Activist and artist Wayne Westfall used his disability to inspire others

neighbour, friend, & artist Wayne Westfall

by Jamie Swift

Wayne Westfall: Artist. Activist. Mentor. Comrade. Born Aug. 15, 1948, in Point Edward, Ont.; died Jan. 12, 2020, in Kingston, Ont., of a medically assisted death; aged 71.

On the morning of Wayne Westfall’s death, carefully planned with his small band of intimate friends, someone mentioned cremation. “I yearn for the urn,” he deadpanned. Wayne had a sly sense of humour, often aimed at himself. Sitting in Kingston’s Skeleton Park, he would toss his head back and smack the side of his wheelchair at someone’s witty remark. The Sarnia native had 10 siblings, an honours degree in chemistry and a Masters of Social Work. After two years in Sierra Leone with CUSO, he lived much of his life with quadriplegia, the result of a 1979 climbing accident in Alaska. Locked up in a broken body, Wayne had such a remarkable sense of himself that his next climbing journey became stunningly successful. He emerged from his broken self, rekindling a compassionate heart and boundless curiosity, his shining intellect and joyful sense of wonder.

It wasn’t easy. “I made a conscious decision to live. I got bored with suicide,” he said after several years wrestling with depression and near-paralysis from the neck down. Kingston, and the people who live there, were the better for it. He managed a clinic for sex offenders. Wayne did pre-release counselling at one of its penitentiaries. He taught assertiveness and resilience at St. Lawrence College, using his wheelchair and disability symbolically. He hoped to hear, “Gee, if that guy can keep going, I can find a way through my problems.” And he often did. One day he woke up blind, calmly waiting two hours for his next “helper” as he called his platoon of caregivers. He soon regained his sight and a friend asked how he managed to stay calm. “Oh, there are lots of people worse off than me.”

Wayne’s tireless advocacy work made Kingston General Hospital much more accessible. As was the public library after he served on the board. Wheelchair-bound people had long been forced to ring a doorbell around the back. Before curb cuts were the norm, he was instrumental in making them so. Creating detailed downtown maps marked with impossible corner curbs, he then led city councillors on a wrenching accessibility tour. Things changed.

After the great ice storm of 1998, Wayne was instrumental in raising money for tree-planting and the creation of the McBurney (a.k.a. Skeleton) Park Neighbourhood Association. Wayne could flex his wrists and (with prosthetic fingers ) hold a paintbrush, fork and pen. He could peck at a keyboard and excelled as a poet and watercolourist. His 2019 art exhibit marking the 40th anniversary of his accident attracted an overflow crowd. Describing the spirituality that sustained him over those years as “a metaphysical soup, part Christian, part Buddhist and part pagan,” Wayne explained as the end approached that he had had a decent, dignified life. “I’ve had a good run and I’m okay to get off the train.” On my last visit, we discussed accepting the reality of uncertainty. And what might happen in a world fractured by climate catastrophe and inequality. Wayne insisted that what we do today will shape the future. That sounds mundane, but not coming from this giant of a man. On the day he died, someone said “We will all be changed by what happens today.” Wayne, still on his game, quickly replied, “Me, too.”

This tribute originally appeared in the Globe and Mail’s “Lives Lived” pages on 18 May 2020.

Jamie Swift lives in the Skeleton Park neighbourhood and is Wayne’s friend.

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MPNA Newsletter, 9 April 2020

Greetings and Salutations – I am so proud to be part of this neighbourhood.

I see people every day practising safe distancing, reaching out to offer support to neighbours, asking for help and staying safe, and finding ways to have fun.

Easter weekend, stay home, have fun. Unfortunately, the Easter Egg Hunt is postponed until further notice, perhaps the Easter bunny will get some help from some park squirrels in late fall? Peanut easter eggs anyone?

IMG_1143Our popular Park Clean Up and Social Gathering on April 25th is postponed until further notice. The mulch has been delivered and Simon and a little crew have distributed it already, the trees say thank you.

It is with great sorrow that we see the boarding go up around our beloved playground equipment and basketball court. It is really serious that we not gather together.

However – there are other activities to take part in:

Funny Walks – Even though we can’t swing, play frisbee, sit and watch the leaves burgeon or practice Tai Chi in the park for now, we can walk through, So, as you travel through the park, find a funny way to walk, skip, go backwards, riff on the John Cleese style.

