Field of Dreams: The Reinvention of Heathfield; Kingston, Ontario, Canada

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This is the fourth post in the Relict Landscapes and the Past in the Present series edited by Paul Hackett

“Like icebergs in the ocean, there’s as much, if not more, going on beneath the soil in meadows, out of sight, than there is visible above the ground. And because they are filled with a diversity of plants, they support a diversity of life: from the crucial microbial level to birds, bees, and butterflies, all kinds of creatures are found in grassy meadow ecologies.”

– John Greenlee, The American meadow garden, Timber Press, 2009.1

Heathfield is a unique property in the heart of Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Named after Charles Heath, an early landowner, the 30-acre site is situated on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Huron-Wendat. 

In 1865, Heath sold the property, which included an 1830s villa, to Professor James Williamson. Williamson was married to Margaret MacDonald, a sister of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald. Another of MacDonald’s sisters, Louisa, lived in the villa, too. She once owned a portion of the lot in her own name, and is known to have cultivated her own gardens there. For his part, Sir John A. MacDonald used Heathfield as his Kingston address, and stayed at the villa during visits to Kingston.2

Heathfield was then located outside of Kingston’s historic boundaries, but as the 20th century unfolded, these boundaries shifted westwards. Thanks to a long period of continuous ownership, Heathfield’s rural character persisted into the 21st century.

Sister Mary Bernardine Dumont and Sr. Mary John Francis Publow working in the field at Providence Motherhouse, Kingston, ON, July, 1952. 014-211.2.29-113, Photographs Collection, Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul Archives.

The Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul purchased Heathfield in 1930. As landowners, the Sisters established Providence Motherhouse; a limestone building built in 1932, then expanded in 1954, 1964, and 1969. In the villa, the Sisters housed an orphanage, which operated between 1941 and 1964, when the villa was demolished. 

Between the 1970s and the late 1990s, the Sisters founded a spiritual retreat centre, installed a labyrinth for meditative walking, and created the award-winning Heirloom Seed Sanctuary to preserve and propagate heirloom seed varieties. 

Like other aging religious congregations, the Sisters now have diminished needs for space. Following a period of discernment, the Sisters decided to close their ministries and bring their congregation to fulfillment. In 2015, they established Providence Village Inc., a non-profit charitable organization sponsored by the Catholic Health Sponsors of Ontario. Providence Village Inc. will continue the Sisters’ legacy of “compassionate service in response to the needs of the times”3 through Providence Village, a community hub offering care and support services for vulnerable populations in the Kingston region.4 In 2019, the Sisters transferred Heathfield to the Catholic Congregational Legacy Charity to fulfill this mission.5

Providence Village Inc. is now developing the Sisters’ vision for the property, which will be the new home of Providence Manor (a 320-bed long-term care home), as well as Providence Care’s 10-bed hospice residence. Affordable housing and other community service organizations are a future goal for remaining parcels of land.

Inspired by their own eco-spirituality, the Sisters stipulated that these developments should be linked by a network of native trees, healing gardens, and raised beds for vegetables and herbs, and that a minimum of 30% of the property will remain protected greenspace.6 These plans will evolve as construction allows. Today, much of Heathfield is being excavated on an industrial scale for the first time in history.

Relatively few Kingstonians have visited Heathfield; yet, because of its central location in the heart of Kingston (on Princess Street; the old Highway 2), almost all of us drive, cycle, or walk past it each day. 

Map of Kingston, ON with 1200 Princess Street Highlighted
1200 Princess Street is highlighted on this satellite image of part of Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Composite: NRCan, Esri Canada, and Canadian Community Maps contributors. | Esri Canada | Esri Community Maps Contributors, Province of Ontario, Esri Canada, Esri, TomTom, Garmin, SafeGraph, GeoTechnologies, Inc, METI/NASA, USGS, EPA, NPS, US Census Bureau, USDA, USFWS, NRCan, Parks Canada | Corporation of the City of Kingston.

I attended the Heirloom Seed Sanctuary’s Tomato Tasting Days in my teens and 20s.7 However, I did not recognize the property’s unique character until 2017, when I was hired as the Sisters’ Librarian.

As a wildflower spotter and citizen scientist, I spent many lunch breaks in Heathfield’s sunny meadow and cultivated woodlots. With the development of Providence Village in mind, I began to document the flora and fauna of Heathfield, right up until the construction fencing was installed in the summer of 2023.8

Heathfield’s wild plant species included bee-friendly wildflowers, such as flat-topped goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia), common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and arrow-leaved aster (Symphyotrichum urophyllum). An early spring wildflower; trout lily (Erythronium americanum), has grown in abundance along the western and eastern property lines. Sedges (Carex) grow in shade near the front of the property, and have also been present in the wet, mossy ground along the southern and western property lines.

