By Henk Wevers
In 1836 and later in 1839 the City of Kingston….publicly debated pumping water by means of “steam propulsion” and “movement by hydraulic means” instead of damming the Cataraqui Creek. During that time the desire to defend purity in public urban space and pure water became recognized as major public health issues. This led to the formation in 1847 of a private company for the purpose of supplying Kingston with piped water for firefighting and personal consumption. The Kingston Water Works received its charter in 1849 at a time when only two other major urban centers had the beginnings of municipal water works, with piped water available for the first time in Montreal since 1801 and Toronto 1841.
The private Water Works Company was only intermittently successful in pumping enough water for firefighting and failed utterly to provide clean water for consumption because it had an intake pipe that was only two hundred feet long and drew-in contaminated water from the lake. It did not satisfy the needs of the citizens and elected officials; the company was bought out by the City in 1887. This followed a pattern at other cities’ privately owned water works. Of the old Kingston Waterworks’ limestone structures only the boiler room has survived and is now an exhibit and seminar room as part of the Pump House Steam Museum. The walking beam engine and water pump installed in 1849 and a new Blake steam driven pump installed in 1886, just before the take-over by the City, have been scrapped in the late 1800s without leaving any illustration, engineering drawings, written documents or photos.
In 1887, the City immediately started the planning process to build a prestigious Romanesque brick and sandstone building with space for two steam driven pumps, at the foot of West Street on Ontario Street adjacent to the original limestone structures of the old pumping station. The architect was Joseph Power, a well-recognized designer of several private mansions and public buildings in Kingston. The building was completed in1889 at a cost of $7,595. (Figure 1)
Figure 1. The Kingston Water Works, the photo was taken in 1901. Viewing the photograph, from right to left: William Vence, retired engineer, Frederik South, Water Works Clerk of the Treasurer’s Office, Assistant Engineer William Cullen, and plumber Felix Lennon. Data from Nadia Arbach.
The first steam driven pump from the Osborne-Killey Company in Hamilton, with a design pumping rating of 2100 gallons per minute, (three million gallons per 24 hours), was installed in 1890. Its price was $11,000 almost twice the cost of the building, an indication that in Victorian times, “high tech” was expensive. The second engine and pump built by the John Inglis and Sons Company of Toronto, with a higher efficiency but more complex Corliss valve system, rated at 2800 gallons per minute, was added in 1896. City statistics dated from 1888 to 1902 show that the water works delivered close to a million gallons of water per day to the newly erected water tower on Tower Street; with the startup of the new pumping station in 1890 that increased to over a million gallons per day. The demand for municipal water rose with the population of the City, and the number of “takers”, to nearly two million gallons per day in 1902. This was well within the pumping capacity of either one of the two steam driven pumps; the excess volume was needed for firefighting when both engines would be put to work. Normally one engine would pump water, mostly from seven in the morning until five in the afternoon. The water tower would then hold enough water to last until the next day.
In 1917 The Hydro Electric Power Commission of Ontario took on the design of an electric pumping station in a lean-to built at the rear of the Kingston Water Works. The new extension showed little regard for the architecture of the original building; the box-like utilitarian structure covered the western half of the rear façade of the historic building, bisecting one of the Romanesque arched windows at the eastern corner of the new addition. (Figure 2)
Figure 2. Rear of the Kingston Water Works in 1912, cropped from a larger photo of the Kingston waterfront looking west. Note in the second photo of 1920, shows the addition built in 1917 to house the two electrically driven centrifugal water pumps. In both photos the original 1849 Kingston Water Works boiler house with the chimney, and the taller engine house, built in limestone, are still present. The taller building housed the walking beam engine and water pump. The houses to the right are the Plumber’s workshop and tenements along Ontario Street.
In the new space, two electrically driven centrifugal pumps were installed in 1918 each with a design capacity of 3500 gallons per minute, allowing the steam driven pumps to go on stand-by. Note that the high capacity electric pumps almost doubled the output per pump while their physical size was much smaller than the Victorian steam driven pumps of the 1890s.
Included in the new design were a shore-based screen house or filter and an adjacent clear water reservoir from where the water would be pumped to the water tower. These two modernizations of the physical plant were not implemented until much later and at another location.
The omnipresent coal bins, not shown in these photos, are outlined to scale on the fire insurance maps of 1908 but are no longer there on the maps of 1947; the latter show coal piled in the open at the rear of the water works . It stands to reason that the bins were not needed after 1917 and were dismantled some years later. The space at the rear and west of the waterworks was then used as a coal dock. Photos and artist’s paintings show the area to the south and west of the building remained a storage area for coal until at least the late 1950s . The fire insurance map of 1963 no longer indicates coal storage at the downtown Kingston Water Works site.
