Kingstonist’s 2023 ‘Year in Review’ – April to June

Kingston and its neighbouring communities are busy, exciting places. 2023 was full of activities, events, decisions, and dramas that impacted our lives, and Kingstonist’s journalists and photographers were there for all 365 days of it to keep you informed. Our “Year in Review” series will showcase some of the stories that captured our attention and yours (Part 1 reflecting on January through March, 2023, can be read here). Come for a walk down memory lane with us!


April

April’s news kicked off by shooting for the moon — quite literally. Royal Military College (RMC) alumnus Jeremy Hansen was announced as part of the Artemis II crew which will fly around the moon. A timeline for this mission has not yet been announced, but Hansen will no doubt have a loud cheering section in our area when he and his team eventually lift off for this incredible adventure.

Royal Military College of Canada graduate Jeremy Hansen has a round trip to the moon in his future. Submitted photo.

Queen’s University made headlines this month as well, garnering a win for the sailing team at a national championship, expanding the number of spots in its medical school, and launching a clinical trial to determine if psilocybin might help treat alcohol addiction. This month also saw the start of a saga involving Amira and Nadya Gill, twin sisters whose previous studies at Queen’s had been funded by Indspire, a national charity that provides financial support to Indigenous post-secondary students. The Gill sisters had gone on to start a company called Kanata Trade Co., premised on their purported Inuit identity, an identity which was about to be revealed as fraudulent.

Kingston City Council’s focus on housing continued with the approval of over $7 million in funding for housing and homelessness initiatives. A housing development for veterans also began in earnest, with the sod-turning ceremony marking the beginning of construction of the Homes for Heroes Kingston Veterans’ Village. A different type of community building project was underway in City Park, with the Kingston Indigenous Languages Nest (KILN) announcing that a garden with a food sovereignty emphasis would be in the works. In working with the City, KILN identified City Park as an accessible, central location with plenty of space available and further room to grow in years to come.

(L to R): MPP Ted Hsu, MP Mark Gerretsen, Homes for Heroes committee chair Mark Hutchings, Mayor Bryan Paterson, and Homes For Heroes fund development vice-president Cameron Diggon turn the sod, marking the beginning of the construction phase of the Kingston Veterans Village. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Cheer athletes had Kingston cheering in April as Kingston Elite Cheerleading teams brought home five national titles at the 2023 Canadian All-Star Nationals in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Just a few days later in Orlando, Florida, Kingston Elite’s Team Imperial scored 90.60 per cent of perfection with zero deductions to claim the bronze medal at the Cheerleading Worlds.

April is also the month for the Boston Marathon, and 18 Kingston runners headed to Massachusetts to run in honour of their friend Kevin Dunbar, who passed away last year just two months after having run his first-ever Boston Marathon.

Librarians and staff with Kingston Frontenac Public Library (KFPL) pushed back against plans for some library branches to have unstaffed open hours. KFPL Board Chair Alan Revill said the pilot had been adopted in response to a community survey, which showed the main desire from the public was for improved access to the library, especially in less populated areas of the city. However, many library workers declared that it is unsafe to allow people to use the library while it is unstaffed.

Area residents felt the shock waves from an earthquake in New York State on Sunday, Apr. 23, 2023. “That’s what it was?” asked Leann Baird, after finding out the shaking she had felt was indeed from an earthquake. “I felt it in Deseronto! My dishes were rattling in my china cupboard!” Kingstonians were also rattled a few days later, albeit in a different way, by the closure of Classic Video, which had been a beloved fixture in the downtown business landscape for 35 years.

Kingstonians were a little shaken by the 4.7 earthquake, whose epicentre was just southeast of our area. Screen captured image.

May

The news in early May was dominated by a train derailment in the centre of the city, which closed a portion of Bath Road for days. The 12-car train had been headed to Invista; the cars were being pushed southbound to back the train into the Invista property. Five cars derailed due to an apparent collapse of the rail bridge, and two of them ended up in the water. Brad Joyce, Commissioner of Transportation and Public Works for the City of Kingston, confirmed that the tanker cars on the train were hauling two chemicals “used in processes at Invista.” The other cars on the train were empty at the time of the derailment, he said. Cleanup and construction crews worked around the clock to clear the site and reopen both the rail line and the roadway, and experts weighed in on the environmental impacts of the accident.

A view of some of the derailed train cars that closed a section of Bath Road for days. Photo by Kingstonist.

Also in early May, a recovery operation in Lake Ontario near Amherstview shed some light on a decades-old cold case when recovered remains were found to be those of a man who had been missing since 1983.

