Kingstonist’s 2023 ‘Year in Review’ – October to December

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 — catch up on Part 1 (January to March) here, Part 2 (April to June) here, and Part 3 (July to September) here. Come for a walk down memory lane with us!


October

October was an action-packed month in local news. Ground was broken at the site of Umicore’s multibillion-dollar facility in Bath, which will construct key components for electric vehicle batteries. A bevy of local and provincial leaders were on hand to mark the moment. Ontario Premier Doug Ford, in a dramatic contrast to his government’s previous attitudes toward green energy initiatives, enthused that Ontario is poised to become the “leader of an electric vehicle revolution.”

Community leaders, political officials, and Umicore executives ceremonially broke ground at the site of Umicore’s soon-to-be-built factory in Loyalist. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

In Greater Napanee on the energy front, Town Council heard a proposal for an energy storage project, which was criticized as a “toxic business” by a subsequent speaker. As a director of another energy storage company who visited earlier put it, Greater Napanee has been identified broadly as a “strategically important location within Ontario’s current transmission network for storage companies to set up shop because of its location, which easily allows the flow of electricity west or eastwards to fill the emerging capacity gap within Ontario.”

Energy production, storage, and consumption were on the minds of Kingston City Council members as well, and they approved support for energy projects, but articulated a caveat as they did so. Deputy Mayor Wendy Stephen noted it was key to specifically exclude fossil-fueled projects from Council’s resolution of support for new electricity generation and make it clear that the City’s support is only for renewables. “I think it’s highly unlikely we’re going to see any new gas plants coming here to Kingston,” said Stephen, “but just to be crystal clear, I think we should put it in writing. Our climate action plan and our strategic plan… both emphasize the importance of environmental stewardship and of climate action. And supporting electricity generated by the burning of fossil fuels would really run counter to the direction we’ve chosen for our city.”

Through the early weeks of October, Queen’s University, emergency services, and the city of Kingston as a whole collectively prepared for Homecoming 2023. City Council approved a motion to enable food trucks to operate on Queen’s campus for extended hours. Queen’s leadership, including students, promoted the importance of safe and respectful behaviour. Kingston Bylaw Enforcement and Kingston Police issued their own reminders to the student population that the University District Safety Initiative (UDSI) would be in place from October 14 to November 1 and that during this time, Bylaw and Police would have an increased presence in the University District. This policy did not sit well with students, who criticized it as an excessive enforcement presence and said the change should have been communicated in advance of its implementation. Bylaw and Police remained unmoved by the objections. After Homecoming Weekend on October 20-22, the number of fines handed out were calculated as totalling over $88,000. Kingston Fire and Rescue calculated the cost of false alarms made over that weekend at over $22,000.

It was no false alarm, though, when Greater Napanee Emergency Services had to fight a large fire that eventually destroyed the Napanee Fairgrounds building on the morning of Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. The community lamented the loss of the well-used community centre. Investigations into the cause of the blaze were complicated by additional suspicious fires in the area. In the midst of the confusion and communal sadness, firefighters and other emergency responders were applauded for their courageous and effective responses combating these fires.

Fire crews worked for hours to subdue the blaze at the Napanee Fairgrounds building. Photo by Logan Cadue.

The S.S. Keewatin, an Edwardian-era steamship, floated serenely into its new home at the Great Lakes Museum to the applause of a keen crowd of onlookers on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. Chris West, Chair of the Great Lakes Museum Board, celebrated the extensive restorative work that has already been done on the ship and noted, “There’s much more to be done. And it is truly fitting that the work will continue here in our historic shipyard dry dock, so that the Keewatin is looking her best for the grand opening in May and for years to come.”

Other ship-related news was not as positive. Strike action shut down the St. Lawrence Seaway operations, which closed off a major trade and supply artery for Canada. Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Quebec Premier François Legault pleaded for an agreement to be reached. (The strike continued until Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.)

Restoration work at the Belle Park encampment site was set for October, and the Ontario Superior Court began to hear arguments for and against dismantling the homeless encampment. Civil liberties lawyers added their voices to the mix, speaking against the City of Kingston’s appeal to the Superior Court for a removal order. “Enforced evictions of unhoused individuals, who are among the most vulnerable members of society, are inhumane,” said Harini Sivalingam, Director of the Equality Program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, in a statement. “Shelter is one of the most basic human needs, and state enforced deprivation of shelter is a violation of Charter rights and Canada’s international legal obligations.”

