Open Letter to the Citizens of Kingston
To whom it may concern,
I’ve been doing time in Kingston’s heritage circuit ever since I landed a student job in the Fort Henry Guard. It was a memorable four years, working to bring Ronald L. Way’s dream of ‘a living museum’ to life. It’s been three years since and I’ve floated around to a number of sites before deciding to hang my hat at an escape room company. There was, believe it or not, a cogent reason for this.
The work of Improbable Escapes Inc. and other small businesses helps Kingston’s heritage community in immense ways. We innovate and bring new things to these old spaces. We drive visitors, bring in patrons, and renew each site’s raison d’etre. The greatest thing is - we’re not the only ones who believe in this mandate.
Glen Shackleton recently made a strong case for the Kingston Pen as the “Alcatraz of the North.” He’s right. A well-managed heritage site will pay dividends for Kingston’s tourism economy (certainly more than expensive housing). A well constructed site will continue to bring returns. Visitors will flock to, and support local sites, and local business will thrive.
As it stands, the Kingston Pen is in the midst of an existential crisis. The loss of half of its infrastructure, including the trades wing - an important part of the Pen’s story - would be a tragic loss. But I believe that keeping the pen intact is worth it. It offers the opportunity for a diverse number of programs, not just guided tours, that can facilitate learning about Kingston’s Penitentiary history in engaging and respectful ways. I know that there are scores of private businesses that agree and stand ready in the wings to lend a helping hand.
The monetization of heritage is troubling for me. As a result of funding deficiencies and external pressure, heritage sites everywhere are abandoned to a state of atrophy. The Pen can’t - and doesn’t have to - be another example of this. It needs to be understood that sites like this have their own value ipso facto.
Kingston’s heritage isn’t a money-making endeavor. You can’t cut corners to keep it affordable. It requires great investment and greater care, but if we really cared about the legacy of the Kingston Penitentiary, we would make it worth it.
[A clearly agitated historian]