Despite these more solemn stories, there was happy news to be had in May and, with the warmer weather beginning, plenty of opportunities to be out and about for fun. “Art After Dark” took place in downtown Kingston in late May, the Homegrown Live music festival raised over $10,000 for Joe’s M.I.L.L., a mini-golf course was opened on Sydenham Street between Princess and Queen, and splash pads across the city were opened for the summer season.

The City of Kingston announced that it would be greening the region by planting over 40,000 trees. There was also some reflection in the city over whether or not the “No Mow May” is a viable initiative given our area’s climate and ecosystem.

Health-care news took up a lot of space in the headlines this month. Charges were laid against the former KGH employee who was found to have falsified their nursing credentials. The battle against privatization continued, with a public referendum and local health-care workers speaking out loud and clear. The Children’s Outpatient Clinic announced it would be capping the number of walk-in patients permitted each day. A baby wellness clinic was announced to support infants whose families lack primary care physicians. And a local paramedic was honoured at Queen’s Park for her bravery in single-handedly rescuing a drowning man.

Queen’s graduate students, who had rallied the previous month in favour of tuition abolition, participated in a nationwide walkout, demanding increased federal funding so that they would not be living below the poverty line. “Funding from the federal government to those agencies hasn’t really increased in over 20 years,” explained Samantha Hollands, a PhD candidate. “So what that means in practice is my supervisor, the professor that I work with in my research group, and… everyone else as well, the funding that they get to take on a new student or start a new project has stayed stagnant.”

Graduate students from Queen’s University gathered in front of Summerhill to participate in a nationwide walkout organized by “Support Our Science.” Photo by Kingstonist.

Funding at Queen’s was in the news again later in May, as it was announced that the university would be running a $62.8M operating deficit in the 2023-24 academic year. The provincial government’s 10 per cent tuition cut for Ontario students in 2019 and subsequent tuition freeze, which the university says has cost it $179.4 million to date, was mentioned in a release as one of the pressures the university has been unable to withstand. To put that in context, explained Interim Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Teri Shearer, “in 2019, the province cut tuition by 10 per cent, and it’s been held steady at the 10 per cent cut level. This budget year is the fourth consecutive year of no increases. And that 10 per cent cut and the fact that there have been no increases since has cost the university very nearly $180 million in forgone revenue.”

There was plenty of sports news and successes to celebrate this month. The Kingston Thunder Baseball Association received a grant of over $60,000, women’s tackle football was launched in Kingston with the inaugural year of the Kingston Sharks team, and a Kingston athlete was named as a finalist for a national sport tourism award. Medals were brought back to Kingston by local gymnasts competing at provincial championships and eastern Canadian championships, and by local rowers in not one but two consecutive weekends of competitions!

Silver medallist Novice Coxed Quad, lower left, and Gold medallist Women’s Novice Eight, lower right. Submitted photos.

June

Sports and fitness activities continued strong into the month of June. Breakwater Parkrun celebrated its 100th weekly 5K run on Saturday, Jun. 3, 2023. Thomas Collier, one of the organizers, noted that as a community-oriented event, parkruns are free and meant to be accessible to runners of all ages and abilities. “It’s completely for the community… All abilities are welcome. We have people who are super quick… and people who come just to walk,” he said, noting that participants are supportive of one another, with faster runners staying behind after finishing to encourage those still on the course. 

Those interested in motion on two wheels rather than two feet were able to enjoy the Limestone National BMX Race later in the month, a three-day event held at the Woodbine Road tracks. Another championship drew a lot of eager participants and spectators, as over 1,000 athletes gathered to compete in the Special Olympics Ontario School Championships. All of the events for the Special Olympics championship were held here in Kingston and were hosted by Kingston Police.

Arts and cultural events were a highlight of life in Kingston in June. People headed downtown for the Princess Street Promenade, a fascinating exhibition of ancient artifacts at City Hall, the return of the Katarokwi Indigenous Market, and the colour and energy of Pride 2023. And although the city did not end up taking the title, Kingston was announced in June as a finalist for Canada’s “Music City of the Year.”

Kingston showed its Pride from June 11 to 18, 2023. Submitted photo.

Kingston City Council was busy through June as well, approving the 2023-2026 Strategic Plan, reacting to Mayor Bryan Paterson being given “strong mayor powers” by the Premier (and eventually taking a stance against this decision), and voting to launch an integrity investigation into Pittsburgh District Councillor Ryan Boehme’s involvement in the firefighter recruitment process. As the month began, Council also indicated its intention to appeal to the Ontario Superior Court to be able to remove the Belle Park encampment, and as the month closed, the City initiated that court process.

