Kingston’s Post-Secondary Working Group quietly initiates alternative activities for students during St. Patrick’s Day weekend

Participants in the St. Patrick’s Day Waterfront Run with Runners’ Choice on Sunday, Mar. 17, 2024, gather at their end point in Springer Market Square, where live music played throughout the day. All of the events were organized by Tourism Kingston as alternative activity options for Kingston’s student population at the request of Kingston’s Post-Secondary Working Group. Photo via Emma Lambert/Tourism Kingston.

If the fact that a full day of concerts in Springer Market Square took place this past weekend surprises you, you’re not alone.

In fact, most people in Kingston had no knowledge the event was taking place — apart from those students in the University District who got word of the event (and others) via bylaw enforcement officers who were knocking on doors in the student housing area to inform residents of the City’s Nuisance Party Bylaw and the associated Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMPs).

That’s because the day-long live music event in the downtown core, as well as both an organized five-to-seven kilometre run and a yoga session on the waterfront, were organized within the two weeks before they occurred, and no publicity of the events took place other than students being notified in the days before St. Patrick’s Day.

So who organized these events, and why?

Kingstonist readers may recall that, in December 2023, Sydenham District Councillor Conny Glenn brought forth the idea of establishing a ‘town-gown working group’; subsequently Kingston City Council voted in support of the creation of Kingston’s Post-Secondary Working Group. (The name change was also Glenn’s idea, so as not to exclude St. Lawrence College and the Royal Military College of Canada, since the term ‘town-gown relations’ is most commonly associated with university-municipality relations.)

Glenn, who campaigned back in 2022 on a platform of working towards improved student relations in Kingston, originally brought forward a motion to create the working group in July 2023. The idea, according to her original motion, was based on the idea that “the City of Kingston, St. Lawrence College, the Royal Military College of Canada, and Queen’s University are committed to working together to better integrate the student population within the community which includes addressing off-campus student behaviours,” among other objectives.

In an interview with Kingstonist, Glenn explained that the Working Group includes herself and Councillor Vincent Cinanni (Williamsville District) as representatives of City Council, as well as student representatives and an administrative representative from Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College (SLC), respectively (Queen’s has an undergraduate rep and a post-graduate rep). Glenn said that City of Kingston staff invited the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) to participate, but they have “yet to come to the table.” The City of Kingston’s Bylaw Department also has a seat at the table, Glenn noted.

Since the official formation of the Post-Secondary Working Group in December, one of the committee’s areas of focus has been addressing the mass gatherings in Kingston’s University District almost always associated with a handful of holidays/events, such as St. Patrick’s Day, Queen’s Homecoming Weekend, and the move-in and orientation period for post-secondary students, Glenn explained.

“Even before we formed the working group, I campaigned on approaching this differently. So I’m an old Waterloo grad, and all I could think of was [that] Waterloo does Oktoberfest every year, and tons of students go out and party, and we don’t see the city getting, you know, destroyed,” said Glenn.

Drawing from that memory and juxtaposition, Glenn said she feels Kingston needs to take a different line of thinking about the situation.

“We’ve got this [student] population, so what are we doing to manage this differently?” she questioned.

With that in mind, the Working Group started having conversations with different students, Glenn explained.

“One of the things that the students said, which tied right into where I wanted to go, was… ‘You’re always telling us what we can’t do. But what can we do?’ Right? You know, what are the options here in the city? And I campaigned on opening up options for students, some more things for them to do and to be involved in,” the councillor said, then turning her attention to the events this past weekend for St. Patrick’s Day.

“That’s where this came from.”

Glenn admitted that attempting to organize events for St. Patrick’s Day 2024 was on “a little short notice,” but noted the Working Group felt they should accomplish whatever they could in the time available. That was about two to three weeks ago, and “thankfully, we’ve got great City partners,” the councillor said.

