Another one of those gorgeous July mornings across from Sydenham Ward, nothing moving at 6:30, all still, even the one-man recycling and garbage trucks having difficulty in disturbing the squirrels, starlings, and crows working feverishly to get at those green bags before they leave the sidewalk.
My dog’s on the prowl down William Street, his sniffer hard at work to see who’s been where, and when—other dogs, of course. Sometimes I get the idea that lab retrievers are nothing but noses surrounded by a dog’s body. The non-stop sniffing is akin to we humans scanning a newspaper. The dog’s discoveries are far less gruesome than ours…. even though we have such aversion to what some dog owners leave behind.
Heading down William, a few hours later, one is not surprised that the old George and Ira Gershwin standard, “summertime, and the living is easy,” summarizes matters. Not much happening, save landlords fixing the structures they rent for another year of Queen’s student living. Of these landlords there can be no doubt that Daphne Dean is the uncontested diva of city landlords. Moreover, no man can hold a paintbrush to her.
Dean is up from dawn to dusk, supervising a veritable army of drywallers, plasterers, and painters, tooling her battered and splattered gold SUV from site to site, never seeming to take a break. Her venues of repair—and does she repair!—are noteworthy for painted sidewalks, drywall gutter crumble, and other variants of white that signify “woman at work!” She’s had a bad knee of late but that doesn’t slow her down a whit.
And the students under her tutelage are fortunate, for she repairs every year, even during the year. Dean owns many properties in town and she treats them and her charges as would Momma Bear.
Woe betides the students who cross Mother Dean. She employs her own security guards on the weekend, and miscreants soon find that they need new quarters. If parents are nervous about offspring moving off-campus in their second year, they should look to Dean’s properties. Their kids will behave—or else!
Daphne Dean, known also for her love of dogs, is the reigning monarch of landlords in Kingston. And one can be sure that she is smiling as she reads this paean to her stature and accomplishments.
Kingston, of course, is known for its historic and historical character. One reason why development proceeds at such a fitful pace in the Limestone City is the heavy hand of the past, most recently seeking to keep Kingston’s waterfront visible from even two blocks east. But lamentably that battle now appears lost, as the vacant lots symbolized by the old designation “Block D” are sprouting towers that will do any middling Canadian waterfront proud. And the protoskeletal Large Venue Entertainment Centre (or whatever we’ll call it) looms now as a monolith (a la “2001; A Space Odyssey”) for all driving in from the LaSalle Causeway.
As one walks the dog along Ontario Street, the summer morning has come to a healthy simmer—weekday market setting up for business in Market Square (which, my lab notes, now has a spaniel surname). All the stall-trucks have sanitary pads under them to prevent oil stains from befouling the pristine square. Growing numbers of smiling people engage in commerce and conversation, Steve Lukits’s apt description of what small-town market venues should provide.
Delighted we are that the Mayor and Council—far less rancorous this year than last, it seems—allowed the market to reopen where it belongs. Sad we are that there is precious little greenery in that square. What is it that official people have against trees and shrubbery and gardens these days—“Kingston Blooms” notwithstanding? We would have loved to see green—and not just the colour of money—in the market mix.
A bit more on Kingston places, this time several doomed corners. One thinks sadly of the end of Shoeless Joe’s, for example, as unsuccessful in current business as its namesake in the 1918 World Series. Can anyone make it at the northwest corner of Barrie and Princess? Will Shoeless Joe’s come out of the cornfield when the students come back this fall? Remember, the Bank of Montreal couldn’t make it at that corner, so beware all ye businesses folk who covet that site.
And even sadder, kitty-corner from Shoeless Joe’s, sits another seemingly doomed corner, most recently inhabited by Sol Latino, which claimed status as Kingston’s only Cuban/Brazilian eatery. For several years, Sol did well, with owner Mark Kennedy sponsoring music specials, dances, and some damned good food.
What happened to Kennedy the courts will only know (the street rumour is cocaine trafficking) when his case comes to trial. Sol Latino’s ambience was unique in Kingston—not the best restaurant, by a long shot, but different. Even though the view from sidewalk tables focused of the A & P was less than sublime, service was prompt and friendly, and meals were tasty, until toward the end—when it seemed that the burritos were being nuked and the margaritas watered.
In any event, the Subway chain moved into the spot faster than you can say “triple-meat special,” and now rules that corner. We rue the old days when Lido’s occupied the spot, featuring a fridge stocked with a few sandwiches that were never eaten, and patrons whiling away afternoons nursing a beer or three. Where did those times go?
We’ll see how the new Subway does (the Subway empire should be able to absorb the losses, if necessary), as The Keg chain seems to be doing at times with the local entry at the northwest corner of Clarence and King. That spot always has been doomed, no matter the theme – art, Christmas, whatever. So also has the northwest corner at the intersection of Ontario and Johnson—always seeming to reopen with a new, exciting, student-oriented theme, then closing a few months or weeks later.
So running a restaurant in Kingston is no easy business—and the successful entrepreneurs, people like Wayne Goodwin, Zoe Yanofsky, Bob Joyce and Tim Pater, among others, are successful not because of their venues—though that helps—but because of their personal attention to detail. Take care of small things, and the big things will take care of themselves is the theme here, while “don’t sweat the small stuff” provides a ticket to trouble. As in life generally, it’s the little things that kill you.
Two principals are reported ready to retire from local institutions of higher learning—John Cowan from RMC, and Karen Hitchcock from Queen’s. Whoever wants the job as a university principal these days must recognize—as former University of Toronto President Robert Pritchard proved so well—that fund-raising is key for university and college chief executives. With its ambitious plans for construction and graduate studies and research, together with its stated commitment to undergraduate education, Queen’s will need a whole lot more funding in the next decade or two to remain competitive with other top universities, especially on the undergraduate level. Queen’s will need someone to prime the private sector—as Pritchard did in his tenure at Toronto.
The next year or two will prove interesting (in the Confucian sense) on both local campuses.
Geoff Smith walks the streets of Kingston with his yellow lab, Forest.
Originally appeared in the Kingston Whig-Standard 27 July 2007.