Try the Colborne Street Riddle Row! Walk down Colborne Street between Barrie and Sydenham and try to find and solve 8 riddles. Riddles go up on Saturday, April 11th, answers to follow on Monday, April 13th Happy riddling!
And look for Puns on Patrick – there are puns posted on Patrick street, share some in your window

Rainbows – several young folk have created some great rainbow pictures to colour and post in your windows. Look in your mailbox for pages to colour. Share the light and colour.

Neighbours At Noon N@N – look for posters in your mailbox
We are very aware of how isolation can affect our mood and energy, so we thought it would be fun to come out and look around, to greet our neighbours, to move around a bit, wiggle from the porch, DON’T come down into the street, TOO close!

Try this – step out on your porch at noon and wiggle or wave – who knows, you could meet a new puppy, see a new baby, greet a new neighbour. Street by street, row by row, challenge a friend on an adjacent street to get their street stepping out.

SPAF in the ‘hood is spotting musicians to greet you at noon. Watch for notices of someone coming to your street soon. Check out SPAF at Home

Don’t forget to check the MPNA facebook for updates and gentle, kind support.

Parks are closed, however, the pathways of the K&P and Rideau Trails are still open, practise safe distancing courtesies. Don’t forget to smile from afar as you pass by.

Regular notices and updates about services

Mutual Aid Katarokwi (MAK)
We are a coordinating project that:

  • connects people who need deliveries of groceries, prescriptions or food bank food with people who can deliver them
  • connects people who are requesting phone or email check ins with people who are offering this
  • has a campaigns group that is working on supporting people who are facing evictions and issues related to housing and homelessness in Kingston.

MAK is acting in a spirit of social solidarity through taking direct action of neighbours helping neighbours to meet needs. We oppose the harm that the current economic and political system causes in our lives, which has only been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mutual Aid Katarokwi believes that we must simultaneously address people’s immediate self-determined needs for survival and organize for fundamental shifts in the way we relate to each other and the earth so that everyone has everything they need and can live a meaningful life.

Learn more about MAK through its:

website
facebook page
video

Ways to get involved:

Sign up to request or offer deliveries or phone/email check-ins using our google form.

Or call and leave a message at: (613) 665-2959 and we will call you back as soon as we can.

* Print and put up some posters from our media page here: https://mutualaidkatarokwi.wordpress.com/media/

Get involved in our campaigns related to supporting people fighting evictions, housing and homelessness (email us)

Give $$ by sending an e-transfer to mutualaidkatarokwi@gmail.com or mail a cheque written to Mutual Aid Katarokwi, 1-75 Queen Street, Kingston ON K7K 1A5. This helps us cover: voicemail service, bank fees, cleaning supplies, groceries for people who cannot afford it, printing costs, etc. Any amount you can offer is helpful!

Questions? Suggestions? Contact MAK at mutualaidkatarokwi@gmail.com, (613) 665-2959 or FB messenger.

St. Vincent de Paul Neighbour to Neighbour Check-in

If you would like a check-in by phone from one of our friendly neighbours, please let us know. A neighbour can call you once a week or once a day – it’s up to you! For more info, please contact Kelli @ 613-766-8432

Where to find local food, seeds and beer online and support our local providers

If you can help in making masks

Contact info@stitchbystitchkingston.com

Completed masks to be dropped off there, and they will be picked up by OPP for sterilizing and distribution to the hospitals.

If you can help coordinate distribution of PPE (personal protective equipment) Volunteers in Ontario Finding PPE for Hospitals “A quintessential Canadian trait is that we come together in times of need. Recognizing the lack of supplies for Personal Protective Equipment or “PPE” in Canada, we are hoping to help coordinate efforts to deliver much needed to PPE to hospitals throughout Ontario. Please consider helping us help those on the front lines”.

Current needs: – unopened boxes of gloves, masks, gowns and volunteers to reach out to businesses and organizations that may have PPE to donate

Daily Soulful Singing via Zoom — 9:00-10:00am info@wendyluellaperkins.com

Community Gardens as an essential service – petition
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If you receive these messages second-hand and want to receive them first-hand, please send in your email address.

If you want to stop receiving these messages, or re-direct them because you changed your email address, please let us know.
Correspondence to skeletonpark@gmail.com.

