I was very sorry today to hear of the death of Claude Clement, my cherished neighbour, a role model for community engagement, my very first source for Kingston history, and a gentleman through and through. It was time for him to go and join Marie, his true love. I will miss him.
I first encountered Claude indirectly when my husband and I were hauled in front of the Property Standards Committee for having peeling paint on our front porch, shortly after we had moved in across from McBurney Park. We quickly identified Claude, whose lawn a couple of houses away never had a blade of grass out of place, as the whistle-blower. He wasn’t going to let people from Toronto drag the neighbourhood down. So we repainted the porch, and we also repaired relations with Claude. It helped when Marie learned that my husband was, as she put it, “eyetalian.” Probably under a misapprehension that he was a good Catholic, an error no doubt reinforced by the fact that we named our baby Joseph, she embraced us as acceptable neighbours. We would wave to each other every day as she marched off for groceries with hat and cart. She was a zesty person. I wish I had a photo of her like that, going across the park.
When Marie fell ill, Claude nursed her at home for years. And when she passed away, he stayed in the house because it was her house, with their memories. It was hard. But he was stubborn, and he had loving neighbours and sisters and a housekeeper who kept an eye on him and filled his freezer with food. Claude watered the flowers around the monument in McBurney Park, and kept an eye on the tree dedicated in Marie’s memory. He didn’t quite manage to die at home, as he wished, but his stay in hospital was only a few days before his death on New Year’s Eve.
Claude and Marie were the first people I ever interviewed about Kingston history. Claude had moved to Balaclava Street early in the war when his father came to Kingston for work. He joined the army, and served in training roles for several years before being shipped out by train for the Pacific front in August 1945. He got as far as Toronto before news of the attack on Hiroshima meant the soldiers were diverted to Long Branch to await further orders. Marie, also serving in the military, was stranded there too, and that’s where they met. So in that one eventful week, Claude escaped combat and met his wife-to-be. Claude worked for Alcan all his career. He also made time to serve on City Council, to be a “block captain” for the Neighbourhood Improvement Program, to raise money for Rideaucrest and Providence Manor, and to advocate for parks. We owe the Artillery Park pool, Friendship Park, and all the other little parks in the neighbourhood to NIP, Claude, and his fellow advocates.
Claude was a huge booster of the Swamp Ward, standing up against any slight that came its way. He especially didn’t appreciate insults from people who lived south of Princess Street. As he said to me once, “they wouldn’t acknowledge today but in fact from the other side of the Prince George [Hotel] to the Locomotive Works [Ontario and Earl Street], you wouldn’t let ladies walk nights down there. I liked to bring that out during my political campaigns!”
All of us who live in the Swamp Ward today are in debt to Claude and to his colleagues who stood up for this part of town. RIP Claude Clement. Thank you.
— Laura Murray