The Working Group approached Tourism Kingston, Glenn said, and “the minute we went to them and said, ‘We’d like to plan some St. Patrick’s Day events that are aimed a bit at the students,’ they said, ‘Absolutely!’”

Tourism Kingston took the lead on planning the concert, which at times had up to 300 students gathered in Springer Market Square, Glenn said. The Tourism Kingston team also reached out to downtown Kingston businesses to find out which stores and restaurants might be offering St. Patrick’s Day deals or events they’d like to encourage the student population to take part in. Using all of those offerings, Tourism Kingston began creating a list of things for students to do for St. Patrick’s Day on the theme of the ’25 Things To Do…’ series the organization offers on VisitKingston.ca. The same information on the website was the information communicated to students by bylaw officers, according to organizers.

Asked about the other events that were part of that bill — the ‘St. Patrick’s Day Waterfront Run with Runners’ Choice’ and the ‘St. Patrick’s Day Waterfront Yoga with Morro Yoga’ — Megan Knott, Executive Director of Tourism Kingston, pointed to her agency’s most recent hire, Emma Lambert, Manager of Sports Partnerships, Wellness & Culture for Tourism Kingston.

Lambert, herself a graduate of Queen’s University, said she recognizes all too well the lack of events and things to do being offered to students, particularly those not geared towards alcohol consumption.

“I think what worked really well was just appreciating the fact that St. Patrick’s Day is the type of day, especially since it landed on a weekend this year, that people want to celebrate and want to gather… I think the appeal of Queen’s University [and] the appeal of Kingston to so many folks is the fact that we tend to gather really well. Sometimes, for better or worse, that looks like a party on Aberdeen Street, but that’s not necessarily what everyone is looking for,” said Lambert.

“I think we can do a better job as a city, as partners within the community, to provide more options for folks… Certainly, the feedback that we heard from people who attended the run, who attended the yoga…  [was that they] were just looking to do something… wanting to celebrate… but, whether they were a Queen’s student or a community member, not necessarily wanting to crack a drink at 9 a.m.”

The manager of all things sports and wellness for Tourism Kingston continued, “People want to go out and celebrate, and be outdoors, and do things with others, especially this time of year.”

“If activities that aren’t just about drinking are offered to students, there are lots of students who want to participate,” Lambert concluded.

Using the same idea of finding local businesses offering products or services students might enjoy, Lambert approached Morro Yoga on Ontario Street and Runners’ Choice on Brock Street, and both businesses excitedly agreed to participate, she said. Runners’ Choice agreed to organize the Waterfront Run and provided the registration services and prizes for it, and Morro Yoga agreed to design an outdoor yoga session accessible to all skill levels and have a professional instruct it, free of charge. Lambert then connected with Fresh Healthy Café on Brock Street, which offered one of its smoothie options to all participants in the Waterfront Yoga session… which brought the voucher-holding yogis into Market Square for their post-workout refreshment, where they also found live music.

The bands playing in Market Square were all bands connected to Queen’s, primarily by way of the band members being students, Knott said, noting that Tourism Kingston’s Music Officer Moira Demorest organized the lineup for the day, which ran from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, Mar. 17, 2024. Employing Kingston’s new Music Strategy, Demorest curated some of the more popular bands among the student population — bands that, just the day before, had been shut down by bylaw officers.

Knott explained, “CFRC radio [Live Sessions Team] was the MC of the talent that came from Queen’s [during the Market Square concerts], and what’s interesting that they told me was that those bands also played in backyards on the Saturday in sort of that student ghetto area and were shut down by bylaw officers because they were attracting students.”

“So really we’re just giving an actual free venue for legitimate events that’s literally three blocks from where they were performing in the backyard where they were asked not to perform,” Knott said. “And it wasn’t riddled with security or police officers. It was just community.”

Knott also pointed out (as Demorest was away) that, as per the Kingston Music Strategy, all of the bands that played in Market Square on Sunday were paid fairly.