In 1939, consulting engineers Gore & Storrie Ltd. advised the City to build a new water pumping station on King Street at the foot of Beverley Street. After laying the groundwork in 1943 for the new station, the two electrically driven centrifugal pumps, installed in 1917 at the Ontario Street Kingston Water Works, were moved, first one, then later, the other. In that manner both pumps remained functional. The first electrical pump was housed in a temporary shed on the new site and pumped over three million gallons of chlorinated water per day from 1944 to 1953, (Figure 3)
Figure 3. This shed is the earliest beginning, in 1944, of the new water pumping station at the foot of Beverley Street on King Street. One of the two electrically driven pumps, installed in 1917 at the Ontario Street plant, was transferred to the new station. The second pump joined the new station later. Both continue pumping great quantities of water to the City. The electric motor end of the pump can be seen through the open doors of the shed.
In that latter year, the Kingston Water Purification Plant was officially opened in its present day building. There have been several additions and modifications to the water treatment over the years such as modern straining and filtering methods, including active carbon filtering beds and storm water storage tanks, but the two electric pumps from 1917 are still part of the machinery at the station. Recently they were pumping 27,000 cubic meters, or six million gallons per day up to the water tower, 68 meters or 225 feet above shore level. They were humming as happily as in 1917; of course, good maintenance and occasional overhauls made this longevity possible.
From the closing of the Kingston Water Works on Ontario Street in 1944, until the late 1960s the great Victorian building was shuttered and the equipment inside lay dormant, the steam engines and pumps gathering dust and building up corrosion on the exposed steel parts.
The Kingston Whig-Standard, July 12, 1960 reported : “A 70 year old water pumping machine housed in the Ontario St. waterworks building caused quite a stir at a PUC meeting last night. The PUC has decided to demolish the building as it is too costly to repair but felt the old machine, described by PUC chairman ,R.W. Sutton, as a ‘link with the past’, should be saved. ‘It seems a shame to put the wrecker’s hammer to it,’ Mr. Sutton said. The machine was installed in 1890 and was pumping continuously until 1947. The commission finally decided to make efforts to preserve the pump, Queen’s University, McGill University, the government or possibly a museum were suggested as groups which might be interested.”
Sometimes procrastination is a blessing… these plans were not executed.
In 1964 a small group of model engineers, persons interested in building working steam models, such as stationary engines and boilers, historic earth moving machines and steam locomotives, came together at Peter Harrell’s house. Peter taught computer engineering and programming at Queen’s University in their embryonic computer science centre. Present at this first meeting were also Gordon Snider, a QECVI high school vocational teacher, Ted Lawton, millwright at Alcan, the local aluminum company, and Ed Phipps-Walker, “wharfinger” or Kingston’s Harbor Master. From this first meeting grew The Frontenac Society of Model Engineers, (FSME).
Peter writes: “Later we would be joined by the following: Dr. Philip Lowe, bio-medical researcher at Queen’s, Steve Graves, owner of Graves Brothers, a heating and ventilating company in Kingston, Lorne Deane, millwright at Alcan, Jack Telgmann, metrologist at the Canadian Locomotive Company, John O’Gorman, Administrator at City Hall, Ernie Stillson, custodian, Jack Jeffery, retired stationary engineer, Wiggs Cane, retired, Bert Formery, Millhaven Fibres Ltd., George Hill, Picton, ON., Don Redmond, librarian Queen’s University, Horace Goneau, stationary engineer Queen’s University, Frank Ormerod, boiler inspector City of Kingston, and Cam Jones, administrator at Queen’s University.”
This was an eclectic group of science and technology enthusiasts who loved to get their hands dirty and their heads around complex Victorian steam engineering technology. Most men in this group had either a fully equipped machine or instrument shop at home, or had access to one through their work.
Over several years these men discussed not only the many facets of model-engineering, but also the sad state of the old Kingston Water Works on Ontario Street. Then, in May 1969 Jack Telgmann suggested to the members of the FSME, that restoration of the Victorian water works would be a worthwhile project for the club to take on and to enrich the cultural and industrial heritage of the City. Jack was recently retired from the Canadian Locomotive Works when the company closed in June of 1969 and having lots of energy left he spearheaded the idea. Within months members met with the Parks and Recreation Committee, and in July of 1970 the society formally presented its brief to the City.
On a sunny day in August, 1970, a Kingston Whig Standard staff reporter, Duncan Thorne and the three members of the Steering Committee for the restoration of the water works visited the mothballed building. Jack Telgmann together with Gordon Snider and Peter Harrell showed the reporter and photographer around the place. The interior was lighted with one electric light bulb, the windows were shuttered with plywood and they could only find their way around with flashlights.