McBurney Park is nicknamed ‘Skeleton Park’ because it’s a cemetery (not a ‘former cemetery’ because once a cemetery, always a cemetery). It was the “Upper Burial Grounds” in the 19th century, became “Frontenac Park” in 1895, and was later renamed McBurney.

The park and all of the neighbourhood sit on the traditional lands of the Anishnaabe and Haudenosaunee Peoples.

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Stay safe, Stay warm, Stay together – from a distance. Look after yourself, Look out for others

Take good care, Kate

 

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King’s Town Candidates at Odds on Issues (but only one shows up for public meeting)

Skeleton_Park_small

Kingston writer Jamie Swift is a co-founder of the McBurney Park Neighborhood Association.

By Jamie Swift

This year’s Kingston election has featured important citizen efforts to encourage public engagement with the issues facing our city. Open Kingston has developed an informative website where you can read candidate views on key issues.

And the Coalition of Kingston Communities has managed to organize all-candidate meetings in each district, along with a mayoralty debate at City Hall. (See the CKC website for a list of meetings.) The CKC organizers have recruited a wide range of veteran political observers to moderate their public gatherings. Former Mayor Helen Cooper. Ex Liberal MP Ted Hsu. Former Conservative strategist Sally Barnes. Bill Hutchins of CKWS. And Skeleton Park’s own Jonathan Rose, a veteran election debate moderator on TV Cogeco.

Unfortunately the King’s Town debate, held at Central Public School before some 35 people on September 24, was attended by just one candidate.

That’s because Byron Emmons, challenging incumbent Rob Hutchison, elected to denounce both the meeting and the CKC itself. According to Mr. Emmons, the CKC is “a biased special interest group.”

Moreover, Mr. Emmons told King’s Town organizer Pamela Cornell that he would complain about the event to the City’s Elections Clerk to demand an “investigation” while also informing Central School that there would be no debate.

This was a self-fulfilling prophecy because Mr. Emmons didn’t show up. There was an empty chair in the school gym and Mr. Emmons’ name on a blue tent card on the table. The session offered local residents the chance to quiz Mr. Hutchison on his priorities and accomplishments at City Hall.

Mr. Hutchison said he works for a city “where no one is left behind,” highlighting his work on improving public transportation. The new Montreal Street express bus allows north end and King’s Town residents to get to west end jobs in forty minutes, replacing the previous 1.5 hour trip. The incumbent supported Kingston’s new Active Transportation Master Plan.

Mr. Emmons has told Open Kingston he is opposed to the Active Transportation Master Plan emphasizing walking and cycling, explaining that cyclists provoke drivers. “Dedicated bike lanes encourage cyclists to drive dangerously as if the bike lane line is a barrier, and their aggressiveness consequently causes other drivers to drive dangerously.”

With respect to King’s Town citizens who have been working against the controversial Wellington Street Extension, even Mayor Bryan Paterson says he’s now against driving that road right through Doug Fluhrer Park. Mr. Hutchison has long opposed the Extension and noted at the Central School meeting that “people refused to go away. Agitation can work.” (Read this for the latest on the politics of this scheme.)

Responding to a question about why important issues of development are often discussed behind closed doors at City Hall, Mr. Hutchison expressed concern over the recent decline in public hearings by City Council Committees. “I think Committee is where the public is best served, and that has been cut back.”

With respect to Kingston’s woeful record of building affordable house (some 1200 people languish on the waiting list), Mr. Emmons’ response to Open Kingston suggests an abiding faith in the unfettered forces of the free market. He explains that his plan will mean that “a large portion of newly constructed homes” will be sold at “a fairly reduced rate.”

The emphasis here is making things easier for property developers. “It can only be done if Kingston commits to reducing or removing developer hurdles….this means expediting meetings regarding building permits and zoning approvals to ensure developer financial timelines are met.” Mr. Emmons also wants to offer developers more public help in the form of “financial reimbursement on taxes to compensate for costly and often unnecessary compliance.”

Mr. Hutchison, recently retired from his job managing a housing co-op, told the Central School meeting that help for social housing and co-ops should be an important way of addressing the critical shortage of affordable rental accommodation. “Too often we let market forces prevail and devil take the hindmost. I want to see us build more affordable housing. If we can spend $16 million to expand an airport that will lose money, we should be able to find $12 million to build affordable housing.”

It’s apparent that Kings Town voters have a choice between rather different approaches to Kingston’s future.

