Don Curtis – Communications Consultant and Strategic Planner

EVENT DATE: October 9, 2008
TOPIC: Kingston’s Liquid Assets – its Blue Belt Lifestyle and Kingston’s Unequalled Historic Assets

Don has over 40 years experience handling communications for over 75 of the largest corporations in the country.  He was partner and managing director of Goodgoll Curtis Advertising, 1990-2000; and managing director of Vickers and Benson Advertising, 1972-1989.  Since retiring and moving to Kingston in 2000, Don has been highly active in the community.  He has conducted a strategic study of the city; developed a walking-tour book on the Historic Churches of Kingston; developed Kingston’s Blue Belt (water lifestyle) strategy; developed historic tours; and is now developing Kingston 360 – a website to bring Kingston’s unique assets to the attention of the world.  Don is a member of the Kingston Imagine Round Table, a contributing writer to the Kingston Whig-Standard and to Kingston This Week, and a guest lecturer at St. Lawrence College.


Don provided a scintillating set of highlights about Blue Belt-Kingston – surrounded by fresh, blue waters, Lake Ontario to the south, the St Lawrence River and the magnificent 1000 islands to the east, the historic Rideau Canal to the northeast, the Bay of Quinte to the west and a myriad of fresh pristine lakes to the immediate north. This gives rise to the finest water lifestyle in North America.  He also extolled the considerable virtues of Kingston’s over 600 historic buildings, most still in daily use, all authentic, with fascinating stories.  His presentation was augmented by an interesting set of colourful slides of the many blue water and historic heritage jewels in and around Kingston.

Don reported that 355 years after Count Frontenac arrived on our shores in 1673 and one of his party purportedly said “This is one of the most beautiful and agreeable harbours in the world”, Kingston remains a magnificent city site.  It’s why later Fort Henry was built here to defend the supply route of the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes, it’s why we were a major shipbuilding centre, its why the Naval dockyards were here, why the Loyalist chose to come here, it’s why many of the audience came here.   A map of the Kingston region reveals that the city is surrounded by fresh, blue water:  Lake Ontario to the south, the Bay of Quinte to the west, the St. Lawrence River and 1000 Islands to the east, to the north-east, the historic Rideau Canal and to the immediate north hundreds of pristine lakes.

Within a 60 KM circle from Kingston, there are 38 lakes in the circle.  Kingston is the Fresh Water Sailing Capital of the World.  The water and wind are why Kingston was the site of the 1976 Olympic sailing races, are the site of the  yearly CORK races featuring the world’s best young sailors.  As for Power Boating, Kingston has an unsurpassed diversity – 3 entirely different kinds of boating from one starting point 1.  Lake Ontario, 2. St. Lawrence River & the 1000 islands – there are 3 channels trough the islands, where one can stop at quaint towns on either side of the river, explore the  20 National Park Islands, swim, picnic, hike and at every twist and turn of the river you have incredibly beautiful and different vistas.  3. Or travel up the Rideau, a 3-5 day trip – explore towns and villages of this UNESCO heritage site. Kingston has the potent to be the Dive Centre of Canada based on 335 years of Marine commerce – ships from the war of 1812, to every type of schooner etc – 5 minutes away just off Wolfe and Amherst Islands, with a Virtual under water museum to provide a history lesson in the types of ships that plied the Great Lakes over the centuries.

As for Fishing, there are 2 different types:  Lake Ontario charter  fishing, like deep sea fishing, cold water, trolling 85 feet down for 50 pound salmon, 25 inch brown trout and record muskellunge.  Then there are the back lakes, with every kind of fresh water fish – Perch, Large-Mouth Bass, Small-Mouth Bass, Pickerel, and, Rainbow trout.  For Canoeing and Kayaking, all those 38 lakes, silver ribbon of lakes, are ideal for such outings.  One could kayak or canoe a different lake everyday for a couple of months if one includes the 20 lakes in Frontenac Park.  For Competitive Rowing, Kingston boasts world class winning championships starting in 1837, with a resurgence in 1870 because of Ned Hanlon, leading to the first official rowing competition in1881.  On to Windsurfing and Kite-boarding right by Queen’s.  From the waterfront, one can view CORK sailboat race going on further out in the harbour, the kite boarders, the Wolfe Island ferry going across, and the St. Lawrence tall ship passing by.  As for Hiking, particularly in Frontenac Park, with its 20 lakes and 170 km of trails, Kingston is blessed with many superb areas. The Park is part of  the Frontenac Arch which has world heritage designation.  And if one wants more hiking, close by are Charleston Lake Park, Bon Echo Park, Lemoine Point Park, Little Cataraqui Conservation Area – a hikers paradise.  