“So, would you rather play a full set for a real audience and get paid, or would you rather get shut down playing in a backyard?” she asked — the answer to her rhetorical question being obvious.

According to Lambert and Knott, about 40 people attended both the Waterfront Yoga and Waterfront Run events, which, given the weather and the next-to-no-promotion, was a positive outcome. And, as Glenn said, hundreds of students cycled through Market Square throughout the day.

Asked for a breakdown of the costs associated with the events, Tourism Kingston said that, thanks to partnerships with businesses and those in the community, the bill was minimal.

Each band that played in Market Square was paid $750, Tourism Kingston said. With at least eight bands performing, that’s a total of $6,000.

“There was an associated cost of $7,500 for the stage rental, but the City of Kingston will be investing in this size of stage for future events, so we won’t have this rental charge in the future,” Lambert relayed, estimating that overnight security and insurance for the concert portion of the events cost another $1,000.

Throw in an approximate $35 fee to create online event registration on Eventbrite, and that totals approximately $14,535. Tourism Kingston said it made some of those payments as a contribution to the community; Glenn said some of the funding came from “the Special Events Office (Tourism Kingston), Recreation & Leisure Services, and Public Works.”

Asked ‘why Tourism Kingston?’ both Glenn and representatives of that organization explained that Tourism Kingston is well versed in organizing events, connecting businesses and community partners, and showcasing the Limestone City. Further, the distaste for the activities that have gone on in the downtown core during events like St. Patrick’s Day in the past decade or so has led to ‘townies’ avoiding the area at those times — and as Lambert pointed out, part of Tourism Kingston’s work is to help attract people to Kingston, whether those people are from other parts of the world or other parts of the Kingston area.

And for both the Post-Secondary Working Group and Tourism Kingston, the events served as a sort of pilot project, a soft launch, if you will.

Connecting the student population with businesses, services, and events that wanted to welcome their presence over St. Patrick’s Day weekend “just made sense to me,” said Glenn.

“I couldn’t figure out why we weren’t seeing the students [in terms of] all the benefits that they could bring to the city. And if you’ve got a group of people, they’re young and energetic, and they don’t have anything to do, what do you expect is gonna happen?” she said.

While it can’t be viewed as a direct correlation to just the activities offered through this initiative, data from Kingston Police and the City of Kingston show a more than 60 per cent decrease in the number of charges and fines laid over St. Partick’s Day weekend in 2024 compared to 2023. It’s true that more than 100 charges were laid — but that is a far cry from the over 386 charges the year before.

“So we saw a better response at Homecoming this year [and] we’ve seen improvements again for St. Paddy’s Day,” Glenn concluded.

“And so I just want to hopefully bring that back around again to the activities in the fall and keep the momentum going.”

Kingstonist inquired with Kingston Police about whether they were aware of any activities planned for students, such as a concert, prior to St. Patrick’s Day weekend. No response was received.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article referred to Runners’ Choice being located on Princess Street. Runners’ Choice is actually located on Brock Street, and this article has been updated to reflect that.

4 thoughts on “Kingston’s Post-Secondary Working Group quietly initiates alternative activities for students during St. Patrick’s Day weekend

  • Glad to read about engaging activities for young people in Kingston.
    P S.
    Runners Choice is not on Princess Street
    It is on Brock Street, very close to Market Square. I would appreciate that correction being made.
    Yours, Julie Parker
    (A long time resident of Kingston and a reader of The Kingstonist).

    • Hi Julie,
      You’re absolutely correct! My mistake, and I’ll correct that now.
      Thank you,
      Tori Stafford
      Kingstonist

  • Well done Conny, Working Group, Tourism Kingston, Runners Choice, Morro Yoga, Fresh Healthy Cafe. What a terrific alternative to Aberdeen. Hope it sets an example for next fall.

Leave a Reply

You cannot copy content from this page, please share the link instead!