get all the talk about it. If the main concern is pollution it would be still be nearby. And those boats would be racing by Kingston as usual. Just not docking.

    I met some people last year who come to town every year just for the event. Motorsports are popular, and those fans will travel. I know a girl in her 20's at work here in Kingston who went to a Nascar event in Michigan for vacation. Sorry to burst your bubble on what a typical fan might be. LOL.

    Any event brings in money that wouldn't be there normally. From this summer I've noticed less people visiting from out of town. If it does leave don't assume another one would come along and fill the spot. For example Podcaster Across Borders left and I know those people didn't visit Kingston this year. Can't think of a similar event that replaced that one.

    The problem is the optics. They're all rich people who have these boats as hobbies. Not like we have much in common with them. Easy for politicians to jump on this event and get brownie points. For me if it stays in Kingston fine, if not I won't lose sleep over it since it will be down the road.

  • August 3, 2010 at 1:13 pm
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    The city has no ability to prevent those type of boats from being in the water here. The city has no say in the type of boat that can be sold, or fees, taxes or fuel tax that could discourage their use. The city has no ability to stop the same emissions from the same poker run event. All we could do was not allow them to set up in confederation park, which would just move it to Gananoque or somewhere else nearby.

    It didnt make any sense for this to even be an issue municipally. Not having it would accomplish nothing but move some economic activity elsewhere. No doubt in time society will move way from this type of thing, either from government regulation(above the municipal level) or world events increasing fuel costs. But for now we live in a world where governments are heavily subsidizing things like the Toronto Indy and Montreal F1 race fro the economic impact.

    The real problem here is how council almost gave in to a small lobby group, SPLASH, who decided they didn't want this here. If council did do that, what happens next year when them or another group complain about the environmental impact of Ribfest (meat production being 60 times less efficient then soybeans which a UN report a few years ago called a bigger problem then transportation emissions), the santa clause parade, or something else?

    I wonder if we examined SPLASH members lifestyles if we would find equally environmentally unfriendly practices. There are a lot of people calling for others to give up something who would balk at changing their own diet or forgoing air travel. One of our self proclaimed green city councilors drives an SUV and listed motorcycling as a hobby.

  • August 3, 2010 at 2:52 pm
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    Sorry, but I cannot get behind this.

    This is all too typical of Kingston, an extremely outspoken minority that decide they dislike something, usually because it doesn't interest them, and if anything it causes them an inconvenience. I genuinely feel that a lot of the people claiming the environmental impact are just using it as a popular excuse of the times to try and see their will be met.

    The Poker Run is one of several downtown events that take place each summer, and is one of the few ones that isn't aimed at the arts – thus it attracts a somewhat different group of people than most events, but is still very well attended. There is a noticeable spike in revenue for most downtown businesses (especially restaurants and hotels) when the Poker Runs are on, and to go out of our way to weaken such a revenue stream, even if it does have a (reasonably small) impact on the environment, would be unwise.

    All over the country we have motor sports arenas and while they are different in that they are on land and take place in purpose built structures, they are likely far worse for the environment than a couple of days of cigarette boats. And moreover, if Kingston ditches this event, do you really think Gananoque won't pick it up? Whether it is in our city, or another up the river, it's going to happen, so why don't we try and hang onto this one instead of shooing off even more people from spending their money here and supporting our local economy?

    If Kingston wants to be a "green" city, there are far more important issues to tackle first, such as the lack of bicycle lanes, a tram system, encouragement towards carpooling, increasing the availability of recycling receptacles in the city, and so on.

  • August 3, 2010 at 5:30 pm
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    I don't believe I stereotyped the gender, age etc.. of the average Nascar enthusiast, so don't worry, my bubble was not burst. As for the comment regarding the cancellation of a given event and establishment of a new one, I was thinking more like apples and oranges, not apples for apples. Obviously it would make no sense for us to cancel something like the Poker Run only to allow something like an Indy race.

  • August 4, 2010 at 9:28 am
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    Who cares? It's the Wolfe Island Music Festival this weekend so I know which side of the pond I'll be on!

    Seriously though, the Poker Run is a pretty minor consideration when it comes to major environmental issues. It might be high profile, but there are much more important things to deal with, and in any case will be more likely to disappear as peak oil hits and oil just becomes too expensive to burn any more.

  • August 4, 2010 at 9:45 pm
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    I will have to post on here to defend those against the poker run.

    The City has made it a goal to become Canada's Most Sustainable City. This is a fantastic goal, one that every city should aim for. There is NO way an event like this could be sanctioned by the city if we truly feel we have a chance (or even care) to be Canada's most sustainable city.

    This event promotes mass consumption, creates pollution, creates safety hazards to boaters unaware of the event, and is built upon an aging technology (combustion engine) which runs on fuel that comes from locations like Iraq, Iran, Alberta, or the Gulf of Mexico.

    None of these things are even remotely sustainable, yet the city goes out of its way to host this event. It is completely illogical and that is the reason we should axe this event. If it goes to another city so be it, but you can't complain about people driving SUVs and flying around the world and then turn around and say its fine to allow this event to happen.

    Someone needs to start the ball rolling to get other cities on board. Why not us and why not now? This isn't a major event on our calendar (the economic impact and attendance numbers are FAR lower than the organizers first claimed them to be). Why not make a moral choice and say no to this event? Is it really going to hurt the city?

    Hosting this event not only impacts the image of our city (hard to be seen as sustainable with these boats roaring around our harbour), it also impacts our youth. For the first time we have a generation who are expected to live shorter lives and to see less success than their parents yet we have an event like this which promotes unquestioning consumption to youth.