Don proceeded to recount the highlights of its History and Heritage.  Kingston has been called the Historic Heart of Canada, having been around for 335 years, with Canada being only 141years old. Kingston is one of only four cities in Canada with significant historic pasts – Halifax, Montreal, Quebec being the others!  Kingston has over 600 historic buildings in our downtown alone – all authentic, all still in use, not roped off  from the public – a mix of commercial buildings, houses, and beautiful mansions.  Kingston was where of Upper and Lower Canada were united.  It was the first capital of Canada, the first parliament was held here, the first 2 Governors General lived here (and died here ) and, of course, the first prime minister, our own Sir John A. Macdonald, Father of Confederation, founder of the Mounties, chief author of the BNA act, builder of the national railway, considered by experts as the most important political figure in Canadian history, grew up ,worked and is buried here.  Kingston is where the United Empire Loyalists came to build a new nation based on British laws, government and religion and their families, and over the next couple of generations built a lot of the magnificent homes still standing.  The old British Whig building on King Street is the oldest newspaper daily in Canada.  Kingston is home to 13 old 19th century stone churches.  St Georges Cathedral, founding church of Anglican religion in Canada, originally was a wooden structure where the old British Whig building now stands.  The catholic Church of the Good Thief on west King Street, is the only church of the Good Thief in the world.  St. Paul’s  is the oldest protestant cemetery in Canada with many founding families buried there.   St. Andrews is round inside, St. George’s plaques tell a history onto themselves.   Don mentioned that each of the heritage houses has a story associated with it, and he recounted several examples.  For a King Street experience, one can drive the 4 KM from City Hall to Portsmouth Village and pass 72 points of historic interest – houses, statues, commercial buildings, parks.  One can stroll up Princess Street, originally called Store Street, with its examples of amazing architecture.

Don related some key aspects of the role of Kingston and impact on the city residents of War of 1812, where Kingston was not attacked because of a very strong commanding view over the bay.  The war had nothing to do with Canada.  The British declared victory because no boundaries changed, the Canadians declared victory because they had repulsed the enemy, and the Americans declared victory because they won the last battle – the Battle of New Orleans, even though the battle was waged three weeks after the treaty was signed.  The real losers were the natives who fought so valiantly hoping to get their lands back from the US government – they got nothing!  The war that seemingly achieved nothing in fact gave rise to a feeling of nationalism in Canada and gave rise to a new nation, with an important early role for Kingston.

Don highlighted the fact of  Kingston being surrounded by our history.  One can stand on the waterfront and look out at the bay where Frontenac, LaSalle, Molly and Joseph Brant, Lord Sydenham and Sir John A. Macdonald stood.

To emphasise the role of history in Kingston, Don quoted from  Arthur Lower, noted Historian and Queen’s History professor: “History is in some ways to see the past as vital and living.  History in an attempt to see backwards along the path we have come to perhaps glean some inkling of the path down which we are going.  As a Canadian city, Kingston is unique, unique for its structural material of which it is constructed – much of Kingston built itself out of itself, small wonder it is called the Limestone city.”

In closing, Don noted that the architectural remnants, including both the magnificent and mundane of old Kingston, touch the lives of all citizens.  The elegant City Hall, a legacy from the triumphant, exuberant Kingston of the 1840’s, dominates its waterfront, a few hundreds yards away from the partially excavated foundation of Fort Frontenac, each within view of the Martello Towers on the shore and that in Fort Frederick on the Royal Military College grounds across the harbour.  Don encourage all attendees to become active ambassadors for this beautiful city blessed with so much of natural environmental and historical heritage.

Summary by Bruce Morris

In thanking Don Curtis, Bradley Sumner of the Canadian Club Kingston Executive, provided the following:

Your comments make some of us wonder what the future is for a city that displays perhaps its greatest pride in its 206 year old cemetery! Surely this strange remark makes Kingston unique from any other city on the planet!

That got me to wondering whether life for many in Kingston is like the movie GOLDEN POND or if it resembles the 1937 film LOST HORIZON. Or both.

In the Lost Horizon, in the mysterious Eden like valley of Shangri La, its people are protected in the mountains from the world outside – a seductive escape for all who live there. Shangri La is a place without illness, war or any type of dispute – clearly different from any Kingston community experiences!

In Kingston we do not have the protection of mountains. But we do have Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal on our boundaries, and maybe that bigger city cover has inhibited our progress. We have our public service sector here that provides us with an economic base that should have, but has not been, a cornerstone of business development.

You have provided us with a very thoughtful analysis of ways in which this community can build on the remarkable geography and history with which we have been blessed.  To not do so is letting down the generations that follow us.

There are few people who come to this community, or any other one for that matter to retire, look around their neighbourhood and decide that changes have to be made – so that we are in fact not a Golden Pond or a Lost Horizon.

You have seen a lost opportunity here, and you are bringing to it your life’s experience so that you and others can have a positive impact on this community.

On behalf of our Club many of us would like to see action taken on your ideas.

In your presentation you mentioned our world class sailing and power boat waters. Using that metaphor our history should not be an anchor on our community progress, but instead a chart to a progressive future

Again thanks for showing us your chart and suggesting that the many winds on our back here steer us to needed changes.

Bradley D. Sumner