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Mapping Kingston

I’ve been a student at Queen’s University for 5 years and you would think, by now, I would know the ins and outs of campus and all of its secrets.

One of my SWIHHP duties this summer is to create an interactive digital walking tour app of the Inner Harbour for the city. As I conduct my research, I’m really fascinated by the ways the Inner Harbour’s footprint and shoreline have changed throughout history, growing and evolving with the industrial and residential expansion of Kingston as the city pushed its boundaries northward.

Embarrassingly, I was in the basement of Stauffer Library on Queen’s campus for the first time a few weeks ago to have a  meeting with the very helpful geospatial librarians. While I was there, I noticed the Map and Aerial Photo Collection room. Amazed that I hadn’t had the slightest idea that this space even existed, I had to investigate, hoping that I would find something pertaining to SWIHHP or a document I could use for the walking tour.

The collection did not disappoint.

With rows of extra-wide filing cabinets filled to bursting with beautifully hand-drawn maps of Kingston, Frontenac County and beyond, the Map and Aerial Photo Collection is a treasure trove of information. Kate, the very helpful Map and Aerial Photo Collection expert, quickly got me up to speed on the collection and pointed me in the right direction to find maps of Kingston’s Inner Harbour and Swamp Ward.

Opening the drawers and carefully lifting the fragile and oversized historical maps, some so old and valuable they need to be protected by plastic covers, I sifted through these pieces of art which visually document the historic changes in the Inner Harbour. For example, this map from 1801, with its smudged ink and almost illegible writing, beautifully explains what words never could. The Kingston in this map is almost unrecognizable. Some of the street names have remained the same, but many have changed since 1801. According to this map, Princess Street was once aptly called Store Street and the city seemed to all but end at Bay Street. Fort Frontenac and its surrounding structures were still prominent parts of the city settlement. I wonder about what appears to be a building in the middle of what is now Queen Street, but was then called Grave (or maybe Grare?) Street – what was it for and why did the city build around it? Brewery Street, Cross Street, and Garden Street do not exist by those names in the Kingston we know today. And if you look to the far right, about where the Woollen Mill was erected almost 100 years later, you can even see the outline of Molly Brant’s house.

Enlargement of a 1801 map of Kingston and Fort Frontenac. Courtesy of the Map and Aerial Photo Collection at Queen’s University

Now compare this Kingston to the one documented almost 100 years later. In this 1897 map of the same area, Kingston was a very different city than what it was in 1801. It looked like something we might easily recognize today. In 1897, there were more streets, more plots, more houses. Fort Frontenac is gone. The city has expanded to the north and west. The meticulously drawn railway tracks show how the trains came to dominate the Inner Harbour and their arrival completely altered the shoreline. By this point, Molly Brant’s house was gone and the farmland was used for industrial purposes. Frontenac Smelting Works and a tannery (presumably Joseph Carrington’s, later owned by the Davis family) occupied the area.

Enlargement of a 1897 map of Cataraqui Ward and Inner Harbour. Courtesy of the Map and Aerial Photo Collection at Queen’s University

I wonder what the city will look like in another 100 years? Will we recognize it at all?

Do you have any memories of how the Inner Harbour or Swamp Ward has physically or socially changed over the years? If so, please contact us!

Special thanks to Kate and the team at Queen’s Map and Aerial Photo Collection for all their help.

— Bronwyn Jaques