After having their home vandalized this past weekend, a Kingston couple said that sadly, the experience may be the breaking-point that makes them leave their beloved downtown house.
Chris Walmsley and Linda Schmalz had a rude awakening at 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, Mar. 22, 2022, when their black lab woke them with frantic barking. Certain that the bark meant something was wrong, Schmalz got up to check outside where the dog was focusing its attention.
Two young men had entered the back yard, said Walmsley, noting that when Schmalz confronted the men, “they had said things like, ‘oh yeah, we’re trying to find the cell phone.’ But part of the same group of people… one guy was standing right at our front entrance, which is a porch, a veranda, with railing and spindles.”
“As Linda was shooing them away from the backyard, this guy [on the veranda] just started just kicking in spindle after spindle after spindle, like 20 spindles. They’re all shattered and broken and the whole railing is knocked off.”
“And then by this point,” Walmsley continued, “I was coming down the stairs, because I could clearly hear something’s going on, and by the time I get to the front door, I see three guys running full bore across the lawn, out our driveway, and across the street towards Cooper Street. So they clearly knew, ‘hey we just did some vandalism; we gotta run.'”
“They were there no more than 10 minutes,” said Schmalz in an email, “but it resulted in the damage seen in the attached photo.”
“My husband and I have been living in the house for over 20 years, but we’re finding the level of disrespect from students towards permanent residents and our properties in the neighbourhood has escalated to new levels,” Schmalz wrote. The vandalism and trespassing took place on the weekend following St. Patrick’s Day, which saw large groups of young partygoers pour into streets of the University District, including police-declared nuisance parties — one of which involved the assault of an officer with a beverage container on the day before Schmalz and Walsmsley’s rude awakening. The couple reside within the University District.
Walmsley agreed with Schmalz’s sentiments.
“Well, I can say I was a student [at Queen’s],” said Walmsley, who earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the nearby University. “I understand this time of your life, and wanting to enjoy yourself and party, but it’s the disrespect to people and property that really crosses the line. I think people in this neighbourhood, permanent residents, could feel differently if there was some revelry, but without the destruction of property.”
Looking out his window as he spoke, Walmsley reflected on the Albert Street neighbourhood, “Currently, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7… I can see 10 houses that are now student houses that were residential houses, owner-occupied [when we moved in]. Everybody’s left [and moved to a different area]. In the last two years, Linda and I have talked about moving out, for sure, and this is one more thing that’s just elevated the need for getting out. It’s too bad: the street is full of nice homes, it’s a nice, big wide street… this is an old, historic house built in the 1870s. And in one sense ,we’re sort of in love with the place, but the neighbourhood has just become untenable — and we’re the slowpokes, everybody else has left.”
Despite the discouragement of being the victims of vandalism, Walmsley was generous in his attitude toward the students. ***
“I think this is a complicated issue… It’s the combination of the City, housing, and the university all come together to generate these student ghetto areas. And it’s not as simple as just ‘oh, it’s 100 per cent student behaviour’ — it’s complicated. But we’ve seen an ongoing thing with the City, of monster-additions and crazy developments in student neighbourhoods, landlords building all sorts of additions and additions and additions, to jam people in, to make money. And that is certainly true in this street, in this area. And that contributes to having an over-density, overpopulation of students in these areas, which really turns it from a residential street into a student ghetto… That then leads to more easily to mob mentality issues,” he expressed.
“You add COVID, and you add to the stressors, and maybe there’s something going on… and kids have different attitudes these days.”
Walmsley noted that these problematic factors are often combining with traditional “party days,” like St. Patrick’s Day, to exacerbate negative behaviours, noting that, “suddenly, the street fills up… And that typically means friends from out of town have all come down from elsewhere… there’s a normal amount of cars parked on the street and then it sort of explodes. Homecoming is like that, and for sure enough, alumni do come down. But also the [student-aged] revellers for the party come down, and park and hang out with their friends.”
He did point out that Kingston Police and City of Kingston bylaw officers did a good job of keeping the peace on March 17 this year — the actual day of St. Patrick’s Day — and observed that, on that day, parties were relatively small and calmed down in the evening.
“But then, of course, you come around to Friday, and on Friday night, you could just hear in the distance the gatherings, up towards probably Aberdeen Street,” Walmsley said. “You could literally hear that din of thousands of students off in the distance. And there’s continuous activity up and down the street. There are groups of kids going up and down. Some of them are drunk, some of them are not, all dressed in green and sort of having fun, but as the evening progresses, a lot of yelling and screaming, kicking this and that, and it gets a bit out of control.”
Walmsley reflected on what is necessary to end this kind of destruction. “The police and bylaw have been pretty much doing their best with this pandemic and all that kind of stuff. Sometimes in the past, I sort of feel that they don’t want to be bothered with all the ‘student stuff,’ but it’s gotten to a point where they’re pretty responsive. City Bylaw is now very involved in going out and handing out fines to relieve the police of the burden.”
After receiving the report that the vandalism had occurred, the police arrived at the home quickly, but did not pursue the three men into the crowd outside on the street, said Walmsley. “Five or 10 minutes is enough time to disappear when you look out and there are literally hundreds of people, it’s a needle in a haystack.”
Ultimately, Walmsley said, a sincere apology would go a long way. “If they are from Queen’s or are university students anywhere, it would certainly elevate the respect if we had an apology. ‘That was stupid. I was drunk. I was not thinking things through, I’m sorry,’ would certainly go somewhere and make us feel better.”