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. Come for a walk down memory lane with us!
Each year, one of our favourite articles to write as January starts fresh is the announcement of Kingston’s first baby. Aadyah Arora Sethi claimed the honour this year, making his arrival into the world at Kingston General Hospital (KGH) at 2:16 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023. Parents Sethi and Arora were thrilled that their son was Kingston’s New Year’s baby. “He completes our family,” said Sethi, “and we are looking forward to bonding with baby, spending quality moments together, and making some memories in 2023.” Aadyah, on behalf of Kingstonist, we wish you a happy first birthday and hope you and your family had a wonderful and healthy year!
Despite the cold wintry weather that January always delivers, Kingstonians were on the move with a number of sports events. On Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, Queen’s University hosted the annual Winter Adapted Games, an event which pairs Queen’s students with members of the Kingston community who have identified disabilities, and together they enjoyed an exciting day of non-competitive sports and other activities. On that same weekend, the prestigious Strathcona Cup curling tour made its first-ever stop in the city of Kingston, as the Royal Kingston Curling Club and the Cataraqui Golf & Country Club hosted teams from Scotland for an action-packed day of on-ice competition and off-ice camaraderie.
Kingston City Council began the year with intensive debates regarding the potential eviction of unhoused people who were then living in an encampment at Belle Park, eventually deciding that this action should be delayed until March 2023. Kingston is not the only city struggling with housing issues, and on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, when the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled against the Region of Waterloo’s application to evict residents of an encampment on public property, many Kingstonians wondered if this decision could have major implications for the City of Kingston and its handling of the encampment near Belle Park. The encampment, its residents, their safety, and the bigger question of housing access would continue to loom large in Council discussions and in local news through the remainder of the year.
Connected to its discussions over unhoused residents, City Council declared that the city is experiencing a mental health and addictions crisis, requesting that the Ontario government “immediately invest in additional health care resources including treatment and rehabilitation beds in Kingston to support those in need.” For their part, Council agreed unanimously to spend approximately $150,000 to provide additional services to the site, including outdoor washroom facilities, garbage removal services, and round-the-clock security. Outside of municipal government, the community was stepping up as well. Kingstonist highlighted “Bags of Promise”, an initiative run jointly by students from Queen’s University and Royal Military College (RMC), seeking specifically to alleviate youth homelessness. To achieve this goal, founding organizer Brooke Baker of RMC said that the organization has three guiding pillars: service, education, and advocacy. “Our service pillar is primarily packing backpacks full of essential items and delivering them to youth shelters across the city. We also have our education pillar, [which] works to educate the general population on issues surrounding youth homelessness and destigmatization. [Lastly], we have our advocacy pillar, which works to fight for political change on the municipal and provincial levels,” she said.
On another human health-related front, Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) was struggling with an enormous backlog of elective surgeries, and at the time had over 7,000 people on its elective surgeries waitlist. However, there were bright spots in the midst of the health-care challenges, including KHSC being named one of the Top 40 research hospitals in Canada for the eleventh consecutive year. “This ranking reflects the focus held by KHSC as being a research-intensive hospital and will help us to continue to attract and retain top-tier researchers and keep us on the leading edge of research development, which allows us to provide new and innovative care to benefit future patients and generations closer to home,” said Dr. Steven Smith, President/CEO of the Kingston General Health Research Institute and Vice-President of Health Sciences Research at KHSC.
The trial of Michael Wentworth captured local attention in January 2023. After an initial delay, Wentworth was brought before Justice Laurie Lacelle of the Superior Court of Justice on two consecutive days to hear her verdicts on the charges. On Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, Wentworth was found guilty on two counts of robbery, and on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, Wentworth was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, one in the death of Richard Kimball and one in the death of Stephen St. Denis. He was also found guilty of arson related to the building, setting, and detonating of a pipe bomb under a vehicle in Toronto. The 69-year-old multiple murderer was sentenced that same day to life without the possibility of parole for 25 years. Justice Lacelle’s comments to Wentworth underlined the intentional severity of the sentence. “You are not a young man, sir, and you may never be free again,” she said. “This sentence reflects the astounding amount of harm and devastation that you have caused… The evidence in this trial alone, quite apart from your considerable criminal record, is overwhelming that you are a danger to the community… This sentence is required to separate you from the community — and definitely, it is fit and it is just.”
Wentworth’s trial wasn’t the only one that Kingstonist readers were following closely. Donald “Blair” Kay, a Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) officer, was on trial for charges of assaulting a prisoner with a weapon in a 2012 incident at Millhaven Institution. Fellow CSC officers testified, video evidence was examined, and the alleged victim took the stand. After this flurry of activity, the proceedings were adjourned until March, at which time trial summations occurred and a May verdict date was set.
