Skeleton Park: The Little Festival That Could

By Michelle McShane

Nestled at the end of Clergy Street & bordered by three other residential streets is a small neighbourhood park; McBurney Park… affectionately known as Skeleton Park. The history of the park dates back to the early 1800’s, when it was known as the Garrison Burial grounds where apparently both civilians and British & French soldiers were buried, many of whom perished from cholera epidemics.
At some point in its history, the cemetery was converted into a park (after the removal of many of the bodies). In more recent history, remains have been found during construction; hence the nickname Skeleton Park. And of course, it is haunted…
Nine years ago, a small, not‐for profit community run FREE music festival was held at McBurney Park and The Skeleton Park Music Festival was born. Local musicians performed and a few community artists spread their wares on tables with the hopes of selling to festival attendees. I was there that first year, with my then 9 month old son. We spread our blankets out under a tree, enjoyed the musicians and watched children dancing and playing in the playground. We continue to go back every year, my sons danced, had their faces painted and visited the fire truck that parks every year, offering tours to future firefighters. More recently, we have joined in as an art vendor, and my son, now 9 years old works alongside his dad selling his craft.

As my son has grown over these past 9 years, so has the festival. Now run by the Kingston Art Council, The Skeleton Park Arts Festival (note the name change!) is no longer just a one day music festival; it now spans over 10 days throughout Kingston and celebrates all forms of art: music, drama, film, poetry readings, stilt walking (!) and more. Most of the events and workshops offered throughout the 10 days are free to attend. As for the “original” festival… it still happens! On Saturday, June 20, from 10 am until dusk, come on down to Skeleton Park and experience how it all began.
This year’s musical line up at Skeleton Park promises to be a great one! Main stage musicians include (but not nearly limited to) Luther Wright, Gary Rasberry, Oh Susanna and Fred Eaglesmith. But be sure to check out the shows on the “side stage” and the rest of the park, you never really know just what you will find… including break dancing and castles made of boxes.

Photo by Jay Middaugh
Photo by Jay Middaugh
Photo by Jay Middaugh

Pack a picnic, or purchase food from one of the local food vendors, bring your own cups and plates as it is a garbage‐less festival. Bring some cash, you will be delighted by the unique hand crafted treasures you will find (the next day IS Father’s Day) Don’t forget your blanket, lawn chairs and sunscreen. And when dusk arrives, pack up your stuff and head further downtown between The Sleepless Goat & The Toucan for the Street Party… and dance the night away in the middle of Princess Street.