The site has also hosted a diverse array of fungi; including ash bolete (Boletinellus merulioides; a vulnerable species), red raspberry slime mould (Tubifera ferruginosa; found on the crumbling stump of a century-old ash), dead man’s fingers (Xylaria polymorpha; which look exactly as they sound), and devil’s dipstick (Mutinus elegans; pushing up from wood chips near the convent’s main doors). 

“The annual migration across our property of the Monarch Butterflies is in progress. Our own Sisters and retreatants are enjoying the impressive sight. Hundreds of the colourful wings can be seen about the trees on the front lawn.”

Congregational Annals, August 21, 1985.9

When the Ice Storm of 1998 prompted a “re-treeing” of Heathfield in the early 2000s, the Sisters concentrated their efforts along the margins of the back field.10 There, mature willows stood near the creek that divided the field from the rest of the property, while the field’s open heartland was dotted with spontaneous patches of red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), crab apple (Malus), and black walnut (Junglans nigra). Riverbank grape (Vitis riparia) twined through the low-hanging branches of the young maples and oaks, while brambles and common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) colonized the sunny, windswept meadow.

“I had no idea any of that was here,” murmured a colleague, when we saw drone footage of the back field during a staff meeting. 

A sunny field in autumn with long grass and trees beginning to lose their leaves.
A crab apple tree flourishes in the open, sunny meadow at 1200 Princess Street, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. © Anna Soper, 2022.

“‘The melancholy days have come the saddest of the year’

It is not, however, ‘wailing winds or naked woods’ that have brought a tinge of sadness to all at Heathfield this third day of November, 1966. Today, a group of men with a truck, a steam shovel and a power saw invaded our property and proceeded to hew down four of our beautiful old trees.”

Congregational Annals, November 3, 1966.11

Through colonization and settlement, extreme weather, age, or construction, Heathfield’s trees have known several waves of losses. This 1966 entry in the Sisters’ Annals foreshadowed the mood at Providence Motherhouse in the spring of 2023, when a number of trees, including many planted during Heathfield’s “re-treeing”, were cut down to facilitate the first stages of Providence Village’s development. However, the Sisters’ commitment to environmental stewardship lives on in the plans for Providence Village. Providence Village Inc. aims to preserve as many trees as possible and have committed to plant at least one tree for every one removed during construction.12

“It took man and his machines but a few hours to obliterate all traces of our lovely trees,” wrote the Sisters’ annalist, in 1966. “How long, I wonder, before nature will replace them?”13

Having left Heathfield’s back field largely untouched for generations, the Sisters could be thought of as early (if inadvertent) rewilders. Mindful that construction would soon obliterate much of this spontaneous ecosystem, our newly-formed garden committee removed a number of native plants from the back field in 2023. These were transplanted into ‘safe’ ground at the front of the property, and with luck (or, as the Sisters would say, Providence), they will successfully naturalize in their new home. 

“Mr. Mullin is working very hard to abolish all trace of the abundant crop of dandelions on front lawn, and has succeeded well in doing so with his new hoe.”

Congregational Annals, June 7, 1935.14

An 1801 map of the Kingston area describes the land west of Kingston’s historic city limits as wooded. Perhaps the majestic oak near the property’s main entrance is a remnant of this lost forest. Today, the oak is a source of pride — and concern — at Heathfield. Guarded by a spool of orange plastic fencing, the tree stands close to Foundation Way, a new driveway that will link Providence Village to Princess Street.

At this time, workers are burying utilities deep below the future driveway; slicing through several layers of Kingston’s famous limestone bedrock, as well as the oak’s deep network of roots.

“I just keep praying for Mother Oak,” Sr. Jeannette Filthaut SP told me. “This is sensitive ground.”15

Oak Tree, Providence Motherhouse, Kingston, ON, June 2, 2023. Acc. #2024-03-02, Photographs Collection, Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul Archives.