Besides coverage of these solemn incidents, January had a few stories that were quirky, fun, or downright heartwarming, including an adorable Picton kid’s 4th birthday party at a Metro grocery store, the tale of a group of Wolfe Islanders helping a trapped deer in distress, and news that brought an outpouring of retail nostalgia to Kingstonist readers: the return of Zellers. There was also a bit of a Scooby-Doo-style mystery, as residents across Kingston reported hearing loud and “weird” sounds, seeming to emanate from the sky, in the early morning hours of Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. Although Dr. Alexander Braun, a geophysics instructor at Queen’s University, had a seemingly rational answer (snowplows scraping the road and generating “high energy sound waves including infrasound”), Kingstonist readers had other more colourful ideas, including whales, sasquatches, and “the eternal torment of condemned souls.” A year has gone by, and as far as we can tell, this mystery was never fully solved, so technically we haven’t fully ruled out sasquatches as the cause.
Building projects were announced that would impact the community in a variety of ways: plans were launched for a Hospice Kingston residence at the Providence Village site at 1200 Princess Street, and a much-needed Elder Care Home in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory was announced. A smaller scale building project, but one which had just as much heart and care poured into it, was completed and celebrated in January as well: a Little Library honouring the memory of Xóchitl Rivera was dedicated and opened at St. Teresa of Calcutta Catholic School at 1044 Lancaster Drive on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. “I hope that every time someone borrows or leaves a book, they think of the amazing, giving, and lovely girl she was,” said Denisse Rivera, Xóchitl’s mom.
Wintry weather of all sorts pummelled the area through February 2023, including extreme cold, blizzards, and freezing rain. Events like Family Day Weekend and Froid’Art, a free outdoor art exhibit in downtown Kingston, helped bring some outdoor fun, winter spirit, and colour to the chilly city. Started by David Dossett of the Martello Alley Gallery and Art Space, Froid’Art commissions local Kingston artists to create pieces on plexiglass, which are then sent away and frozen inside large slabs of ice. 2023 marked the ninth year for the initiative, and 21 pieces of frozen art were designed, crafted, and strategically placed outside in various locations throughout the downtown core for the public to view and enjoy.
Sometimes though, being outdoors got a little dangerous and required some professional help. A group of hikers were rescued in Frontenac Provincial Park on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, after one of them sustained a leg injury and the group used the What3Words app to indicate their location to first responders. And earlier in the month, on a day when temperatures plummeted below -30 C, a woman on a walk with friends was playfully jumping from snowbank to snowbank when she fell and became trapped in a utility maintenance service hole. “The metal cover appears to have been accidentally removed during snow removal operations,” the local fire department said in response to Kingstonist inquiries, referring to the metal cover having become dislodged from its spot due to snowplowing or shovelling. Thankfully, with the quick actions of first responders, all parties were rescued safely.
There was plenty to do for those who preferred to stay indoors this month. Following swift on the heels of January’s Strathcona Cup, Kingston played host to two more curling tournaments: the 2023 Two-Person Stick Curling Provincial Championship on the weekend of February 10-12, and CurlON’s 2023 Mixed Doubles Provincial Championship on the weekend of February 24-26. Queen’s University hosted the Dodgeball Ontario Provincial Championship on February 18-19, welcoming over 200 athletes from across Ontario to compete in men’s and women’s divisions, using the official World Dodgeball Federation (WDBF) rules for foam-style dodgeball.
Those who preferred to battle with words rather than with foam balls had their own championship to enjoy, as Kingston hosted the National Scrabble Tournament from February 16-20. Top-level Scrabble players from across the country gathered in Kingston to show off their skills, but enthusiastic amateurs were able to join in the fun as well. The event featured over $10,000 in prizes, making it the largest Scrabble tournament in Canada.
Stories of fraud and attempted fraud were an unfortunate theme of February’s news, including an individual who falsified credentials as a nurse to gain employment at KGH, a quick-thinking bank employee who saved an elderly person from losing $10,000 to a schemer, and warnings from Kingston Police about scams trying to capitalize on both goodwill toward disaster relief and people’s longing for romance around Valentine’s Day.
Queen’s University was in the news with happy announcements: a $30M donation from alumnus and philanthropist Bruce Mitchell was expected to increase research opportunities, and the Agnes Etherington Art Centre expansion moved into its design phase. However, the university mourned along with night-sky enthusiasts everywhere at the passing of honourary degree recipient and beloved astronomer Terence Dickinson.
Although in health care the closure of KHSC’s COVID-19 assessment centre suggested some positive news about the transition away from the full-blown pandemic response, flooding at Hotel Dieu and a nurses’ picket line were indicators of some deep-seated challenges. The nurses’ contract was under renegotiation, and they expressed hope that the next collective agreement would address problems of staffing levels and wages, resulting in better patient care.
