Partnership Success Story: Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour - RTO 9

Partnership Success Story: Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour

Each year, RTO 9 works with a selected group of tourism operators and stakeholders in a Partnership Funding program. These partnerships further our collective success in attracting tourists, (visitors that are travelling more than 40 km) to the South Eastern Ontario region, growing revenue for businesses, and fostering strategic alliances. 

One of our partners for 2020/2021 was the Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour for their Cataraqui Boatyard project. The overall goal of the Cataraqui Boatyard Project (sub-group of the Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour) was to educate and excite the public about Canada’s oldest continuous boat building location – Kingston Inner Harbour. In 2020, a replica was made of one of Canada’s historic boats, an authentic Algonquin Birch Bark Canoe, by canoe builder Chuck Commanda, Algonquin Traditional Knowledge Keeper. 

Here is our post partnership interview with Mary Farrar, President at Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour, on their experience with the RTO 9 Partnership Fund.

You were awarded Partnership Funding last year. Can you tell us a little about your project and what your goals were?

Mary: Our project was the community build of a traditional Algonquin birch bark canoe. We paid Chuck Commanda, Algonquin’s traditional knowledge keeper, to collect the materials and lead the build. It was an amazing experience with 2/3 Indigenous participants and 1/3 non-Indigenous. A real exercise in Truth and Reconciliation. It took place in Kingston’s Inner Harbour. We rented a large tent. It was easily accessible from the waterfront path. Parking was available. We had volunteers to answer questions from the public. COVID protocols were in place. Many visitors were completely blown away by the art and skill involved. A wonderful opportunity for local citizens and tourists to learn more about Indigenous culture.

What changes did you need to make when the pandemic arrived?

Mary: The pandemic had arrived before we started. COVID protocols were in place: masks, hand sanitizing, signing in for contact tracing. However, at the last minute, the plans we had for feeding 200 people a feast that was to occur along with the official launch day, as well as a large event in the park including displays and workshops, had to be cancelled and replaced with a small 25 person event.

How important was the partnership with RTO 9 in the overall success of your project?   

Mary: Extremely important! The RTO9 grant helped pay for tent rentals, birch bark canoe creator Chuck Commanda’s fee, social media advertising, local Indigenous drummers and singers, a photographer, and a videographer. Given that we had to cancel the final large event weekend, instead, we paid a local Indigenous consultant to create a special 3 hour nationwide TV broadcast publicizing both our 3-week canoe build and also Algonquin Culture.

What, if any, plans do you have for the future regarding your project?

Mary: Our canoe has already featured in a waterfront sail-past event featuring 5 “floats” In addition, it was featured in a Marine Museum of the Great Lakes event welcoming Theodore Too the tugboat. It is currently on display in an exhibit at the Marine Museum and we were part of an online Zoom presentation about the build.Its home is with the Limestone Board’s alternative Indigenous school where Indigenous students have adopted the canoe as a fellow classmate. Plans are afoot for public access for rides in traditional birch bark canoes this coming season. Plans are afoot for participation in a “Canoe Stories” event taking place in Ottawa, Kingston, and Peterborough. When COVID is over, we plan on more Inner Harbour builds including a voyageur canoe, a batteau, and ultimately a replica of the Frontenac, the first European-style boat built in Kingston’s Inner Harbour. We are currently creating a series of film shorts for promotion at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival.

Are you a tourism operator interested in learning more about our Partnership Fund? Connect with our Director Experiential Tourism Development, Lori McIsaac at to learn more about this opportunity!