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 (January through March) can be read here, and Part 2 (April through June) can be read here. Come for a walk down memory lane with us!
July is prime festival and event season, and many Kingstonians headed to City Park to enjoy Artfest Kingston during the Canada Day weekend. Only days later, the downtown streets were taken over by incredible performers from all over the world, and eager spectators gathered through the hot days and evenings for the 2023 Kingston Buskers Rendezvous. Even late July brought outdoor entertainment, as the City hosted its large-scale free outdoor music concert in downtown Kingston, “Rockin’ the Square.” Hip-hop legends Kardinal Offishall and Maestro Fresh Wes entertained a packed crowd at Springer Market Square on Friday, Jul. 28, 2023.
The Belle Park encampment saga continued this month. On Monday, Jul. 10, 2023, Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice began hearing the City of Kingston’s application for an injunction to order the removal of the homeless encampment at Belle Park. At the heart of the hearing was the challenge of balancing the City’s right to property with the rights of the people who live at the encampments under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Following the hearing, John R. Done of the Kingston Community Legal Clinic commented, “We have an important, perhaps apparently intractable public problem of how do we serve people who are homeless and people who have addictions.” He continued, “Ultimately, it’s going to have to be a question to be resolved by serious negotiation. So I’m inviting the city of Kingston to work with us to find a process where we can negotiate, [to find] the best resolution that they can come up with.”
In other Kingston City Council news, Mayor Bryan Paterson decided to relinquish some of the “strong mayor powers” granted to him by the provincial government, delegating them back to City Council and the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). “Our current structure of decision-making and oversight for the City is working,” said Mayor Paterson. “We have a professional, talented council and staff team who are committed to addressing the challenges we face on housing, mental health and addictions, and keeping life affordable. It only makes sense that much of this new authority go back to where it’s best used.”
The Town of Greater Napanee experienced some turmoil in July with the resignation of its CAO, a finding by an integrity commissioner that Councillor Michael Schenk should be formally reprimanded for breaking Council’s rules of conduct, and a decision by Town Council swift on the heels of that finding to reject that recommendation. In late July, Fire Chief Bill Hammond stated unequivocally that the current work climate in the Town was leading to qualified potential candidates not wanting “to step into management positions in this organization right now.” While those statements might have seemed to be made in the heat of the moment, Hammond stood by his words several days later.
Several ongoing stories dealing with crime and Correctional Service Canada (CSC) had new chapters unfold this month. Donald “Blair” Kay was sentenced to 12 months probation and 60 hours of community service for his 2012 assault with a weapon on a prisoner at Millhaven. Michael Wentworth, who was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for 25 years in January, died at Millhaven Institution on Wednesday, Jul. 5, 2023. And some conclusions were reached regarding the transfer of Paul Bernardo to a medium security institution. The Review Committee found that while CSC acted in a manner consistent with existing policies, it could have done better in giving victims’ families advance warning of the transfer. The Review Committee recommended that the CSC Commissioner establish a “multi-disciplinary working committee” to enhance victim engagement and communication. “Underpinning this recommendation is an acknowledgement that the victim notification process can have profound impacts on victims, including the potential for re-traumatization.”
The smallest patients at Kingston Health Sciences Centre received a large boost, with a $30,000 grant from the Sandra Schmirler Foundation. The University Hospitals Kingston Foundation stated that the funds would be used toward the purchase of a GlideScope for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Health care news was not as positive in Sharbot Lake, as an announcement was made that Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health would be closing its branch office in that town later in 2023. However, Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health at KFL&A Public Health, assured the community that services were changing but not being eliminated. “The closure of the branch office is a strategic decision… We are investing in providing mobile services in convenient locations throughout the community rather than a brick-and-mortar space. Staff will work closely with our partners in Sharbot Lake to continue delivering essential public health programs and services.”
Changes were announced and implemented in July on a number of cultural and historical fronts. Some of these were closures, like the Lennox and Addington Historical Society ceasing operations after over 100 years; some were changes to existing organizations, like KILN’s name change to the Kingston Native Centre and Language Nest (KNCLN) after being ratified as a member of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, or “strategic change” in the way that Sir John A. Macdonald is presented at Bellevue House; and some were fresh initiatives, like the new self-guided walking tours provided by Tourism Kingston that celebrate local literary, film, and music scenes.