    To go along with rectifier's comments… look into the lifestyle of these boaters. Every aspect of their life is unsustainable. During a meeting at city hall earlier this year a few participants tried to argue they care about the earth because they have the greenest lawn in their neighbourhood. Many of these people simply don't understand the problem so they refuse to accept it as a problem.

    • August 5, 2010 at 4:45 am
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      I couldn't care less if Kingston was the most sustainable city in the country. If the cost of being sustainable is hurting local business and losing jobs for those living in the city, then at this time, the cost is simply too high.

      I didn't vote someone in to establish that goal, nor do I even remotely believe this city capable of attaining it.

      The goal should be to attain balance, without sacrificing economy or jobs.

      I think downtown has earned a little pollution leeway compared with the township and most cities in this country anyway, since the vast majority of the people working downtown LIVE downtown and do not drive to work everyday. If this event benefits the places that allow these people to continue working in the environment where they create less of a carbon footprint, then I think it is more than justified.

      • August 5, 2010 at 3:24 pm
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        People should care that Kingston wants to be the most sustainable city in Canada. That is a heck of a goal. If more cities cared about this and tried to become sustainable we would be better of than we are on our current trajectory of 'environmental problems? screw it, some scientist will create a monster that eats CO2 and all will be solved'

        Technically you did vote someone in to establish that goal. Council was elected by the city to do what they feel is best for us and they decided this was the route to go. You may not have checked sustainable on the ballot, but this is the way democracy works.

        Balance is needed, but the axing the Poker Run won't hurt the economy. The economic impact of this event is marginal (unless you are fueling the boats), it wouldn't be hard to replace this event on the calendar with another event that brings just as much money to downtown businesses.

        Just because people live downtown doesn't mean they are going to watch the Poker Run. I know many many people downtown who avoid the area on this weekend because of all the noise and the crowds. This isn't 'downtown Kingston' pollution created for people who live downtown. In reality this is pollution created so a bunch of rich people can parade their toys around for the common folk to gawk at.

        It doesn't make sense to allow people who don't drive to pollute more in other ways. Many people who live close to work are happy they don't create pollution, its not like they are trying to 'bank' the pollution so they can create it elsewhere. With that logic we should all do whatever we want because there are poor people in Africa who only create a minuscule amount of pollution.

        • August 5, 2010 at 9:12 pm
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          I think you've articulated my thoughts on this issue in this as well as your other comments. While the local economy might dip a bit if the Poker Run went elsewhere, it would be short term pain in the name of long term gain. Some other event would eventually slide in, and Kingston's sustainable image would remain untarnished. Kind of makes you wonder if the City is willing to bend on the Poker Run, what else they're willing to make concessions on. If we want to become an environmental leader amongst other Canadian cities, then we will have to make some tough decisions.

  • August 4, 2010 at 9:49 pm
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    Side note… so far on the pole 27% of respondents have said to get rid of the poker run… I wouldn't really call this a fringe effort to rid the city of the event. Sure, SPLASH is a small group with very specific ideas, but it doesn't mean that there aren't thousands of other people in this city who feel the event should be chopped.

  • August 4, 2010 at 9:52 pm
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    yet another side note to go with the original article this time… carbon offsets. Carbon offsets are a joke. Sure we can plant trees to offset the emissions of this event, but they don't address the problem that is the emissions. Offsets do nothing but let the polluters sleep better at night knowing they have covered their tracks.

  • August 5, 2010 at 11:23 pm
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    I had no interest in this event long before I was aware of the emissions it created. There has got to be something that can replace the Poker Run that people can actually get involved in?
    Proponents always argue that this event brings money to the city, but that doesn't mean we can't easily replace it with something equally as profitable and less controversial within a couple of years.
    Realistically, these boats are nothing more than penis-replacements for middle-aged rich folks.

    • August 6, 2010 at 12:44 pm
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      There are all kinds of things that could replace the poker run (or better yet, be in addition to the poker run). Someone just needs to step up and volunteer to pay for them ;). Buskers, Bluesfest and febfest don't come free, the downtown pays for them. In sure a countryfest, rockfest or whatever could attract lots of people downtown. No idea of what the economics of these things are for them, I'd expect if they were obvious money makers there would be more already happening.

      The city and partners do spend lots of money through KEDCO trying to market the city for events. If you want another event its either wait until someone like the poker event organizers show up wanting to put on on, or open the wallet and pay for one. Many years ago the city itself did pay, a LOT, to have a tall ship event here…with only a few not too tall ships showing up it was considered a fiasco.

  • August 6, 2010 at 7:44 am
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    What I find interesting is how one event has been demonized and held responsible for it’s pollution while others left alone. Personally, I find both sides of this issue ridiculous. The Poker Run adds so little to our community in terms of culture and economics… and when compared with the pollution of the family cars, SUV’s and pickup trucks that clog our city streets everyday it is trivial. What a waste of breath for everyone.

  • August 6, 2010 at 12:52 pm
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    Interesting story in today Whig… interview with Poker Run participants going on about the honesty of the locals… apparently they forgot their credit card in our local "strip club" and were pleased that no one had stolen it…

    well i guess that says something about them … and us.. Maybe if we had more strip clubs they would spend even more money locally.

  • July 17, 2019 at 10:12 pm
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    We use to live in Kingston and found the Poker Run to be noisy and high in pollution. Yes, if the City of Kingston is environmentally concerned, it will cancel it.

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