Exhibition unites past and present in plain sight

Dr. Laura Murray, founder of the Swamp Ward and Inner Harbour History Project, sits between two photos on public display as part of ‘Facing the Street,’ an in situ photo exhibit placing past in the present throughout the area.
Photo by Tori Stafford

If you’re walking or driving down Ordnance Street this month, you may notice a young boy on his tricycle – but then again, you may not.

Tucked up on the front porch of a home just above Bagot Street, the little boy atop his trike peeks out from behind some greenery. You wouldn’t see him if you weren’t looking. But when you do, the young lad seems… Well, oddly old.

That’s because the child is, in fact, a photograph, many decades old, which has been painstakingly edited and blown up to make it visible to all passing by. The young boy is just one of the many faces you can meet walking around the Swamp Ward and Inner Harbour areas of Kingston from now until the end of June. The photos, which have been displayed in situ – the photos now stand where they were taken – are one part of ‘Facing the Street,’ a photography exhibit presented by the Swamp Ward and Inner Harbour History Project (SWIHHP).

Throughout the area – which is more or less bounded by Barrie Street to the north, Stephen Street to the east, Rideau Street to the South, and Queen Street to the west – 20 photos, approximately two feet by three feet in size, have been carefully placed in the spot that they were taken. Some of the photos show just how little buildings have changed. Others depict the stark contrast of what once was and what exists at present.

“The idea was to… just dislodge people, I suppose… We kind of think that this is ‘our’ space. [Facing the Street] kind of makes you think ‘Well, it is… right now!’” Laura Murray said with a laugh.

“But other people have lived here. If you think about it, especially the older houses in this neighbourhood, in almost every single one of them, people have been born, people have died, and everything in between… if you think about it, we’re sort of just borrowing this space.”

Murray, a professor of English and cultural studies at Queen’s University, is the driving force behind the SWIHHP, which she began in 2015. The Project has seen Murray, along with a number of student researchers and hired specialists (thanks to Heritage Grants), conduct over 70 interviews with those who live in the Swamp Ward or Inner Harbour districts of Kingston. The Project has conducted walking tours of the area, created intricate podcasts that use the voices of those who live in the area in collage to tell stories of its history, and even created an app that can be used to learn more about the area at one’s own will.

Murray is also the co-curator of Facing the Street, alongside Chris Miner, a photographer brought on board to help with the photo scanning and enlarging aspect of the project, but quickly became more involved, meeting the owners of the photos and hearing their stories.

It is the idea of ‘borrowed space’ that really inspired Facing the Street, Murray expressed, pointing out that the area, originally referred to as Ka’tarohkwi, has been reinvented by those who’ve taken it over as their own throughout history. From its origins as an area prime for fishing and trading, to the early European settlers, to the transformation into an industrial hub and working class area it remained until the last factories closed in the early 70s, the area has had its fair share of turn over, and even now faces issues of gentrification and development.

But for most of the interviews conducted as part of the SWIHHP, Murray tried to speak with the older generation, in order to document their stories and knowledge of local history. It was during that process she noticed that people would share old family photos with her.

“I just thought ‘Wow, it would be really neat if we could bring some of these into other people’s awareness?’” Murray expressed.

And that’s precisely what she, Miner, and Anne Lougheed, production manager for Facing the Street, have done.

Whether it’s a person who stops to look at a photo as they’re walking their dog, or it’s children, running through Skeleton Park to look at the map of where the photos are placed and then running off to find one, these snapshots of history are now in other people’s awareness. And even while installing the outdoor photos, the SWIHHP team got the chance to see that happen – and make an impact.

As they were installing one of the large images, two teenagers came rambling by. They were looking at what was going on, and ended up engaging with the SWIHHP team for quite some time. Miner asked if he could take a photo of the two teens – as Murray points out, history starts yesterday, and the best way to document that history is now. The teens agreed, and, as Miner showed them the photo on his camera, one of them said something along the lines of ‘You know, maybe if somebody sees this picture 100 years from now, they’re going to be interested in it.’

“He identified to himself as being in the parade of history,” Murray said with a smile.

The other part of the exhibit is within the Elm Café on Montreal Street, where a variety of additional historic photos are on display during the Café’s operating hours. Those photos are accompanied by captions giving a brief background, and range from a group of youmg women relaxing on a blanket (which looks as though it could have been shot in Skelton Park yesterday), to that of a young family, the father in uniform, staring into the camera while posing with a foreboding uneasiness.

They are the faces of those who’ve called the area home, and the faces that remind us of just how much – and how many – have gone on through the area.

“I do believe that, and I’m quoting a colleague of mine here, but ‘Ordinary people live extraordinary lives.’ And I really believe that, that we’re all what makes the world go round… We all make a big impact in whatever sphere we operate. That’s the philosophy here,” Murray said.

“I think people actually get tired of hearing only about the people we’re supposed to emulate or admire. It’s interesting to learn about people who are more like us.”

For more complete details about Facing the Street, click here.

Laura Murray and Chris Miner will host a curator’s talk at City Hall on Thursday, Jun. 26, 2018, from 3 to 4 p.m. where they will discuss the exhibit and how they put it all together. Find out more or register for the talk here.

A map of the 20 photos displayed in situ throughout the historic Swap Ward and Inner Harbour districts of Kingston.


This photo of Bill Hackett selling newspapers is one of many on display inside The Elm Cafe as part of Facing the Street.
Photo submitted by the Swamp Ward and Inner Harbour History Project.
This photo of Helen Wallace and her grandmother Jenny Bennett (ca. 1935) is one of the 20 photos displayed in situ as part of the Facing the Street exhibit.
Photo submitted by the Swamp Ward and Inner Harbour History Project.

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