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  • Mary K. Armstrong

Kingston on Fire

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a safe but enjoyable crossover into this new year.


(Originally witten and published in Vista Magazine January 2019)


When I first moved to Kingston, I made efforts to get to know people. There were plenty of cheerful encounters at The Seniors Centre. My fellow tenants were friendly during elevator trips, and dog lovers inevitably stopped to pat my irresistible poodle, Sammy. The trouble was, none of these pleasant exchanges led to ongoing connections.


I knew that I somehow needed to spend more time with the same people so that we could get to know one another. Volunteering offered a solution. If you work side by side with someone over period of time, there's a good chance you'll become friends. I reasoned my choice of volunteer work had to be something that really appealed to me. That way I'd meet likeminded souls, people whose interests were similar to mine.


So, what was I interested in? I was keen to know more about my new city. History fascinates me. I learned that Kingston's early buildings had been made of wood. Then the town burned down, and a law was passed that all buildings had to be erected in stone. I was intrigued, and the story prompted me to wonder where all that limestone comes from.


My curiosity and my need for companionship led me to KAM, Kingston Association of Museums. KAM is an organization that promotes Kingston's huge number of museums and galleries. I would surely find people there interested in knowing about the development of the Kingston area.


Miller Hall, home of the museum, on Queen's campus in Kingston, Ontario

And so I became the newest volunteer at KAM, along with other people who shared my interests. My eyes were accustomed to Toronto and big-city ways. Maybe that's what I was so drawn to the Miller Museum of Geology, right on the Queen's University campus. There I found this little jewel of a museum with a dazzling collection of cut gemstones, crystals, and mineral samples from around the world, as well as the fascinating geological history of the Kingston area.


The museum charges no admission, and you're welcome to come in for a self-guided tour. No security guards stand in the doorways to protect the displays. Instead, the curator herself is on site and will even answer your questions. If you look particularly interested in an exhibit, she may even offer you a microscope. Imagine having such an expert on hand to answer questions and point out the displays describing the incredible geology and paleontology of the area surrounding Kingston.


The museum satisfied my curiosity about Kingston's limestone. I learned that the area had once been under mountains the size of the Himalayas. Then erosion flattened the mountains over millions of years. A sea came next, resulting in the fossils the area is famous for. My new home was becoming more and more intriguing.


Dr. Linda Tjusi, the curator, was new to Kingston, too. Before coming here, she was on staff at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. She told me how much she appreciates the difference between Kingston's geology museum and the huge Toronto museum where her work was limited to a small area of research under the supervision of many supervisors.


Here in Kingston she relished the broad scope of her duties. She's curator, teacher, and paleontologist, and if you want to buy fossils or interesting stones from the gift shop, she's your salesperson. If something spills, she's even the person to grab a broom and sweep the floor. We both have grown to appreciate the special quality of the smaller community we've chosen.


What is your favourite museum or gallery in the Kingston area?

Email me at mary@marykarmstrong.com and let's chat about it.

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