On the second day of hearings regarding the future of the Belle Park encampment, Justice Ian Carter made a humble admission: “It’s not going to come as a surprise that I will not be deciding this from the bench.” In other words, there was no quick and easy decision to be made when it came to dismantling a homeless encampment as winter threatened.

In health care news, KFL&A Public Health began offering curbside pickup of HIV self-test kits and announced that the new flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines were available for eligible residents. Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) was honoured by Ontario Health’s Trillium Gift of Life Network for its outstanding efforts to integrate organ and tissue donation into quality end-of-life care, and received a $20,000 grant to support young people in Kingston with mental health disorders.

Rounding out the news this month were stories like the outstanding exhibition of portraits at Gananoque’s Firehall Theatre, showcasing artists from across the country who were selected as finalists for the 2023 Kingston Prize. An emotional vigil was held to remember and honour missing and murdered Indigenous persons. A Kingston-based 3D construction company was at work in Alberta building transitional housing on the Siksika Nation, while Habitat For Humanity was at work right here in Kingston at the same time, building four tiny homes in the Rideau Heights neighbourhood. The Kingston Aeros Trampoline club celebrated 50 years, and the Kingston Frontenacs welcomed Troy Mann as their new head coach. And the community said goodbye to a beloved Kingston philanthropist when Arthur Britton Smith, known to many as “Brit,” passed away at the age of 103.

The Kingston Prize national portrait exhibition was showcased at the Firehall Theatre in Gananoque. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

November

Things had looked quite positive for the Li-Cycle battery recycling facility in March, when it received Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as guests and announced plans for expansion. But on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, Li-Cycle abruptly shuttered its Kingston location, laying off nearly all of the employees there without notice. The company did not respond to Kingstonist’s questions about the future of the new Li-Cycle site on Creekford Road, which had already been cleared to prepare for the facility’s construction, but the City of Kingston said Li-Cycle had decided “to defer the Kingston expansion for an unspecified period of time.”

Li-Cycle’s battery recycling facility on Hagerman Avenue in Kingston. Image via Li-Cycle.

The beginning of November also brought news of an arrest and charges in connection with October’s fires in Napanee. 49-year-old Jay Nelson Bradley of Kingston had owned a roller skating rink operated out of the York Street property and had been recently evicted following a dispute with the property’s management. He was charged with arson not only for the fire at the Napanee Fairgrounds building, but also for a fire at the home of Carol McKinley, President and acting Secretary-Treasurer for the Lennox Agricultural Society, which operates the Napanee Fairgrounds property. Bradley made his first court appearance on November 4, the day after his arrest.

Queen’s University celebrated a transformative donation, as Queen’s alumnus Stephen J.R. Smith gave $100 million to the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. The university announced that the Faculty has been renamed in Smith’s honour and will now be known as the Stephen J.R. Smith Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Queen’s University, or Smith Engineering. “It’s such an ambitious and wonderful vision for engineering and STEM education here at Queen’s. It’s students who will feel the greatest impact of this over time, and I’m quite sure they will receive today’s announcement with the same pleasure we all do,” remarked Queen’s University Principal Patrick Deane. Queen’s also celebrated the appointment of distinguished professor and paleolimnologist Dr. John Smol to the Order of Ontario and the awarding of the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation to Master’s student Glenda Watson Hyatt.

Even with a $100 million gift, November wasn’t all happy news for the Queen’s community. Queen’s was one of three universities named in a class-action lawsuit alleging antisemitism. Days later, it was announced that Bader College, Queen’s University’s international campus in England, would be closing abruptly due to structural issues in the centuries-old castle where students live and learn. Later in the month, concerned students leaked a memo written by Dr. Barbara Crow, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, indicating that sweeping austerity changes would be required of the Faculty. These changes would be put in place for the 2024-25 academic year to address the Faculty’s debt crisis. Ethan Chilcott, a fourth-year student in Classics and Archaeology, expressed concern that such deeply impactful and imminent decisions were not being communicated clearly to current and potential students.

Herstmonceux Castle, the home of Queen’s University’s Bader College, which closed abruptly in November due to structural problems with the 15th-century castle. Photo by Paul Gillett.

Kingston Transit had some happy announcements this month, with upgraded passenger stations open on Henderson Boulevard and a new online portal for transit pass holders to renew their pass instantly.