Jack Telgman mentioned: “We’ve got a lot of knowledge within our group. The City is lucky to have people still living here who know so much about steam.” I bet nobody at City Hall knows how many keys there are. If nothing’s done, soon everything will be gone. This place is being completely denuded.”
The harsh comment was precipitated by the discovery that, since the last inspection, the ornate front of the Venturi Meter was stolen. The Venturi Meter is connected to a narrowing section, the actual venture, in the water discharge water pipe, (Figure 4).
Figure 4. The intake and water discharge pipe-layout of the Kingston Water Works. The Venture meter is located at the right lower. The water intake is at the far left; the larger pipe is the original 1890 municipal water intake pipe for the Osborne-Kelley and Inglis pumps. The parallel pipe above it is a 1917 bypass from the original intake pipe near shore to the electrically driven centrifugal pumps, installed in 1917, at the left in the layout plan.
A pressure differential is created between the throat of the venturi and the pipe; the difference in pressure is proportional to the amount of water discharged. Its basic features can still be seen in an exposed section of the discharge pipe in the lobby of the museum. The Venturi Meter is part of a control console still standing against the north wall of the main engine room, at the head of the steam engines.
The newspaper article quotes other comments. Peter Harrell: “Local architects think this building is a gem; architects want it for the building and we want it for the equipment”; Gordon Snider: “Some people think the museum would be for club’s own use, this is not true, we don’t need a workshop”; Jack Telgmann: “I know this sounds corny, but this is something all the people should get steamed up about, we’ve got everything here, everything falls into place so easily.”
The Parks and Recreation Director, Douglas Fluhrer, was an early supporter of the idea to restore the steam engines and pumps, and estimated that $10,000 would be a reasonable budget for the restoration of the building itself, with the volunteers to finance the restoration of the machinery. The model engineers were asking that the room that had housed the electrical pumps serve as a club room, the area around the building be designated as parkland, and that the society be authorized to select which equipment should stay and what should go.
A staff report entitled “The Pump House, Annual Report ‘The Steam Museum’ 1971”, mentions that Mrs. L. Rowe and Mr. Douglas R. Fluhrer recommended to the Chairman of the City of Kingston Parks, Recreation, and Property Committee on the 19th of December 1970, that the pump house be renovated to accommodate a live steam museum and a shore base for the Brigantine Incorporated. The recommendation was accepted by the committee on the 19th of January, 1971.
The Brigantine Inc., a youth sail training program, spearheaded by Francis MacLachlan, would get the rear section of the building for its storage of the rigging and maintenance of their equipment. The sets of the Domino Theatre that were stored in the building were to be removed.
The excitement at the acceptance of the report to restore the building and pumps was palpable and the FSME members and volunteers started their work immediately on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and on week-end afternoons (Figure 5).
Figure 5. The Osborne-Killey Engine during restoration in 1970-1972, note the partly cleaned flywheel and the white priming coat applied to the cast iron cross head trunk guide.
Local youth were “conscripted” to help with the heavy lifting. Sea Scouts Andy Rush and John Telgmann, son of Jack Telgmann, and other members of the Brigantine Inc. pitched in and worked many Saturdays cleaning out scrap lumber, plaster, bricks and piles of dust, some of it used as fill around the building.
The first Annual Report for 1971 lists the executive members of the FSME: President Col. C.W. Jones, Vice President and Secretary P.W. Harrell, Curator Jack Telgmann, Treasurer Lloyd Haslam, Historian Gordon A. Snider. The society’s membership stands at seventy and continues to grow; the membership list is a virtual “Who’s Who” of teachers, professional engineers, tradesmen, and business people in the City of Kingston.
The City contributed $5,000 towards the repair of the building. Graves Brothers provided assistance with the installation of a gas forced-air heating system enabling the volunteers to work through the winter.
The old boilers were partly dismantled and the Osborne-Killey engine and pumps were reconditioned. The society worked closely with Mr. Douglas Fluhrer and his staff who were most helpful; members of the FSME were grateful for the active involvement of the Director of Parks and Recreation.
On December 16th, 1971, the fledgling museum received a for that time large $30,000 grant under the Federal Aid Program of the Department of Manpower and Immigration’s “Local Initiatives Program”. This enabled the volunteers to hire eleven men (sic), a supervisor and purchase materials for the period December 1971-May 1972. The aim was to turn the restored museum over to the City as a Tercentennial Project in 1973.
