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Railways and the Shape of the Inner Harbour

Sometimes maps and pictures aren’t enough to make history come alive: you have to experience and imagine it in the place it actually happened.

SWIHHP celebrated the launch of its Second Summer Season in style. Francine Berish, Geospatial Librarian at Queen’s, helped us map the location of the original shoreline, and the railway main lines, spurs, and sidings that occupied the space later on, along with the substantial engine house and the turntable. Graeme Fraser, who usually spends his weekends marking rugby and football fields, lent us his expertise to mark the railway features on the surface of the park. Dorothy Farr got us up to the roof of the Leeuwarden to take photos. Teresa Carlesimo did a super flyer (we still have some!) introducing SWIHHP and sharing Inner Harbour anecdotes and maps — and made a sign to leave behind so people wandering through after we had left would know what all the stripes meant. A large collection of volunteers interpreted the site to many visitors. Among the visitors, many offered leads and expertise we will be happy to follow up. And the weather cooperated!

For those who missed the event or who want a review, here is an overlay of an 1801 map onto a 2014 aerial photograph that summarizes the huge changes that have happened to Kingston’s waterfront in the Inner Harbour:So, the shoreline originally lay much further west than it does today. Why did the land get filled in? Well, this map gives you a pretty good idea:

Courtesy Queen’s Library, call # G3464 K5 1897 M5

By 1860, the Grand Trunk Railway had built a spur line into the downtown that swung out into the bay because the bluffs by the shore couldn’t accommodate a track. By the 1880s, it had moved its line inland, but the Kingston & Pembroke Railway used the water route until the late 1890s (when it moved its line next to the Grand Trunk/CN line). The railways and industries needed places to put stuff: sidings, piles of coal and lumber, an engine repair facility, for example. So over the years they dumped cinders from steam engines and probably who knows what else into the shallow water behind the tracks. Here’s what it came to be by 1924:

And here’s what it looked like on May 7, 2016:

credit: Scott Rutherford

You can see the location of three sidings marked in the foreground (the through lines for Grand Trunk/CN and K&P/CP are parallel, but beyond the photo, in the direction of the lower left corner), the outline of the  engine house (with stalls for 5 engines), and the turntable. Just past the Irish monument, along the water, is another track, heading south to Anglin Bay. That’s the track that in the late nineteenth century would have carried iron ore, feldspar, and other minerals from mines north of Kingston for loading on to barges. While Fluhrer Park is cherished today for its peace, quiet, and greenspace, you can begin to imagine that it was almost the opposite a hundred years ago. It is fascinating to know that out of all that noise and sweat and smoke could come a park — most certainly an appreciated but unintended consequence.

SWIHHP planned this demonstration of the railway history of Doug Fluhrer Park months ago. But it so happens that the event coincided with renewed talk of moving the Outer Station into Fluhrer Park (see here for info about the May 16 Public Meeting on the subject). Indeed, Fluhrer Park is associated with railways: it was made by them. But as you can see from these maps and photos, moving the Outer Station into Fluhrer Park would overwrite the REAL railway history of this space. This was a busy industrial railyard run by the Kingston and Pembroke Railway. No passengers would have wanted to alight or embark here! The history of any building lies not only in its appearance but in its reason for existence, and its reason for its existence on the spot it was built. The Outer Station is where it is because it was on the Grand Trunk route between Toronto and Montreal. It would grossly disrespect and misrepresent the history of the Outer Station and the history of the Inner Harbour for it to be moved. Even as a ruin, the Outer Station illuminates Kingston’s past; reconstructed in the Inner Harbour, it would do no such thing.

— Laura Murray