Museum expansion puts Canada's historic 'Phoebe' at risk

In Kingston, Ontario, Canada, the historic Pump House Steam Museum is slated to undergo a $1 million expansion that could force the permanent removal of a century-old, city-owned boat from the property.


Staff are proposing to build a two-storey addition at the rear of the waterfront landmark at 23 Ontario Street, Kingston, to provide washrooms, improved accessibility, staff offices, meeting rooms and a new entrance for school children.

“The proposed design of the addition will not have any adverse impact on the heritage value of the property nor will it create any irreversible changes to the significant components of the Pump House,” according to a report by community services commissioner Lanie Hurdle.


The finding is supported by a heritage impact study that concluded the rear addition will not detract from the main street view of building’s 1849 Victorian architecture. However, the 102 year old ‘Phoebe’ steam launch that’s been restored and sheltered at the rear of the property for decades may become a casualty of the expansion. It remains unclear whether the boat will be relocated to another site or placed in storage.

“The addition is happening and the backyard redevelopment is happening and the plan doesn’t include the ‘Phoebe’ in its current location,” said Councillor Peter Stroud, who chairs the heritage committee. The committee approved the building addition at its February 1, 2016 meeting, but the fate of the ‘Phoebe’ will be left to a future staff report expected in June 2016, he added.

Henk Wevers, with the local group, The Friends of the ‘Phoebe’, says local volunteers have donated 20,000 hours of their time between 1998 and 2014 and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore the ‘Phoebe’ and build a timber-framed shelter. He says all of that work could be washed away if the boat is relocated off-site.

The Pump House is one of Canada’s oldest water works that once used steam-driven pumps to draw water from Lake Ontario. It was purchased by the city in 1889 but did not become a museum until the 1970s. The building has operated as a city-owned museum since 1973 and attracts about 10,000 visitors a year to see an important piece of Kingston’s history. 

The City council must still make the final decision on the museum’s planned addition and potential relocation of the Phoebe.

Bill Hutchins, Kingston Heritage


Steam Launch Phoebe

Built in 1914 as a private pleasure craft, Steam Launch Phoebe spent her early years in the Muskoka region of Canada, and five years travelling the Rideau Canal before officially retiring in 1984. Phoebe is located under a timber frame structure built in 2008 by high school students and their teacher.