A 2016 interview with the late centenarian Sr. Anna Moran SP describes Heathfield as a “limestone bog”, featuring “a slough, or swamp, in the back, wet enough that nothing would grow”.16 The “crick” between Providence Motherhouse and the back field formed a natural barrier, said Sr. Anna. “We never went beyond that.”17 

  • Heathfield, Kingston, Ontario map, 1801
  • Heathfield Creeks. 1863.
  • Detail of Heathfield, Queen's, 1864
  • Heathfield, Kingston, Ontario map 1868
  • Heathfield, Kingston, Ontario, 1917
  • Heathfield, Kingston, Ontario Map 1931
  • Heathfield, Kingston, Ontario 1964
  • Heathfield, Kingston, Ontario map 1981
  • Heathfield, Kingston, Ontario 1999
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is River-segments-1024x645.png
An 1863 map of the Kingston region is superimposed over a 2023 map of Kingston’s river segments (marked in red). Composite: Map and Geospatial Data Collection, Queen’s University Library / Esri, HERE, DeLorme, Intermap, increment P Corp., GEBCO, USGS, FAO, NPS, NRCAN, GeoBase, IGN, Kadaster NL, Ordnance Survey, Esri Japan, METI, Esri China (Hong Kong), swisstopo, MapmyIndia, © OpenStreetMap contributors, and the GIS User Community.

My research shows that these waterways are long-buried tributaries of Little Cataraqui Creek; a Provincially Significant Wetland located just over a kilometre west of Heathfield. A few historic maps trace Heathfield’s creeks to their source, while more recent maps erase them. In 1964, mapmakers recorded several creeks at Heathfield, but these were not perceived as part of the Little Cataraqui Creek watershed, as their tracks dwindle west of Heathfield. In 1981, the mossy wetland at Heathfield’s southern boundary did not make it onto an updated map. Similarly, recent hydrological data captures only one of Heathfield’s waterways (the “crick” described above), which was buried into a StormTech® Green Infrastructure system in 2023.18

Nonetheless, parts of Heathfield remain prone to flooding. “Daylighting” these long-buried waterways could remediate this stubborn problem, while supporting the revamped property’s biodiversity.19 20

Heathfield is something of a wildlife corridor. In this drone photo, animal tracks are seen at Heathfield’s southern boundary, over a buried creek that surfaces at Heathfield.
© Paul Wash / M. Sullivan & Son Limited, 2024.

“The grounds here are a delight and so beautifully kept. Sr. M[ary]. Roberta and her helpers are generous in caring for flower-beds, shrubbery etc. to keep the lawns picturesque and beautiful. Almost every day you see tourists taking pictures, mostly Americans (U.S.)”

Congregational Annals, July 19, 1957.21

Grounds, Providence Motherhouse, Kingston, ON, March, 1955. 014-211.2.2-13, Photographs Collection, Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul Archives.

The Sisters’ historic Annals are peppered with references to Heathfield’s cultivated spaces, but there is little coverage of its wetlands, meadow, and wildlife. Entries like the one above, from 1957, present a version of Heathfield that persists in its flower boxes, herbaceous borders, and ornamental trees. 

But, as I have found, Heathfield’s wild character has long been hidden in plain sight.

Occasionally, this wildness makes itself known; such as when the walking paths ‘mysteriously’ flood after a downpour, or when a wandering fox basks on a sunny patch of concrete by a side door, or when a bat gets into the basement and maintenance staff have to come and take it back outside.

While Heathfield’s historic terrain has changed forever, I hope there will be future opportunities to preserve or restore some remnant of its thriving past; perhaps through a “pocket meadow”, “sedgescape”, or “little forest”.22 Guided by historic map data and my plant records, a new era of urban wilderness may yet emerge at Providence Village.

Feature Image: A view of Providence Motherhouse from the back field before the construction of Providence Village began; Kingston, Ontario, Canada. © Anna Soper, 2023.
Summer breezes in the back field at 1200 Princess Street, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. © Anna Soper, 2023.