Mr. Emmons’ style is to denounce those with whom he disagrees, accusing the CKC of trying “to misguide and coerce constituents and electoral candidates with Trump-style politics so that their interests are made a priority.” He told a voter who’d underlined the importance of public debates such as the one at Central that “I am sure Hutchison would jump at the opportunity to participate in such a manufactured forum.”

For his part, Mr. Hutchison told the Sept. 24 meeting that “I’m trying to run a constructive, positive campaign.”

(NOTE: A Sept 25 public meeting in Collins-Bayridge was boycotted by Council candidate Don Amos, running against incumbent Lisa Osanic. Both Mr. Amos and Mr. Emmons have received a thumbs-up from longtime business booster Ed Smith, who withdrew from the Lakeside councillor race on Oct. 3rd. Mr. Smith, defeated in the last two elections, says “we need councillors elected who support Bryan (Paterson), because he can’t do it alone”. What “it” is remains unclear. What is clear is that having candidates avoid public debates is a page taken from Stephen Harper’s playbook.)

For more information on the King’s Town councillor candidates, visit their websites:

Rob Hutchison’s is here.

Byron Emmons’ is here.

 

 

 

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Skeleton Park Avifauna

Perhaps unbeknownst to some, our neighbourhood has a rich diversity of wildlife that is especially evident during spring and autumn migration. Here are just a few of the birds that I have photographed in our yard or in the park. Click on the thumbnails to view larger versions.

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For Debi

Activist, mother, neighbour, teacher

A friend of our neighbourhood left us on March 9. A gentle snow was falling as I strolled through Skeleton Park. That’s where Debi Wells often took her daughter Telfer to play beneath the silver maple umbrellas back in the nineties.

Local dog walkers knew Debi as the woman with the Labrador. Or one of the succession of cream or butterscotch coloured Labs. I imagine her fellow dog owners, huddled together in the middle of the park in all kinds of weather, would wonder how in the world Debi could be out there with no socks under her Birkenstocks. A child of the sixties, in more ways than one.
Debi combined a passionate commitment to the common good with an infectious sense of humour. I recall standing with her by the Skeleton Park playground when a car pulled up on Alma Street. A leather lung hollered out the window, “Britney, get on home!”

“Drive by parenting,” said Deb with a straight face.

I laughed. Then she did, too.

Debi spent some formative years here in Kingston where her father once worked, as she’d insist, as a “boss” at Dupont. Over the years she circled around through Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Along the way she gave birth to her daughter Beth before returning here in the late eighties. She’d decided to pick up a trade and began a teaching career. Her lifelong commitment to social justice was only underlined by the savage inequalities she saw reflected in the education system during her years teaching at the hardscrabble Frontenac Public School (now closed) on Cowdy Street in Kingston’s near north end.

As a lifelong socialist, Debi wasn’t very big on bosses. She learned the skills of tough-minded bargaining when elected as vice president of the Limestone Local of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. She was President when she died, having planned to retire not long after that March snow faded away.

Debi was in recent years a great experimenter with foods that I found a bit odd. She got ahold of a contraption that would dry food. She began to make kefir, insisting on the merits of its beneficial bacteria. Then she started to talk up kombucha and started to make up batches of the effervescent concoction. She liked fermenting it.

She also felt the need to foment trouble. A hardboiled radical, Debi never hesitated to shake things up. But this woman with the easy laugh and irrepressible smile remained a pragmatic activist. She sat patiently – and sometimes not so patiently — through endless meetings with school board officials as well as local business grandees when she served on the board of the troubled Kingston Economic Development Corporation.

There were uncountable evenings spent in our back yard, listening to Debi’s tales of the teachers and children who consumed her working life. She had endless stories – my friend was never at a loss for words – about driving for hours to a remote school where someone needed help.

I reached out to one of Debi’s former bosses the day she died.

“Debi was a fighter for the rights of the poor, the needy, the teachers of Limestone District School Board and teachers elsewhere in the province,” recalled veteran educator Dave Wyatt. “Most of all Deb was an advocate for the children in her classroom. I witnessed this regularly when I was the principal of an inner city school where she taught.”

In her final days, Debi decided that she had changed her mind about one thing.

“I’m not a hugger,” she said, and she began embracing the legion of friends who arrived to bid her good-bye. “But I’ve changed my mind.”