Kingston City Council was busy this month with housing-related topics, including approving the application for federal funding for a Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) to be led by Home Base Housing, and making a pledge that Kingston will build 8,000 new homes by 2031. Although the City of Kingston cannot obligate private landowners to construct houses, City staff were able to prepare a Municipal Housing Pledge that “focuses on matters within municipal control, mainly by encouraging new housing construction by reducing municipal barriers and creating incentives.”
Those housing-related discussions and decisions continued as a strong theme for Kingston City Council through the month of March as well. Council approved the sale of some municipal lands for the purpose of enabling developers to build some much-needed housing units, approved three affordable housing projects with RHI, and approved a plan for the summer relocation of the sleeping cabins from Portsmouth Harbour to Centre 70. In terms of a long-term location for the cabins, a report from the City noted that staff were continuing to review plans for a permanent site.
The encampment at Belle Park was also an item of concern for the mayor and councillors as they grappled with housing issues in Kingston. With occupancy at the encampment apparently decreasing, the City announced that Tuesday, Mar. 21, 2023, would mark the the return to applying the City’s encampment protocol. People residing at the encampment were given trespass notices on the morning of Wednesday, Mar. 22, 2023, requiring them to relocate.
Another major topic of planning and response for many services was St. Patrick’s Day. Emergency services, along with Queen’s administration, declared they were prepared for the weekend’s revelries — preparations that even included restricting the airspace around the University District. When all was said and done, over 380 charges were laid and over $19,000 in fines were assessed, but emergency services were relieved that there had been no major disruptions or violence. “For the most part, the crowd remained in a celebratory mood and no major incidents occurred,” a post-event police report stated. “No injuries were reported or observed. The streets in the University District stayed free of gatherings and no overt police response, other than continued patrols and enforcement, was necessary.”
March saw a variety of stories around education and training. Graduate students at Queen’s held a rally seeking to abolish tuition fees, a new flight school for airline pilots was launched in Kingston, and Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science announced a new admission pathway for graduates of college engineering technology programs to access an undergraduate degree. At the elementary and secondary education level, some students and families were concerned that they might not be able to get to school and back, as some Tri-Board transportation workers expressed the intent to strike. Tri-Board staff sought intervention from the school boards to help avert this potential strike, and the issues were eventually resolved without strike action.
With winter waning, remaining ice on waterways was becoming increasingly dangerous, and one person learned this the hard way after requiring a rescue from Kingston fire crews. (We’re sure the City’s new Fire Chief was very proud of her skilled team!) Other waterway access stories were surfacing as well, with investigations into a dangerous incident on the Wolfe Island Ferry that had happened in the previous month, a 20-hour shutdown of the Wolfe Islander III due to an engine replacement, and a renewed call for a tandem ferry service to facilitate transportation to and from the island.
On Friday, Mar. 24, 2023, a shooting in broad daylight on Bath Road captured the attention of the region. An eyewitness who was driving down Bath Road at the time shared his experience of the event. “At first I heard the shots, but it wasn’t until I saw the puffs on the ground that I realized it was real bullets — it could have been a movie going on for all I knew — so that’s when I realized we had to get out of here,” he said. Investigations continued for several days, and because of the proximity to Collins Bay Penitentiary, the institution didn’t resume normal operations until four days later. Thanks to eyewitness statements and the results of their investigations, police made an arrest and laid charges for the incident on April 6 (yes, this is technically a sneak peek into a news highlights of next month!).
Fully deserving of its own paragraph in the list of March events, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Kingston, along with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The dignitaries toured Canadian Forces Base Kingston, and both the PM and President von der Leyen “reaffirmed their commitment to Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction efforts.” To that end, Trudeau announced that Canada would be committing a further $3 million to support an initiative to clear land mines and unexploded ordnance in Ukraine. Trudeau and von der Leyen also toured Kingston’s Li-Cycle, a company focused on lithium-ion battery recycling and resources recovery for critical materials, which days later announced plans to expand its facilities in Kingston.
March saw a number of cultural events take place in the area, including the Kingston Canadian Film Festival, the third annual Art and Found Day, and the Slaight Music Video Showcase. “I think it’s really great that everyone can be brought together [to] support local artists,” said Liv Whitfield (Luella), whose music video was featured at the Showcase.
Perhaps March’s most fun news category, however, can only be described as “Miscellaneous.” Kingstonians marvelled at a beautiful display of the aurora borealis, so bright that it was easily visible within the city. We celebrated hometown food and community spirit with both the opening of the CommUnity Café at the Centre 70 arena and the well-earned win for Ontario’s “Best Arena Fries” by Big D’s in Napanee. And we all cheered when a Topsy Farms’ wool blanket had a supporting role on the hit show “The Last Of Us” — and when Smokey saved a swan!
That’s our roundup of the first 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 April-June 2023!