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Jane’s Walk Highlight: Chown Hardware

As part of the Jane’s Walks that honour Jane Jacobs and her vision of a walkable city, I led a tour of Bagot Street from Princess to Charles as the first event of SWIHHP on the second of May. We started in the Staples parking lot, a place one wouldn’t normally think of as redolent of history, but we stood on the site of the house where Ruth Pateman lived in 1929, the widow of William, with her five daughters: Betty 5, Alice 7, Dorothy 9, Edith 11, and Frances 12. I don’t know anything more about Mrs. Pateman, yet, but that is a lot of young daughters to support alone, and I wonder about her. In the 1940s, Hyman and Rebecca Silverman lived at the house next door: they ran Hyman’s Deli across the street until the mid 50s. It’s exciting how the simple tools of city directories and the school listings can allow us to populate even a parking lot!

We had photos to help us conjure the Chown Hardware warehouses near the same spot: the older one on Bagot where the Anna Lane condos are just being finished (below), and the up-to-the-minute 1947 one on Barrack that most recently housed Queen’s Printing Services.

The Chowns ran hardware-related businesses in Kingston from 1845, and Chown Hardware was a flourishing business until 1968. They spent money on promotion, and hired photographers to document not only their facilities, but their workers. What’s more, they left their papers and photos to the Queen’s Archives where we can see them — and again, this helps us put people into our historical imaginations of the town. Here is an image of the packing department that to me has an aura of Edward Hopper to it.

Packing Room, Chown Hardware Warehouse, Barrack Street, 1947. Courtesy Queen’s University Archives.

Stay tuned for more highlights of the Bagot Street walking tour. We will be doing other tours this summer as well… we’ll let you know when we’re ready.

— Laura Murray