  1. Greenlee, John. The American meadow garden: Creating a natural alternative to the traditional lawn. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2009. ↩︎
  2. An Ontario Heritage Trust plaque, installed at Heathfield roughly a century later, marks the property’s association with the MacDonald family, but does not acknowledge Sir John A. MacDonald’s long legacy of racism and oppression of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. ↩︎
  3. “About Us.” Sisters of Providence of St Vincent de Paul. Accessed May 8, 2024. ↩︎
  4. “About Us.” Providence Village, May 6, 2024. Accessed May 8, 2024. ↩︎
  5. “Home.” Providence Village, December 22, 2023. Accessed May 8, 2024. ↩︎
  6. Angeletti-Szasz, Cory. Personal communication. May 16, 2024.  ↩︎
  7. “Tomato Tasting Celebration: Connecting Food With Health, Joy, Justice & Nature.” Sisters of Providence of St Vincent de Paul. Accessed April 19, 2024. ↩︎
  8. Soper, Anna. “Heathfield Biodiversity.” iNaturalist. Accessed April 3, 2024. ↩︎
  9. 407-409-A, Congregational Annals series, General Secretary fonds, Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul Archives. ↩︎
  10. 329.2-05, Tree Walk sub-series, Ecology and Environment Committee series, Ecology and Heirloom Seed Sanctuary Fonds, Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul Archives. ↩︎
  11. 407-409-A, Congregational Annals series, General Secretary fonds, Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul Archives. ↩︎
  12. Angeletti-Szasz, Cory. Personal communication. May 16, 2024. ↩︎
  13. 407-409-A, Congregational Annals series, General Secretary fonds, Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul Archives. ↩︎
  14. 407-409-A, Congregational Annals series, General Secretary fonds, Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul Archives. ↩︎
  15. Soper, Anna, and Sr. Jeannette Filthaut. Personal communication. April 10, 2024. ↩︎
  16. Slobodian, Louise. “Sister Anna Moran Has 100 Years of Story to Tell.” Sisters of Providence of St Vincent de Paul. Accessed April 18, 2024. ↩︎
  17. Ibid. ↩︎
  18. “City of Kingston Open Data Licence 1.0.” City of Kingston. Accessed April 12, 2024. ↩︎
  19. Bernstien, Jaela, and Emily Chung. “Discover Where Ancient Rivers Flow under Canadian Cities | CBC News.” CBC News, April 3, 2024. Accessed April 18, 2024. ↩︎
  20. “Taddle Creek.” Indigenous Landscape Project, March 6, 2020. Accessed April 18, 2024. ↩︎
  21. 407-409-A, Congregational Annals series, General Secretary fonds, Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul Archives. ↩︎
  22. 1000 Islands Master Gardeners, August 24, 2023. Accessed May 16, 2024. ↩︎


1. “Plan of Kingston, 1801.” Kingston, Ont: [publisher not identified]. Reproduced from original held in the National Map Collection, Print. G3464 K5 1801 .P5. Map and Geospatial Data Collection, Queen’s University Library.

2. Storer, A. “Plan of the Environs of Kingston Canada Embracing a Circuit of about Five Miles Round Fort Frederick.” Place of publication not identified: [publisher not identified] 1863, Print. G3464.K5 1863 .S8 Map and Geospatial Data Collection, Queen’s University Library.

3. Walkem, Charles. “Kingston, C.W., Copy of a Lithographed Plan Made at the War Office in 1864 of the Country in the Vicinity of Kingston, Canada West.” Montreal, Quebec: [Royal Engineers Office] 1864, Print. Reproduced from original held in the National Map Collection. G3464.K5 1864 .W3. Map and Geospatial Data Collection, Queen’s University Library.

4. Jervois, W. F. D. (William Francis Drummond), and H. S Sitwell. “Plan of Kingston and Its Environs, Ontario.” Southampton, [England: Zincographed at the Ordnance Survey Office] 1868. G3464.K5 1868 .G7 sheet 3 plan 10. Map and Geospatial Data Collection, Queen’s University Library.

5. “Manoeuvre Map, Kingston and Vicinity.” Ottawa: Survey Division, Department of National Defence 1917, Print. G3464.K5 1917 .C3. Map and Geospatial Data Collection, Queen’s University Library.

6. “Kingston and Vicinity.” Ottawa: Dept. of National Defence, Geographical Section 1931, Print. G3464.K5 1931 .C3. Map and Geospatial Data Collection, Queen’s University Library.

7. Queen’s University Archives. “Maps-Kingston – V23 Maps-Kingston-21.” Queen’s Digital Collections, July 12, 2022. Accessed March 28, 2024. (MacLachlan Lumber Company, once owned and operated by the author’s great-uncle, appears on this map; near Heathfield. The business closed in the 1980s.)

8. “City Map and Street Guide : Kingston and Collins Bay, Amherstview, Lasalle Park, Fort Henry Hts., Barriefield, Ravensview, plus Regional Map of Lennox & Addington, Frontenac and Prince Edward Counties.” Pathfinder Map Corporation 1986, Print. G3464 .K5 1981 .P3 Map and Geospatial Data Collection, Queen’s University Library.

9. “City of Kingston – Ontario Base Maps Consolidation.” Kingston, Ont: Strategic and Long-Range Planning 1999, Print. G3464 .K5 1999 .K53 Map and Geospatial Data Collection, Queen’s University Library.

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Anna Soper is an artist, writer, and librarian from Kingston, Ontario, Canada. As an artist, she has exhibited her work in London, New York, and Toronto. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from OCAD University—where she was awarded the OCAD University Medal and the Canon Canada Prize in 2011—and completed a term abroad at the Glasgow School of Art. In 2016, she graduated from Western University with a Master of Library and Information Science degree. A love of wildflowers and wild places informs Soper’s written work, and she is particularly inspired by little-known environmental histories. Find her online at

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