Kingston is a city suffused with history and heritage, what with its numerous limestone buildings, military structures, significant events, exploratory plaques and connection with individuals who have directly contributed to national and provincial spheres in a variety of endeavours. The city is blessed with a number of heritage organizations composed of individuals who display an avid and vigilant heritage consciousness.
Over the years, the City of Kingston has generally done a creditable job of creating a framework in which the city's heritage is widely recognized and appropriately designated, and have measures taken for its preservati. However, an egregious failure in heritage vigilance has taken place during the past two months and has not received wide mention.
Unfortunately, the City of Kingston and the contractors working on the Kingston regional sports and entertainment centre are responsible for the damage done to a part of what could be called Kingston's cradle, which is a national historic site: the reconstructed northwest bastion of Fort Frontenac on Ontario Street, across from the current Fort Frontenac entrance. This bastion wall was rebuilt on the original footprint of the fort.
What has occurred is that this site, located on a small park adjacent to the new centre, has been used by contractors as a staging and storage area for wood and metal construction material, some of which had been placed on the bastion wall. In addition, used scaffolding and large traffic cones were carelessly scattered in this area, as well as dumped on the bastion wall. Paper, insulation and other construction detritus has littered this area.
What is even more appalling is that a communications company sprayed Orange paint on the north section of the bastion wall to determine where an Underground line is located. The grass section between the bastion walls was deeply rutted and scarred by heavy construction vehicles entering this area. This invariably creates an unstable situation because of the pressure the shifted earth below the surface exerts on the bastion wall.
As a result of this construction activity, a number of the limestone blocks were knocked off the wall, and the cement topping on a section of the wall was dislodged. It appears that a considerable amount of repairs will have to be undertaken to restore this bastion wall.
Also, the explanatory plaques on special stands in the grass area are now unreadable because of the damage brought about by the construction material that came into contact with them when the material was brought into the area and then taken out for use in the construction area.
Simply put, this type of treatment of a national historic site is outrageous and speaks of rank negligence on the part of those responsible for the supervisory functions on this project. The damage to this site was a patent violation of various provincial and federal regulations governing designated historic sites.
Granted, construction sites and adjacent areas are not exactly esthetically pleasing arrangements. But more thought devoted to alternative ways of staging and storing materials should have been undertaken, and a concern for the heritage character of the bastion wall should have been paramount prior to the contractors entering this area.
The irony of this situation is that the sports centre's northeast walls were deliberately designed to harmonize with the northwest bastion of old Fort Frontenac - an integration of the modern element with the historical component. It appears that the historical facet was viewed and treated as a nuisance, and it came very close to being destroyed.
I have been given to understand that the Ontario Ministry of Culture recently intervened and instructed the principals involved to desist from using the area in question as a staging area and to repair the bastion wall and area. Doubtless, this will constitute a needless expense for the city.
I have called the Fort Frontenac area and its visible reminders of the distant past "Kingston's cradle" because the first European settlement in the Kingston area can be traced to this site in the late 17th century.
The fort was used by the French as a base for the exploration of the American Midwest and as a storage centre for the local and long- distance fur trading during the 18th century In the following centuries, Fort Frontenac was a British military base, and then a Canadian military base with all its attendant developments, activities and influences on the city.
The historical amnesia that almost caused the destruction of a Kingston -and, by extension, a Canadian - icon is intolerable and calls for those entrusted to attend to such matters on behalf of the city to be alert to the lurking dangers that important heritage structures in the city face when construction work is taking place nearby.
Clearly, this was a sad episode for those who value Kingston's heritage. The saving grace in this situation is that we can rebound from this, now that we know what kind of problems can arise when due diligence is overlooked, unintentionally or otherwise.
Edward R. Grenda
Kingston Historical Society