Today I delivered the SWIHHP archives to the Queen’s University Archives for safekeeping and for sharing. The collection includes interviews with 81 people — current or past residents of the Swamp Ward — with summaries and partial transcriptions — along with many of the family photographs they shared, many photographs I took, 7 podcasts, and documentation of many SWIHHP events including the Facing the Street photo exhibit, walking tours, and the time I hired a guy to paint white lines in Fluhrer Park where the train tracks had been. All of this fits in one small hard drive and one Novel Idea bag.
I had hoped to have a proper reception to thank everybody, but that being impossible, it has felt quite sociable preparing and organizing the materials. In these covid times when we are all isolated from each other, it literally brought tears to my eyes to listen to some of the interviews, look at some of the photos, and remember so many moments of this project. Starting from my first conversations with my neighbours Dan Chalmers and Claude and Marie Clement when I moved to the neighbourhood in 1996; continuing through a first walking tour with Jamie Swift in 2008; learning from Mary Farrar’s enthusiasms about the Inner Harbour; working from 2014 on with students Bronwyn Jaques, Lauren Luchenski, Ronen Goldfarb, Ella Mackay Singh, Teresa Carlesimo, Justine Hobbs, Shoni Haberle, and colleague Scott Rutherford; making podcasts to come to life with Phil Lichti, supported by CFRC and Yianni Pantis; inventing and installing a photo exhibit with Anne Lougheed and Chris Miner — well, through all of this fascinating work with all these helpers and more, I have most of all been fortunate in the generosity of the EIGHTY ONE people who trusted us and our recorder, often being willing to dive into an interview the first time we met, and often staying in touch later to add more depth and detail. Another key ingredient in this project was all the curious folks who showed up for walking tours and other events, motivating me to keep going with their energy and often offering leads — yes, I’m talking about you, reader. This was the least lonely research project I’ve ever done! Finally I am grateful to the City of Kingston Heritage Fund and Queen’s University for funding various elements of the project, to Vince Perez and Claire Grady-Smith for expert graphic design and website support, and to Heather Home of the Queen’s Archives who was part of the project from the get-go.
I may well not be done with researching the Swamp Ward. For one thing, I think of doing a small poetic sort of book featuring some of the family photographs from the Facing the Street exhibit. I loved writing the short haiku-like captions for the photos at the Elm Cafe, and a few blog posts about photographs here as well — I might like to do more of that when I have a chance. And as the Whig Standard gets digitized closer to the present, I hope to rummage around for stories I only glimpsed or missed entirely. I’ll leave the website up. But in the short term, I need my research attention to go to the treaty and Indigenous histories of the Kingston area and a new collaborative project about Belle Park, and it is a relief that I can hand SWIHHP over to the archives. That way I can (if I get a chance!) go away for the weekend without carrying it with me on a hard drive just in case the house burns down (yes, I literally have done this for several years now).
The Swamp Ward and Inner Harbour History Project emerged out of my frustration with the narrowness of Kingston history visible to the naked eye. I was offended that the history we were hearing and seeing was incomplete and often incorrect; and I also found it boring — insult to injury! Enough superficial and selective tributes to mercantile men, political leaders, and architects — I wanted to learn about workers, women, poor folks, immigrants — those who built the city and kept it alive. I didn’t aspire or need to confine or exalt anybody to a plaque. And as you have probably already heard me say, I wanted to prove that the twentieth century happened in Kingston. I figured I’d start in the neighbourhood I lived in. I think SWIHHP was an important initiative. Oral history and improvised pop-up history education was something quite new to me and to Kingston. But SWIHHP wasn’t in its broad lines novel — grassroots and oral history have been well established in many other contexts for at least half a century. And as I notice all the new siding and brushed steel door handles and sans-serif house numbers around here, I am aware that the project marks — and may even contribute to — the displacement of poor and middle-income people out of the old Swamp Ward. Reading local real estate ads, I squirm at working class history being used to attract outsiders who can pay for the frisson of authenticity and a newly renovated kitchen too. But then, I’m a gentrifier too. In that light, the exciting thing about donating the SWIHHP materials to the Archives is that other interpreters sooner or later might perceive, critique, and build from other perspectives. They’ll bring, see, hear, and ask things that I can’t.
So, as the headline says, over to you!
— Laura Murray