I really do hope I can live up to her legacy by joining Debi’s friends in making common cause for the common good.

“The last time that I saw Deb was in January,” said Dave Wyatt. “She told me that she intended to retire at the end of the school year. I said ‘It’s about time that you live for yourself!’ And now this. We’ll remember her and when we do, be inspired by how she lived.”

Jamie Swift is a Kingston writer

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Hallowe’en in Skeleton Park 2016

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Biggest Crowd Ever? Hallowe’en Parade 2015

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Hallowe’en Parade 2015

image Woooooo! It’s that time of year again for the (almost) legendary Skeleton Park Hallowe’en Parade which will take place in McBurney Park on Saturday, October 31st.

All witches, werewolves, goblins and ghouls are invited to congregate in the park at 4:45 p.m. for a 5 p.m. start. Please, if you can, bring a noisemaking instrument to help join the Krewe of Boo in a New Orleans style second line parade around the park. Afterwards, as usual, there will be a photo opportunity session … so bring your camera, costume(s) and spooky singing voice!

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Twenty Storeys High: Is the Capitol Condo Development Good for Kingston?

by Samantha King

Kingstonites have good reason to be concerned about a proposal to build a twenty-storey condo tower, “The Capitol,” on the site of the former movie theatre at 223 Princess Street.

At a Jimageuly 22 meeting organized by the McBurney Park Neighbourhood Association, In8 Development’s Darryl Firsten presented his company’s plan for the building, which would dwarf the characterful two and three storey retail and service spaces that largely comprise the downtown core. Two councilors, Jim Neill and Jeff McLaren, were in attendance and listening intently to public concerns.

Not one member of the public spoke in favour of a structure this high. Instead, speaker after speaker addressed the effect of the tower on the heritage look and feel of downtown and the fear that this project would provide other high-rise-happy developers—especially those with their sights trained on the North Block—a proverbial foot in the door.

While Mr. Firsten attempted to address heritage concerns by claiming that the height of the building would be unnoticed by people in its immediate vicinity, he refused to acknowledge that such concerns extend beyond Princess Street to the fact that the tower would dominate the skyline of Kingston and change its look and feel forever. He also did nothing to allay fears that should the city grant a bylaw exemption for a 20-storey building, there would be significant pressure from other developers to have the same (or greater) exception applied to them.

Through letters to the planning committee and at a previous public meeting, concerned citizens have outlined numerous additional problems that are likely to arise from this development: High rise corridors of luxury condos tend to lead to higher rents for small businesses which are subsequently replaced with chain stores, banks, and other service-sector tenants who cater primarily to the corporate classes. Such a transformation is already underway along Princess Street and the building of the Capitol would only intensify this trend. If there are to be a mix of people living downtown, the need to build affordable housing with low access points is crucial.

There are also practical concerns about the creation of wind tunnels and shade, car traffic congestion, the volume of garbage and recycling that would be generated in an area where this is already a problem, the ability of surrounding retail businesses to survive during the build, and the upshot of all of these effects for the city’s tourism industry.

Critics of the project are keen to note their support for downtown densification and at least some are willing to support a 10-storey building in this space. Unsurprisingly, the developer seems interested in hearing only specific and small-scale suggestions about the aesthetics and design of the building. They clearly plan to push for 20 storeys and it remains unclear what they are willing to settle for should City Council reject the proposal or seek a compromise.

Mr Firsten did not answer a question about the point at which his company would walk away from the project should they be required to lower their ambitions, but he was frustratingly adamant that there was no way to build an attractive 10-storey building in that space. The public is rightly skeptical of Firsten’s repeated claim that the only architectural possibility for a shorter building at 223 Princess is an “ugly blob.” The available plot is admittedly complex in its layout, but there are other examples of attractive downtown densification projects within blocks of the proposed site. Anna Lane, the new condo building at Queen and Bagot, was a frequent point of comparison, although it sits at the base of the hill and thus folds more organically into the low-rise streetscape of downtown than would a 20-storey building at its top.

I left the meeting with Mr Firsten with a longer list of concerns about the project than I had going in and the feeling that leaving the space empty would be better than building 20 storeys. I also have some hope that with enough pushback, a compromise solution sensitive to the human scale, the heritage feel of the city, and to a diversity of social and economic interests might prevail.

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String Theory + Chaplin + Spencer!

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