Heritage builds vibrant communities and cultural economies in Kingston

Kingston City Hall National Historic Site during movies in the square

Economics of heritage, Buildings and architecture, Community, Adaptive reuse

Published Date: Oct 01, 2019

Photo: Kingston City Hall National Historic Site during movies in the square

In 2010, the City of Kingston released its first Culture Plan – a document that shared a sustainable, authentic, longterm vision for cultural vitality in Kingston. It is a plan that identified opportunities for the city to work with cultural organizations and various stakeholders to achieve a variety of cultural objectives – including the cultural enrichment of residents and visitors, the development of new cultural experiences and innovative creative products, audience development, arts and heritage education, broadly distributed opportunities for all residents to participate in cultural activities, planning for new cultural capital investments, and fostering a thriving arts and heritage scene that attracts cultural tourists.

Kingston’s most compelling cultural asset is its powerful historical narrative – Kingston’s important role in nation building, its strategic location in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence watershed, the history of the First Nations/Indigenous, French, Anglo, Anglo-American and more recent newcomers, and the unique institutional narratives of the military, penal and educational facilities. Kingston is also the site of some remarkable built heritage (e.g., Fort Henry, Kingston City Hall and the Martello Towers) and natural heritage features (e.g., the Rideau Canal, the 1,000 Islands and Lake Ontario). Together, these features provide Kingston with a range of powerful and enriching cultural experiences for residents and tourists alike.

Heritage Resource Centre at Kingston City Hall (Photo: Rob Mooy)

The Kingston Culture Plan identifies that Kingston’s many stories need to be developed in compelling ways and told through a variety of means and opportunities. Telling stories is not the mandate of the city alone and the City of Kingston plays a leadership role in fostering and coordinating a community-wide approach to history and heritage. It does this by supporting its own museums, by directly investing in projects that preserve and interpret historical information and objects in other museums, and by supporting processes that convey and protect tangible, intangible and natural cultural heritage. This community support is largely realized through City of Kingston funding initiatives, heritage grants and development partnerships.

The creation of the City of Kingston Heritage Fund was recommended in the Kingston Culture Plan and established in 2013 with an initial allocation of $100,000 to support community-directed cultural heritage projects. In 2015, the fund was expanded to include project grants as well as operating grants. Over the last six years, the fund has awarded over $1.1 million in support of cultural heritage organizations and cultural heritage projects within Kingston. These sites and projects are a substantial heritage resource within Kingston and provide thousands of hours of community programming each year. The city has also developed a Heritage Grant Program for properties designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, which provides financial support to help conserve Kingston’s built heritage resources for the benefit of future generations. In 2018, $50,000 was awarded to 10 heritage property owners through this program.

Kingston is already in the enviable position of having an assembly of strong and distinct natural and cultural heritage resources that remain relevant, meaningful and useful to the community. The city has continued to maintain and create places that support cultural vitality in Kingston. One success story is the Tett Centre – a cultural hub that occupies a significant heritage site along Kingston’s waterfront and that was redeveloped through the 2000s as part of an integrated redevelopment project with Queen’s University.

Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning (Photo: Mark Bergin)

Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning (Photo: Mark Bergin)

The J.K. Tett Building, designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, was built in the mid19th century as a brewery. It was altered substantially in 1920 to serve as a military hospital. When the City of Kingston acquired the site in the 1970s, the building was converted to accommodate low-cost rental space for not-for-profit groups. For 30 years, the city maintained the J.K. Tett Creativity Complex at this site. From 2007 to 2011, through a series of progressive approvals, the design of the modern Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning was realized. The most unique physical feature of the redeveloped Tett Centre is the tower section that resembles the original roof design of the 1800s malting tower. The property’s heritage significance, outstanding lakeside location and co-location with the Queen’s University Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts has combined to create a unique opportunity for strategic investment in both the fabric of the building and in the arts and cultural sector in the city.

In 2014, the city entered into a master lease agreement with the not-for-profit arts organization known as the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning to operate the newly renovated J.K. Tett Centre. Since this time, the site has become a cultural anchor in the Kingston community and welcomed nearly 115,000 visitors in 2018 alone.

A final example of the City of Kingston’s commitment to enriching resident and visitor engagement with heritage is the Heritage Resource Centre located in the market wing of Kingston City Hall National Historic Site. As a joint initiative between the Planning, Building & Licensing Services and Cultural Services departments, the centre fosters an appreciation of community through innovative approaches to cultural heritage stewardship. The centre provides an educational space for cultural integration and serves a variety of users that include heritage property owners – specifically those who own designated heritage buildings – local residents (including students, heritage consultants and historical researchers), and visitors to the area. The centre supports the city hall tour guide program, which welcomes over 25,000 visitors annually. And, each year, the Heritage Resource Centre lecture series invites experts in heritage conservation and local Kingston history to share their knowledge with the community through 10 public talks.

Through these various City of Kingston heritage initiatives, it remains clear that cultural heritage and cultural tourism are intertwined and interdependent. In Kingston, the cultural heritage resource base is strong and exists in a number of forms – including tangible/built, intangible and natural. When these resources are supported and strengthened, they then sustain and grow a range of experiences and products that can grow cultural tourism and that act a backdrop to a vibrant cultural economy for Kingston residents and visitors alike.