A favourite category of news articles that emerged as a happy pattern this month could best be described as “young people doing cool things.” Fifty-nine local musicians, the vast majority of them youth, participated in the provincial competition of the Ontario Music Festival Association (OMFA), and 30 of those competitors earned recognition ranging from Honourable Mention to First Place. A group of intrepid sea cadets assisted Military Police with a water rescue near RMC. Those talented rowers just kept bringing back more gold medals. And the first-ever firefighting skills camp, “Girls in Gear,” saw 30 Kingston-area teenagers work alongside a proud group of women in the fire service to learn firefighting skills. “We’re trying to give the girls the experience so that, whether they choose firefighting or not, they’ve had a chance to try it,” said Melanie Jones, former deputy chief of Kingston Fire & Rescue, explaining that often young women don’t know that firefighting is a viable career for them. “In their 20s or whenever, they might feel like this is actually a viable opportunity, as opposed to just being [an] automatic, ‘Oh no, that’s not for me.’ The whole thing is to try and empower them and give them opportunities.”
August was a wonderfully busy month for arts and cultural events. The 26th Limestone City Blues Festival filled the city with great music. Sandi Griffiths, events coordinator for the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area (BIA), noted that even though not all the performers were within the blues genre, the event is still committed to its standing as one of the most popular authentic blues festivals in the area. “It’s a gradual shift, and we’re still loyal to the history of the festival. It’s always going to have a blues component.”
Other events evoked nostalgia for long-ago times, like the 85th anniversary of the Fort Henry Guard, or for not-so-long-ago times, like the Kingston Frontenac Public Library’s photo exhibit chronicling the Kingston community’s experiences in the COVID-19 pandemic. And talented teens and young adults took their audiences back to the days of sock hops and poodle skirts with Blue Canoe’s production of “Happy Days.”
As that theatre company continued to grow, Blue Canoe reached out to the community seeking support to build a black box theatre space. “We recently moved into a studio space of 2,500 square feet,” said Cam Watson, Blue Canoe’s managing director, “and we’re looking to renovate our space so that we can use it for more performances in the Kingston area, such as music, dance, theatre — whatever people need it for.” Work was also underway to enhance another performance venue, The Spire, downtown on Sydenham Street. Although the church/venue boasts gorgeous architecture and wonderful acoustics, the managers of The Spire have been improving the lighting, sound, and other technical production resources that are needed by performers who would use the space.
Sustainability issues hit the news on a number of fronts across the entire region in August. Loyalist Township announced the launch of a new pilot program designed to reduce food waste, Prince Edward County established a new conservation reserve, the Greater Napanee Town Council discussed the importance of designing a walkable community, and the Kingston Environmental Advisory Forum began accepting applications from organizations planning “green projects” to receive funding through the 2023-2024 Kingston Community Climate Action Fund.
As the Greenbelt fiasco unfolded on the broader provincial stage, Kingston and the Islands Member of Provincial Parliament Ted Hsu called on the provincial government to establish a commission to conduct a full, independent public inquiry into “how the Ford government subverted democratic accountability to transfer $8 billion of wealth to private developer interests.”
The following week, Steve Clark, provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Member of Provincial Parliament for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, apologized publicly for his part in what he called “very clear flaws to the process that led to the removal of the lands being removed from the Greenbelt.”
Another fiasco that made the headlines involved labour relations. A battle that had seen at least a dozen filings with the Ontario Labour Relations Board since it began in March of 2021 concluded in August, with the Board directing Cataraqui Woods Dentistry to pay everything that was owed to a former employee.
Kingston City Council received a report from the City’s Integrity Commissioner finding that Pittsburgh District Councillor Ryan Boehme did not violate the Member Code of Conduct or the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA) when he participated in 2023 budget deliberations for Kingston Fire and Rescue (KFR) and then subsequently applied for a position with KFR. Council voted unanimously to accept the report and its findings. Kingston City Council also approved recommendations from staff which will see youth positions added to select advisory committees with the City.
Once again, many local sports success stories made the news in August. Lukas McDowell, a baseball player and Frontenac Secondary School student, was selected to participate in the Toronto Blue Jays’ Canadian Futures Showcase, an annual event featuring some of the country’s biggest prospects. Golfer Noah Steele also had big dreams of joining the PGA Tour. Steele turned pro in 2021; then in 2022 he joined the PGA Tour Canada, a development league which could eventually lead to a spot in the full-fledged PGA Tour. And you’d think Kingston rowers would be tired of winning gold medals by now, but they just kept doing it!
Rounding out the news this month were events like the Princess Street Promenade, Open Farm Days celebrating food and farming, the maiden voyage of the Wolfe Islander IV, and the ground-breaking ceremony for a new elder care home in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. Readers rejoiced over the safe recovery of a missing child at Sandbanks Provincial Park, rallied around Kerri Kehoe as she called for support in preventing her attacker’s parole, and mourned the loss of former senator Hugh Segal, who passed away at the age of 72.
Although the calendar had moved to September, thermometers across the region were still registering oppressive summer heat, exacerbated by a power outage for over 10,000 area residents on Tuesday, Sep. 5, 2023.
