Neighbours looking out for neighbours
How does an organization without any rules or funding become an incredible success? And who would ever think a graveyard was a wonderful place for an arts festival?
There’s a special place in Kingston that manages to be both. It’s called McBurney Park − also known as Skeleton Park − that sits on what was once the city’s main cemetery in the North End of Kingston. (The park is named after James A. McBurney, a former principal of Central Public School, an elementary school in the heart of the neighbourhood.)
Residents of the area are loosely connected to one another through an informal community organization called The McBurney Park Neighbourhood Association of Kingston. The association has a unique method of engaging the neighbours.
“Our association has no bylaws, no registration, no legal status,” says Kate Thomas, co-ordinator of the McBurney Park Association. “We just have people who live in the neighbourhood and who are interested in looking after the neighbours.”
The association’s mission is “safety and having fun,” but even that isn’t written down, she adds.
The McBurney Park Association was founded about 20 years ago following a pedestrian accident on Queen Street that was blamed on dangerous driving. A group of neighbours decided to approach City Hall about installing a traffic light to help slow drivers. That’s how the association started and continues to operate.
“We don’t need funding to go to City Hall and say we need a streetlight,” says Kate. “We just need people to be organized and to [be willing to] say anything.”
“There’s usually an issue that arises that causes people to say, we must get together and organize to tell somebody that we like or don’t like something.”
McBurney Park resident Jamie Swift, a local writer and activist, recalls how the community rallied to raise money to replace several old trees that were destroyed during the 1998 ice storm.
Having a common cause tends to be the glue that brings the neighbourhood together, he says.
The association is perhaps best known for the four-day Skeleton Park Arts Festival, an annual event that takes place around the first day of summer, June 21, which is also the longest day of the year. The celebrations include children’s games, talent demonstrations, multi-cultural displays, food vendors, and live music.
There’s always a party in the park on Hallowe’en and an Easter egg hunt in the spring. Also in spring, volunteers bring trowels and hoes to tidy and prepare the community garden beds.
The association’s roots are planted firmly in community members helping community members. It is about engaging people by doing tasks that can look small but have a great impact on the community, Kate says.
“People watch out for each other but not in an organized fashion.”
− Komal Parekh, Gagandeep Kaur, Parth Patel, Meet Acharya
McBurney Park Neighbourhood Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2366053462/
McBurney Park Neighbourhood Association Twitter feed: @McBurneyParkNA
McBurney Park Neighbourhood Association Blog: https://skeletonpark.wordpress.com/
McBurney Park history: https://www.cityofkingston.ca/city-hall/projects-construction/mcburney-park