Mass Swim II and History of Swimming in Kingston, Ontario.

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Carruthers Family Album, Carruther’s Point, Kingston, 1893- 1903. Queen’s University Archives.
Carruthers Family Album, Carruther’s Point, Kingston, 1893- 1903. Queen’s University Archives.

Those who dare to enter the waters of Lake Ontario from the neglected shores of Kingston’s downtown waterfront are participating in a long history of swimming in this place. Over the centuries, swimmers have had to contend with a changing landscape, varying water quality, municipal by-laws, and the moralizing gaze of other Kingstonians. Evidence of these, along with photographs of people swimming in Kingston dates back to 1893. (Thanks to Heather Home of the Queen’s Archives for her assistance with this research) I put together these slides as a display for the Mass Swim II, an event held in Kingston on July 11th at 6:30pm, organized by the Water Access Group, a community organization “committed to the promotion of public water and accessible public swimming”. You can view some media coverage from the day before the event. The first Mass Swim was held in 2008 at Richardson Beach, a location popular with Kingstonians for swimming since the late 1800s. You can read the media coverage from that event here and here.

Both events were organized to demonstrate that there are many people in the community that want to celebrate the tremendous resource that is our city’s waterfront and the good water quality we enjoy since extensive upgrades to Kingston’s wastewater treatment plant in 2009. The events also draw attention to the fact that access to the water is made difficult by sharp and slippery rocks that dominate the shoreline. It is our hope that the events will encourage city hall to invest in an integrated waterfront plan in meaningful consultation with the community.

This year’s event was moved to a new location, approximately 1 km west along the shore from Richardson Beach, to what is known as the PUC (Public Utilities Corporation) Dock. This is where most of the swimming happens in the downtown stretch of Kingston’s waterfront. However, this location is also far from ideal due to the rusty and jagged edges on the dock and the lack of an area where people can gradually wade into the water. The City of Kingston highlighted the lack of an appropriate swimming spot when the day before the Mass Swim II was set to go, they sent an email to event organizer, David MacDonald, forbidding participants from entering the water via the PUC docks and directing swimmers to the adjacent “designated swimming area”, a beach characterized by sharp and slippery rocks.

Mass swim participants met at the PUC docks anyway, where we were addressed by MacDonald and then were lead by local musical group, The Gertrudes, across the grassy area to the rocky and weedy beach as directed by city hall. Approximately 400 people attended the Mass Swim II, with many of them entering the water. Scuba divers were on hand to clear the lake bottom of hazards, several kayakers monitored the swimmers and volunteer lifeguards looked on from shore while The Gertrudes provided the soundtrack.

When our city’s shorelines are not properly maintained with recreation in mind, the community becomes alienated from our water sources. This alienation might lead to a lack of action when we are required to protect our water sources from pollution. Consider organizing a Mass Swim in your waterfront community.

It is a fun and simple way to foster healthy community relationships to water, the most essential resource to our existence. You can connect with Kingston’s
Water Access Group on their facebook page.

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Christine Grossutti

I am a PhD Candidate in the Department of Geography and Planning at Queen's University. I research the history of ecology within UNESCO and its Man and Biosphere Program (MAB) and current practices of sustainable development within MAB's Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve. I am especially interested in the the way hiking trails are related to different ways of understanding ecology and place.

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