The heat continued figuratively through the month with polarized positions on gender diversity and gender-related issues in schools. Just as the new school year was about to begin, local individuals and 2SLGBTQIA+ groups expressed concern over Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s comments at a Monday, Aug. 28, 2023 news conference — comments which contained a somewhat jumbled mix of assertions that school should be “safe for every child” and admiration for policies like Saskatchewan’s, where any new names or pronouns requested by a student must be approved by the student’s parents. A few days later, Kingston area school boards clarified their positions on pronoun policies. Contention over the rights of trans and gender diverse kids and the intersection of those rights with parents’ rights reached a national head on Wednesday, Sep. 20, 2023, with protests and counter-protests taking place all over Canada, including in Kingston.
Leading up to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on the 30th of the month, there were opportunities to learn about colonial history and to celebrate Indigenous culture. Queen’s celebrated the opening of its new outdoor Indigenous gathering space and launched an Indigenous art show. The Kingston Frontenac Public Library hosted an online program to promote learning about Indigenous music and musical instruments, featuring expert teaching from David Finkle, an acclaimed multi-instrumentalist from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. And readers were delighted to hear that 16-year-old Sophia Westcott, a long-time member of BGC South East (formerly Boys and Girls Club of Kingston & Area), had her design chosen for this year’s official Orange Shirt Day shirts for BGC nationwide.
Stories related to conservation areas and biodiversity were a mainstay in local news this month. Cataraqui Conservation was seeking public input to help inform its upcoming Strategic Plan, and the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) was seeking local volunteers to help control invasive species. Meanwhile, Kingston Police was searching for a different sort of pest: a vandal who had damaged signs, washroom doors, and approximately 30 benches at the Lemoine Point Conservation Area. In Greater Napanee, Town Council heard a deputation on the urgency of curbing Emerald Ash Borers. Near Tweed, the NCC was able to permanently protect a large natural property near Stoco Fen, a significant wetland. And to the east, the Town of Gananoque received the generous gift of a 35-acre forest.
Kingston City Council still had the problem of housing and the Belle Park encampment on its agenda. Council voted to cover landfill repair costs at the encampment site and decided to seek new input and information for funding options for housing and homelessness initiatives. In anticipation of a November decision by City Council on four possible permanent locations for the sleeping cabin program, City staff also sought public input on location options. A pilot program for textile recycling was approved this month, and former City of Kingston CAO Gerard Hunt was memorialized with a new park named in his honour. “One of the things that excited Gerard the most was community partnerships,” Mayor Paterson said at the opening of Gerard Hunt Memorial Park. “He would always just love projects where different aspects and different parts of the community would all work together on a on a common vision, and of course this park is an example of that.”
Some major community projects were in the news in September. Kingston City Council voted to contribute $6.5 million toward the new pool being built in Amherstview. The staff report noted that in 2019, City of Kingston residents accounted for 18.5 per cent of all visits to the previous pool. In Greater Napanee, the Lennox and Addington County Ontario Provincial Police announced that they would receive over $100,000 to go toward a new closed-circuit television camera system for the town. Also in Napanee, just over a year after its application, R.W. Tomlinson received provincial environmental compliance approval for its controversial proposed hot mix asphalt plant. And a major development was opened as well: a new state-of-the-art joint-use facility consisting of École secondaire publique Mille-Îles and École secondaire catholique Sainte-Marie-Rivier held a grand opening ceremony this month.
After Richard Joyce was denied parole in the first ever Canadian long-distance parole hearing, survivor Kerri Kehoe and her supporters reacted to the emotional roller coaster of the process and the final decision.
There were many events and activities to choose from in September for those interested in arts and culture. The 15th edition of Kingston WritersFest brought over 50 writers to the city, including Michael Crummey, Patrick deWitt, Heather O’Neill, and Wayne Grady. Art After Dark brought art patrons and enthusiasts downtown to take in local art and meet the artists. The Intercultural Arts Festival at Confederation Basin celebrated the Kingston area’s rich cultural diversity. And, consistent with many songs from its festival’s genre, the BIA shared a sad yet cryptically optimistic announcement confirming the end of the Limestone City Blues Festival. The organization said it is currently working on plans for a new music festival, set to launch in 2025, which will aim to invite a broader audience to enjoy the experience of a large-scale live music event held in the heart of the city.
We would be remiss not to include a September story that was an exciting yet very logical progression of the stories of local rowers from the preceding months: two women’s rowing teams, each with rowers who train at the Kingston Rowing Club, qualified to compete at the Paris 2024 Olympics! We look forward to cheering you on next year!
That’s our roundup of the third 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 October-December 2023!