The Positive Vibe of a University Town

By Cam Mather

I have an “H.B.A.” You’re probably thinking that’s an “Honors Bachelor of Arts.” Well, in my world it means “Half a B.A.” because that’s how many credits I’ve got. After my R.B.D. (Radio Broadcasting Diploma) from Loyalist College I went to Queen’s University in Kingston as a mature student in Commerce. And yes, Michelle will tell you I couldn’t pass for “mature” at 52, so how I got in at 22 on that basis continues to amaze us both.

I lasted at Queen’s for one year and decided that 3 more years just wasn’t for me. So Michelle and I got married that June and drove across Canada and down to California for our honeymoon. We camped, had no money, no jobs to come back to and it was one of the most memorable times of my life.

1982-honeymoon-camping

I enjoyed some aspects of my time at Queen’s and when we found this place we were thrilled that it meant moving back towards Kingston. It’s about an hour’s drive to get to downtown Kingston for us. Michelle I love Kingston. Michelle did her B.Ed, (Bachelor of Education) degree at Queens and then she worked as a supply teacher at schools and daycares while I was getting my taste of university life.

Needless to say, our income was pretty limited in those days. (Now that I think about it, it was probably pretty similar to our income now. I guess it was good practice!) One of our favorite stories to show just how broke we were involves a craving for Burger King. A ferry ride from Kingston will take you to Wolfe Island, and so one day all those years ago, Michelle and I decided to take the ferry across and explore the island on our bicycles. It was a long hot day and so on our way home I started rambling on about how much I was craving a Burger King burger. (In the context of how I eat now, this is hard to admit but I was young and unenlightened back in those days.)

By the time we got home I had whipped us into a veritable frenzy to eat at Burger King.  We both checked our wallets to see if we had enough money for a burger dinner. Nope. So we checked some drawers and even the back of the couch, but we couldn’t come up with enough change for even one burger! And of course in those days banks were closed on the weekends and there were no ATMs. Can you imagine not being able to come up with such a piddly amount of cash? I’m sure our colons thanked us. It was still a great time of our lives.

So moving back to Eastern Ontario has been pretty great.

There’s something energetic about a town or city that has a university or college in it. A lot of that is the sheer number of young people. Queen’s University has over 23,000 students (including undergrad, graduate and part-time students.) The campus is located near the downtown, which means that Kingston has a healthy, thriving, vibrant downtown. This is not the case in most Canadian cities, as big box stores and malls have drawn shoppers away from the downtown businesses.

University towns also attract cool cultural activities. Kingston has a symphony, The Grand Theatre, the K-Rock Centre for hockey and big name bands (Elton John performed there) and an independent movie theatre called “The Screening Room” where alternative/independent movies are shown.

Right now in the office I listen to “98.9 The Drive,” Kingston’s Alternative Rock Station. The programming seems to be aimed directly at Queen’s Students. It’s pretty awesome! I sit here working on eBooks and listening to music that makes me feel like I’m working on some school project like back when I was 20.

Recently Michelle and I took a supply run to Kingston with about a dozen stops on the agenda. We needed to pick up some parts for my chainsaw, drop some books to Renewable Energy of Plum Hollow, go to the bank, pick up some potting soil… oh and of course we needed to hit the thrift shops. Our friend Heidi had reminded us about the Habitat for Humanity store that has used building materials. I got a whack of stuff for the new chicken coop for a fraction of what I’d have to pay for new.

Michelle had purchased a Groupon for a restaurant called Café India so we decided to use the coupon at the end of our errands. It’s downtown on Princess St. on a corner close to Queen’s. It was a Friday in March and it was about 20°C! It was sooo warm. It seemed as though every Queen’s student (none of whom have classes on Fridays I suspect) was on Princess Street. Many of them were in Starbucks, making it a little more difficult than usual for me to pick up the coffee grounds that I use on my new blueberry bushes.

So we took a window seat to people watch. And it was fun. So many styles! An awful lot of shorts being worn for March! A lot of young women wearing tall books. And according to my wife, there were many cute guys. She was pointing them out to me. Thanks Michelle. So we sat eating delicious Indian food and watched the people walk by. For people who live 4 miles from their nearest neighbors, this was a pretty big deal.

There was a vibe, a really positive and jubilant vibe in downtown Kingston. It was partly the weather, since it was warm. Crazy warm for March. The school year is almost over and the following day it would be St. Patrick’s Day so I got the sense (judging by the amount of beer and liquor store bags being carried by so many) that some celebrating might be in order.

This time of year always makes me nostalgic for school. So does the fall, when it always seems like I should be going back to school. Post secondary education is such a privilege. After Queen’s I took courses at various other universities while I was working full-time. I studied Fortran and Cobol (programming languages) at McMaster University in Hamilton. Then it was Cost Accounting correspondence classes from Wilfred Laurier University and Business Management from Trent University.

All this to say that with my year at Queen’s and other credits, I’m about halfway to a B.A. by now. Some universities offer free tuition for students sixty-five and older! So if I can figure out some carbon-free way of getting Kingston every day (or the 2 days a week most students seem to have classes) I’m going to finish my degree. And it’s going to be awesome to be around all those young people every day. I think I’ll finish my degree in Gender Studies. I’m a feminist. Also, I figure the male to female student ratio will be heavily weighted in my favor.

2 Responses to “The Positive Vibe of a University Town”

  • Cathy:

    What a nice picture of that young couple camping. Why don’t we look like that anymore?

    A farmer that buys potting soil is a farmer with money to burn.

    When do you hit 65? I think your Gender Studies class mates wouldn’t be interested in a 65-something computer geek/farmer, even if he is a life long learner. But then again would you be there to learn or would you think you already have “life experience” and all the answers? Ask your daughter if they’d like to go to university with dear ol’ Dad.

    Those cute young things will be looking for MRS. Degrees with testoserone juiced MR.Studly types. Yes college was “the good ol’ days” and there may be room for old farts in the classroom, but trust me, they will not be looking for grandfatherly advise. Were you at their age?

  • Gerrit Botha:

    We lived in Kingston for three years. It is a nifty city which has all the amenities and hasn’t lost the old town charm.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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