Lieutenant-Colonel Iain Clark assumed command of Canadian Forces Base Kingston from Brigadier-General Sonny Hatton in a Transfer of Command Authority ceremony on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023.

Cataraqui Woods Dentistry was issued an order to pay over $16,000 to a former employee, hopefully putting a final legal stamp on the extended ordeal for the complainant. Staff at two Kingston restaurants, Hey Darlin’ and Whiskey & Rosé, also voiced complaints that they were owed money by their employer and that their work environment was toxic and unhealthy. Although the owner denied that any claims had been made with the Ministry of Labour regarding these complaints, the Ministry confirmed there were indeed 10 separate claims filed regarding non-payment of wages.

The Belle Park encampment was still in the news through November, with deliberations on its future looking to precedent cases in Victoria, BC and Waterloo, Ontario. Kingston Fire and Rescue reported no injuries after responding to a fire at the encampment involving a 100-pound propane tank. Advocates for unhoused people also spoke out against Kingston City Council’s decision to end the sleeping cabins program.

Two stories came up this month creating an unlikely category that we’ll call “Who turned off the light?” Greater Napanee residents lamented the end of the iconic seasonal Big Bright Lights display on the building fronts down Dundas Street East, but the Town said the cost and workload the display required were not sustainable. And three local school boards collaborated to reschedule a PA day to align with the solar eclipse on Monday, Apr. 8, 2024. The decision was made with safety in mind. A report from the Limestone District School Board noted, “Moving the Professional Activity Day to align with the eclipse helps ensure the safety of students and staff, particularly when it comes to transportation. The sudden darkness during regular dismissal times can pose risks, such as accidents related to reduced visibility, fear for some students, and potential eye damage because many students would still be in transit on Tri-Board Transportation or preparing for dismissal.” The Kingston region sits in the field of totality expected during the eclipse.

Napanee’s Big Bright Lights Show in 2021. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

There was joy in “good work, well done” in the region this month, even amidst the number of serious and difficult stories. The Isabel Voices launched a new season of choral music with a concert called “the breath of life.” Little Forests Kingston, in collaboration with the Seniors Association, began a project in Portsmouth Village, employing a proven method of soil preparation and the planting of dense, fast-growing native plants, shrubs, and trees, aiming to improve air quality; provide food for birds, bees, butterflies, and other insects; and cool the building and surrounding neighbourhood. The Kingston Juggling Festival returned after a four-year hiatus. A hip-hop concert was held at the Broom Factory in support of Kingston’s Integrated Care Hub. And a lost retriever was successfully retrieved.

This very very good boy, Twin, was back at Kingston Humane Society for a checkup after being out in the woods for 17 days. Photos via KHS.

December

December brought the holiday spirit into full swing — homes were lit up and decorated for the season, toy drives were hosted, and Santa Claus visited downtown Kingston.

Fundraising, awareness, and engagement campaigns also flourished through December. The Holiday Smile Cookie campaign raised over $60,000 for the United Way KFL&A. COBS Bread collected over $17,000 to support the Lionhearts Student Food Box program. Grandmother Gail, a member of Kingston Grandmother Connection, made her third annual polar plunge on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, staying in the frosty waters of Portsmouth Olympic Harbour for six minutes to raise much-needed awareness and funds for African families decimated by the AIDS pandemic. The seventh annual Warm Clothes Round-Up, a holiday concert, was held in support of the Kingston Street Mission, welcoming gifts of both cash and warm clothing.

In the midst of the fundraising campaigns, Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre (SPWC) put out a call to the community that it is in great need of financial support for its work rehabilitating and assisting local wildlife. “Sandy Pines has been serving Eastern Ontario for 25 years, and we want to continue to grow and help more animals every year,” said Leah Birmingham, who is the Medical Director and Internship Program Coordinator at SPWC as well as a licensed wildlife custodian and a professor at St. Lawrence College. But to do so, she said, “we will need our donations to grow with us — or, at the very least, remain the same as the year before and not drop by half.”

This rarely-seen (because it’s nocturnal) northern flying squirrel was in care at SPWC in December 2023. Submitted photo.

