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Facing the Street

Unique history project uses photographs to explore Kingston’s Swamp Ward and Inner Harbour.

  • Bill Hackett sells the Kingston Whig-Standard.
    In this photo that is part of the Facing the Street project, Bill Hackett sells the Kingston Whig-Standard.
  • A new photo is installed as part of the exhibit.
    Laura Murray, a professor in English and Cultural Studies at Queen's, displays a photo before it is installed.
  • Installing a sign on Bagot Street.
    Dr. Murray installs a photo on Bagot Street as part of the Facing the Street project.
  • 51 John Street in 1895.
    This image originally taken in 1895 shows the house at 51 John St.

Two of Kingston’s oldest and most colourful neighbourhoods are being brought into a new focus, thanks to a historical photography project being curated by Queen’s University professor Laura Murray and local photographer Chris Miner.

The unique combination of art and history takes a look at the Swamp Ward and the Inner Harbour areas of Kingston.

While conducting oral history interviews, Dr. Murray was often shown family photographs. For this exhibit, project participants allowed her to scan their treasures, and now they are being displayed at the locations they were taken so that people today can reflect on what has changed and what has not.

“This is a special model of research as it draws on the wisdom of the community,” says Dr. Murray. “It’s a way to experience the whole neighbourhood in three dimensions.”

These two areas are the oldest in Kingston and were home to Indigenous peoples. Dr. Murray will also be focusing on the Kingston area as she pursues her work on Indigenous treaty history. 

After the Europeans arrived, the Inner Harbour became industrial, complete with railroads, factories, and docks. The adjacent Swamp Ward was where the workers and their families lived, went to school, went to church, shopped and played.

The project, funded by the City of Kingston Heritage Fund, seeks to bring Kingston history to life. Twenty enlarged black and white photographs taken by, preserved by, and featuring residents of the area between 1890 and 1960 are being mounted outdoors around the neighbourhood at the locations they were taken. The main areas of focus are between Stephen and Queen streets and Barrie and Bagot streets.

The Elm Café at Montreal and Charles streets (long a local landmark as Laverne's Laundry and various groceries before that), will display more portraits together with captions providing information about the people they portray, collected from oral history interviews and other archival sources.

“Through these photographs our participants are providing information that isn’t available in any other way,” says Dr. Murray. “They are opening their doors to us and letting us peek into the history of their families. The photos share stories of stressful times for these working class communities and also show the fun side of their lives.”

A map of the locations of the photographs is available on the Facing the Street website. The Elm Café is open 7 am to 5 pm Tuesday to Friday and 8 am to 3 pm on Saturday and Sunday. The exhibit runs until June 30. Mr. Miner and Dr. Murray are giving a curator talk at Kingston City Hall (Memorial Hall) on June 26 at 3 pm.