A number of high-profile corrections- and crime-related cases drew readers this month. Kingstonist broke the story that Paul Bernardo had been quietly transferred from Millhaven institution to a medium-security prison. With eyes across the nation on this story, Marco Mendicino, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, directed a scathing statement toward the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). “The Correctional Service of Canada’s independent decision to transfer Paul Bernardo to a medium security institution is shocking and incomprehensible,” Mendicino wrote. Three days later, the CSC responded, saying, “We want to assure Canadians that this offender continues to be incarcerated in a secure and controlled facility — with every precaution in place to maintain public safety.” The statement added that “an additional review of this offender’s security classification [would be undertaken] to ensure it was appropriate, evidence-based, and more importantly, adequately considered victims.”

This month a survivor of vicious assaults spoke out against the application of her attacker, Richard Joyce, for parole. Also, a trial start date of Monday, Jul. 8, 2024, was announced for the case of Roy Snyder, accused of murder in the stabbing death of a man on Montreal Street in January of 2022. Finally, in another case involving Millhaven Institution, the final statements in the pre-sentencing hearing of Donald “Blair” Kay, a correctional officer convicted of assaulting a prisoner with a weapon in 2012, were made to Justice Geoffrey Griffin.

Perhaps the other ongoing news story that dominated headlines and attention the most through June was the wildfire crisis in Canada. Right from the first day of the month, special air quality statements became all too familiar. Although in early June, Utilities Kingston issued a reminder to waterfront residents to check sewer overflows after heavy rainfall, it turned out that the opposite problem would mark the month’s weather both locally and across the country. The City offered relief locations for those suffering respiratory problems from the smoke in the air. Total burn bans were issued across the region’s municipalities. Although the fires themselves were not encroaching on the Kingston region directly, prevailing winds brought smoke from distant wildfires into Kingston’s air, making our air quality just as bad as — at times worse than — some areas closer to the fires.

The cityscape of Kingston looked eerily unfamiliar under a blanket of smoke on Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2023. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

Environmental groups led a national day of action to speak up about the imminent impact of climate change. “Every year the situation gets worse,” read a statement by a group called SCAN! “This is costing lives lost and untold financial setbacks. Governments have declared the importance of halting climate warming. Six hundred and forty-nine municipalities have declared a climate emergency across Canada, including many municipalities in Ontario. Yet the Canadian government continues to support the expansion of the oil and gas industries.”

Greater Napanee had some important issues on its plate in June. Town councillors decided to enter into a six-month extension of a contract with VIA Rail to maintain the operation of the Napanee train station, an extension intended to allow an examination of decreased ridership and long-term viability. Council also finalized a deal to sell its former Infrastructure Services Office, located at 45 Commercial Court, for $1.5 million. And Mayor Terry Richardson took issue with an external reviewer’s recommendation that staff working at the customer service desk at the Strathcona Paper Centre could be replaced by a computer kiosk. In the broader community, people power was also being sought by Napanee and District Pipe Band, which was looking to recruit new members. At the time of printing, the group boasted 15 members, but Robin Lee, the band’s Drum Major, said he would like to see the band regain its former glory with a full 25 members. “Anyone can join. You don’t have to be from Napanee; you don’t have to be of Scottish ancestry… Look at me: I’m half Chinese,” he said with a laugh.

Development, construction, ground-breakings, and grand openings continued through the month, even in the midst of the smoky air. Sod was turned to mark the start of Kingston’s first hospice residence, long-term care homes in Greater Napanee and in Belleville, and the Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na Language and Cultural Centre on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. Swimmers looking to beat the heat could celebrate the conclusion of two revitalization projects: the Richardson Beach Bathhouse downtown was opened, and in the west end, the Lakeshore Pool showed off its renovations thanks to a government grant.

A moment nearly a decade in the making, the ribbon was cut marking the official re-opening of Richardson Beach on Saturday, Jun. 10, 2023, after initial plans began in 2016. Doing the honours were (L to R) Councillor Paul Chaves, Councillor Wendy Stephen, Councillor Conny Glenn, Mayor Bryan Paterson, famed Canadian marathon swimmer Vicki Keith, and MP Mark Gerretsen. Danny Elliot (far right), an ASL interpreter with Canadian Hearing Services, signed the events live. Photo via City of Kingston.

That’s our roundup of the second quarter of the year! Did we include the story that had the most impact on you in these months? Let us know in the comments, and stay tuned for our look back at July to September 2023!

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