A number of health care stories were in December’s news. Two teams of local health care professionals were awarded a total of over $80,000 through the Elaine and Michael Davies Award for Innovation for their innovative projects. Three local public health agencies — Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Board of Health; the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District (LGLD) Board of Health; and the Hastings Prince Edward (HPE) Board of Health — considered a potential voluntary merger as an opportunity to strengthen overall public health capacity. Capacity issues were also of concern at KHSC, who expressed worry about the peak season for respiratory illnesses putting strain on an already maxed-out system. “[We’re] already bursting at the seams,” a KHSC public notice stated. “One day last week we had more than 580 inpatients, a near record. To help, we are opening non-traditional spaces to make sure that every patient who needs care can receive it.” Young patients at KHSC had a bright spot in their month, though, as Operation HO HO HO saw Santa deliver specially designed teddy bears to pediatric patients.

Photo by Daniel Tastard-Homer/Kingstonist.

Kingston City Council ended the year with its plans for the Belle Park encampment still in flux. After an article in the Globe and Mail compounded local confusion about where the matter stood and what the City’s obligations and intentions were, Mayor Bryan Paterson’s office responded to Kingstonist’s requests for clarification. “Right now,” said the statement from the mayor’s office, “the City is actively considering the Court’s guidance on addressing public safety issues with the Belle Park encampment. Although no specific timelines have been set, the City will communicate with encampment residents before implementing any enforcement measures.”

Kingston City Council also approved a plan this month to see the City assume control of the Kingston Public Market, beginning in 2024. Market vendors expressed concerns about some aspects of the plan, but the vote to approve was still passed by Council.

Market stalls selling locally-grown produce and locally-made items like baked goods, maple syrup, and pottery have been a part of downtown Kingston’s character for many decades. Submitted photo.

Challenges within the Faculty of Arts and Science at Queen’s continued, with a memo circulated announcing the sudden cancellation of admission pathways to online degrees and online certificate programs, effective January 2024. “As a result, a limited number of distance students will be admitted to degree and certificate programs for the winter 2024 term, but not beyond. All current distance students in degree or certificate programs will be guaranteed a pathway to completion,” stated the memo, signed by Bill Nelson, Associate Dean (Teaching and Learning) for the Faculty of Arts and Science. Nelson also clarified that on-campus Queen’s students will continue to be able to take online courses. Students who had been taking courses to pursue admission to an online degree or certificate program were confused and distressed. A student who spoke to Kingstonist said that the announcement left them “distraught, hurt, disappointed, and feeling hopeless.”

A couple of recycling-related stories came out in the middle of the month, one from advanced metals recycling company Cyclic Materials announcing successful results from its Kingston pilot plant, where its proprietary Mag-Xtract technology isolates magnets from recycled end-of-life products. Simultaneously, another pilot program was just getting underway: 19 bins from a Trenton-based company called Renewal Squared Inc. were installed at various City-owned buildings, parks, and other locations, to divert materials such as linens and towels away from area landfills.

December brought some appointment and naming announcements. Dr. Jill Scott was appointed as the 14th principal of the Royal Military College. Napanee’s Leroy Blugh, a veteran Canadian Football League defensive lineman and recent defensive line coach for the Queen’s Gaels, was named to the inaugural class of the Football Ontario Hall of Fame. And the Leon’s Centre went through a re-naming process; the winning submission would see the venue’s name change to Slush Puppie Place.

Several fires made the news this month: a flash fire at a Picton plant injured three workers, a multi-building fire in Bath kept fire crews busy on Christmas morning, four people were sent to hospital after a fire at Knight’s Inn on Boxing day, and a transport truck fire closed down the westbound lanes of the 401 in the middle of the day on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023. And in a development from the October fires in Greater Napanee, accused arsonist Jay Bradley was denied bail.

But let’s close 2023’s Year In Review celebrating local people doing amazing things in December! A number of dedicated local volunteers were honoured with the June Callwood Outstanding Achievement Award for Voluntarism. The Frontenac Secondary School Trivia Team won an international championship on Whiz Quiz, a televised trivia game on PBS. And all nine teams from Kingston Elite Cheerleading that competed in this month’s Cheer for the Cure competition in Oshawa placed in the top five within their divisions, including Team Imperial, which brought home not only a first-place finish in their division but also an at-large bid to next year’s World Cheerleading Championships. Well done everyone, and good luck in your adventures next year!

The FSS Trivia Team won the Whiz Quiz International Championship earlier this month. End the year with a well-deserved round of applause! Submitted photo.

That’s 2023 wrapped up! Did we include the story that had the most impact on you this year? Let us know in the comments. All the best to you in 2024, and stay subscribed to Kingstonist for all the engaging local stories sure to come in the year ahead!

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