The Elm Cafe, Kingston, Ontario

And so another rock has been thrown though another window (actually the door, this time) of the  lovely and important Elm Cafe at the corner of Charles St and Montreal St, north of McBurney Park and east of the fruit belt. What is that, three now?


I want to situate the place for you because most of the city’s population likely wouldn’t know which way to go if I told them that this was the best place in Kingston now (along with The Juniper) to go for your coffee and sandwiches, and cookies and desserts, and atmosphere, and even decor (have you seen that lemon-yellow beast of a coffee machine?).


The Elm has been open less than a year, and it’s become already something of an institution for those of us who live in the neighbourhood. This part of town has long needed an anchor like this, a place to hang out, and a place lovely enough in its aspirations and its achievements that the whole area ends up elevated slightly, beautified and enriched by its existence.


I’m grateful, I really am, to Logan and Matt, the owners, for believing in these still-humble streets, and in the people who live here. They believe in the area and in what they’re doing. And that’s true even after this latest stupid bit of vandalism. On Facebook this afternoon there was already talk of a community fund-raising effort to save them the insurance deductible. There is a common understanding that they’re not getting rich with this business and need our help right now, just as these city blocks need them to keep doing exactlv what they’re doing in order for us to evolve, to become once again the sort of sociable and caring neighbourhood that relied in years gone by on the Olympia Diner and the No Frills grocery store, its million rats and all.


But clearly not everyone agrees. Someone suggested today that it has to do with that corner in particular, and pointed out that the old laundromat had bars on the windows. But I don’t think that's it. I did wonder briefly whether it was the glass itself, the great big inviting panes of it, like catnip I reckon to a kid with a rock in his pocket. But its not that simple either. The Rexall drug store down the street has bigger windows and a much surlier presence, to my mind. I rememberer being pissed when it opened, with its windows largely covered up, as if its operators wanted our money but didn’t trust us not to dive in head-first if we could actually see the shelves all loaded up with Tylenol and Ex-Lax. The message seemed to be that they just didn’t like us, or trust us very much. I’ve never set foot in the place for that reason. But The Elm isn’t like that. Its approach to the world is one of inclusiveness, of humility and generosity. It’s what we need right now, I’m convinced of it.


But what is undeniable is that there are those who seem to resent the cafe’s presence, or to feel threatened by it. And that has to do, I think, with change, with all the gentrification that has taken place in this part of town over the last decade. Houses around here, a lot of them, have doubled in value. Contractors and renovators are lined up around the block. Volvos are appearing in driveways (guilty!) rather than old bikes just getting leaned against the wall. And rents are going up. Lots of good people who have lived here for an awful long time are feeling pressured to move further north because it’s more affordable. They see The Elm as a threat to their lives close to the downtown core. They don’t give a shit about espresso. They care about the fact that if they move, they’ll be an expensive bus ride rather than a walk from the shops and their jobs. Because that’s what gentrification is all about, right? One population is displaced as another moves in.


I like to say that I live here on Charles St precisely because of the diverse population. And it really is true. I love my neighbours. But what’s also true and undeniable is that I’m here because the living is relatively easy. I’ve got it good. But another part of the population isn’t feeling that love these days. And I understand completely why that’s true.


When there was talk last year that the new high school might get built out behind the beer store down near the end of Bagot St letters flew in, nearly on fire, from people suggesting that they might as well build the school on Mars. The fear and loathing for this whole area was writ large in those nasty little diatribes. Rarely have I been so aware that the old north-south divide was still going strong in Kingston. I was embarrassed and I was angry. And maybe what we’re seeing now, in this shattered pane of glass and duct tape, is another facet of all the old shit that divides us. It aint pretty, and it’s a crying shame. So when The Elm gets a new window (and I’ll be helping with that, when the crowdfunding effort gets going) I’ll be pleased as punch. But it doesn’t mean that everything’s perfect around the inner harbour, or that everyone’s happy.



The Elm Cafe

I have stopped in here a couple of times and thought it was a great place to sit down and have a cuppa. The desserts are amazing but I was able to resist. I will try to stop in more as I want to support such a unique place. Thanks Mark for reminding me of this bright spot on a largely lacklustre street.

Elm cafe

Haven't been there but my daughter praises it up nicely! I grew up right in that exact neighbourhood though, James St, just one block over. Your location was a laundromat way back then even, (I was born in 58...shhhh.,) our grocer was Bennett's and Cecil's Billiards which eventually gave way to Olympia. Recall was there and every Morhers Day I bought my Mom a powder puff there with my change. I attended Robert Meek School, so did my Mom as a child. That area holds such fond memories. The families in the area were very large, I myself had 9 brothers/ 0 sisters. You had to be tough to live in that area, Mommy did not come running to your side every time you had a problem. Calvary United Church was our Oasis and Reverend Thrasher showed us that we all had potential and meaning in this life. Most of us left of course. We grew, we matured, we found jobs, and started a new life. Many never left. They stayed on with their parents, no doubt cared for them until they were unable to stay in the home any longer. My own brothers dug their roots deep into the neighbourhood long after the family home was torn down. I get it. I get why some can't accept change. The world is moving and changing at a rapid rate, some people can't bear to see the old neighbourhood getting a facelift. Times have fallen hard on many in that area, life hasn't been kind in many ways. I love the idea of a cool shop such as yours as it would fit nicely into my lifestyle as it is today. The neighbourhood has so much potential but not everyone can afford the style of living that these changes bring. Keep up the great work, you're living in a very special part of Kingstons history- my history.

Broken door

Surely as a community there must be a handy person to reach out and help to replace the glass. I recommend " Greens" for the glass . A down town excellent glass shop. Only a few blocks away. Perhaps we should all make an extra effort to stop by and purchase an extra coffee for support.
I disagree with your statement " a kid with a rock in his pocket"
There are no kids in this neighbourhood out at night ,especially a rainy ,cold one . Let's not label our kids .Its hard enough growing up here as it is!
Support the cafe!

As above

Hi Mark..How are you Old Friend..?

I watched the construction of this place from the beginning
I saw pride care and craftsmanship going into a labour of Love..
With such grey dark surroundings it stands as a doorway to something nice.
Something cozy,and something caring.
Why anyone would wish to tear this down is baffling..
What is it that makes someone so angry, blind and so wilful minded..?
I have little doubt that this is done by one individual for whatever reason he felt slighted..
Hopefully he might eventually find some inner peace and get the help I think he desperately needs ..
We have lost many local family business due to overly ridiculous rents ,and more primarily community support.Neighbourhood support.Individual support.That IS community ,and folks really need to stand behind it .Action not talk...Cheers..

Elm Windows...

FYI... No rocks were used this time, one person with a hammer. (proof on security camera footage) Its darker than drunk idiots. This violence was planned.

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