Richardson Beach, Bathhouse re-open after revitalization project

A moment nearly a decade in the making, the ribbon is 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 event live. Photo via City of Kingston.

On Saturday, Jun. 10, 2023, the City of Kingston celebrated the completion of the highly-anticipated Richardson Beach shoreline and Richardson Bathhouse projects at Macdonald Memorial Park.

The date marks the grand re-opening of one of Kingston’s most well-loved swimming spots, with stories of families swimming at the stretch of Lake Ontario shoreline spanning over 100 years. And while it may have seemed like forever to those water-loving Kingstonians, in reality, the completion of the revitalization of the shoreline, Bathhouse, and surrounding park area, took place in approximately seven years. The waterfront park and beach was marked as a priority in the City of Kingston’s Waterfront Masterplan, which was approved by the then-City Council in 2016.

According to a release from the City, the extensive improvements included shoreline protection, a new lookout, walkways, wood lounger seating, terraced water access and gathering areas. An area of the site also celebrates marathon swimmer Vicki Keith and her notable achievements as a world-record open lake swimmer.

Kingston residents were invited to the grand opening event on Saturday, which included ribbon-cutting, speeches and a mass swim organized by Water Access Group.

“Richardson Beach and the Richardson Bathhouse are key pieces of Kingston’s waterfront history and a beloved community space,” said Neal Unsworth, Manager, Parks and Shoreline, Engineering Services. “We’re pleased to see these projects complete and look forward to residents and visitors enjoying this beautiful site for years to come.”

The project to breathe new life into the area received funding from the federal government, which owns part of the lands on which the beach sits. According to a Government of Canada overview of the project, the beach was meant to re-open in 2022, however, the Bathhouse aspect of the project was not complete at that time. The federal government also funded the project as part of its efforts to combat climate change, explained Mark Gerretsen, Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons (Senate) and Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands.

“Coastal erosion and flooding around the Great Lakes put properties, public spaces, critical infrastructure and businesses at risk of loss and damage,” said Gerretsen, on behalf of the Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities. “The Government of Canada is working with its partners at all levels to prepare communities across the country for extreme weather and climate-related events. Enhancements at Richardson Beach are part of improvements to more than two kilometres of shoreline around Kingston that will protect an area of more than 17 square kilometres from flooding.” 

The City stated that the project was funded through multiple federal and provincial programs. The Government of Canada’s Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund contributed to the shoreline project to increase the resiliency of Richardson Beach in the face of climate change. Additional federal support was provided by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) to increase capacity, accessibility and safety at the Richardson Bathhouse. The Government of Ontario partially funded the Richardson Beach Bathhouse improvements. 

“The Government of Canada is pleased to invest in the important upgrades to the historic Richardson Bathhouse, a popular outdoor hub, to help welcome back more visitors and members from across Kingston and beyond,” said the Honourable Filomena Tassi, Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. “Investing in the preservation of historic, communal spaces helps us understand and preserve our past while also modernizing for future generations to enjoy.”

The history of the beachfront area stretches back to the settlement of Kingston, with the adjacent Newland’s Pavillion originally built in 1896 by William Newlands, and restored in 1976 with new cedar framing, shingles, a projection for a band, balusters, cresting, and latticework by architect Lily Inglis. The beach also holds the rock that Vicki Keith, who became the first woman to cross all of the Great Lakes in 1988, touched when she marked the end of her crossing Lake Ontario by butterfly stroke in 2005, which she did to raise funds for the Kingston YMCA. The local YMCA is home to Keith’s Kingston Y Penguins Swim Team. Now, the beachfront and grassy park — which will soon be home to the National Wall of Remembrance — is sure to see the same flurry of activity it did throughout the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, with all of the modern benefits the project brought to reality, such as accessible water entrance areas, a completely updated bathhouse, and a new lookout point.

With files from Tori Stafford.

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