The 1972 budget entry in the 1971 Annual Report states: “The coming year will require a great deal of work on the part of the membership of the Society and yet more assistance from private organizations in the area if a ‘Live Steam Museum’ is to be in operation by 1973…The matter of procuring a boiler and fitting-up steam lines, installation of washroom facilities, guard rails, artwork and lettering for titling displays, heat, lights, water and telephone, and …”
The financial statement for 1971 shows total expenditures at $4.802.33. In a clear sign that the restoration activities increased rapidly, the budget for 1972 included $5,000 for the installation of a donated oil fired steam boiler; steam piping was budgeted at $1,800. These were two major items in a total budget of $12,060. The boiler was donated by Millhaven Fibres Inc., and would be converted to natural gas in 1974. (Figure 6)
Figure 6. Jack Telgmann, well dressed for the cold, stands proudly beside the donated oil fired industrial boiler. It is assumed that this is winter 1972 or early spring 1973.
The volunteers of the FSME aimed high and showed great confidence that the goals for the Tercentennial Pump House Steam Museum project would be reached!
In the meantime, the Brigantine Incorporated in a letter to the City of Kingston, dated February 8, 1972, reports “The transformation wrought by these boys was astonishing. Several tons of old water pipes, valves, machine beds, concrete pads chipped out, tunnels filled and a new concrete slab floor poured over a large part of the building…” Francis MacLachlan, Vice-President and Secretary, concludes the report with: “We are delighted with the building and most grateful to the City for making it available.” The organization would later move to the Portsmouth Olympic Harbour on King Street West.
Federal grants in 1972 and 1973 made it possible for the museum to employ ten summer staff to assist the large number of volunteers with the restoration. The activity level must have been exhilarating with the younger summer staff and the numerous volunteers all racing towards the Tercentennial Project deadline in 1973.
The draft budget for 1974 shows the maturing of the Pump House Steam Museum. The revenue side shows three major grants, one from the Canadian Museums Association at $2,000, one from the National Museums Corporation at $12,300 and one handwritten in the draft document as “Appropriation RR Dept., at $5,000 for a total income of $26,300, including estimated “door receipts” of $7,000, a not unsubstantial number. Wages at $15,555 included three “museology” students and Curator at $12,300, two local students costing $1,155, one part-time stationary engineer, fourth class, at $1.500 and a relief fourth class engineer at $600. The other major entry is for boiler fuel, budgeted at $3,000.
In 1976 the FSME received a generous grant from the National Museums of Canada, under the ministry of the Honorable Hugh Faulkner, Secretary of State, to build an extension to the museum. It would be designed to house travelling exhibits in a chain of National Exhibition Centres being built across Canada. The contractor was Friendship Construction, an early supporter of the museum. The addition was designed in red brick to complement the structure built in 1917. It covered the south-east part of the limestone building that was part of the earliest Kingston Water Works, built just before 1849. (Figure 7)
Figure 7. The lake side of the Pump House Steam Museum in 2002. The addition built in 1917 is at the left, the FSME workshop extension in grey cinderblock is in front of it, and towards the right is the brick extension, with the arched double doors, built by the FSME in 1976. The original 1898 rear façade, which is a copy of the front, is completely enclosed by the new extensions, except for the higher centre of the 1898 building. Clearly, preservation of architectural history was not a consideration in the twentieth century.
As part of the official opening a large collection of live steam locomotives, traction engines and stationary engines in various stages of completion was on display to showcase work of the FSME. The newest addition was permanently occupied in 1991 by an electric model train layout built by Klaus Jeckel. The model train set was donated to the City of Kingston in 1988. The working exhibit has now 450 meters of track. Klaus built the track and rolling stock from scratch over a thirty five year period. He housed it at first in his basement and later in a dedicated building adjacent to his house. The “train room” is now a well-organized and popular working exhibit with some hands-on smaller exhibits.
While Curator Jack Telgmann was the driving force in the museum, he and several members of the FSME enjoyed other aspects of steam power. Jack and Dr. David Wanklyn built a steam driven Calliope, a great public relations idea. It performed in the Kingston Santa Claus Parades and in 1982 it played at the Toronto Exhibition Grounds, a powerful attraction and working advertisement for the Pump House Steam Museum in Kingston. The whistle arrangement in the steam organ was acquired by Jack from a group of volunteers who were involved in the preservation of a river boat in the USA. Jack and David Wanklyn spearheaded the building of the carriage and the incorporation of a small steam boiler. While it was very difficult to play and always out of tune, it was a “hoot”.
Among the same group of museum volunteers, several, including Jack Telgmann and David Wanklyn, had also private steam boats. In 1973 during the Canada Day celebrations in July, they organized the first North American Steam Boat Flotilla in and around Kingston’s inner harbor and on the Rideau Canal, showing off their private steamers in friendly races and in sail pasts for the public. This became an annual event and culminated in 1982 with the 150th anniversary of the Rideau Canal when several boats travelled to Ottawa.
In 1978 Jack and a group of volunteers arranged the purchase by the FSME of the historic 48-foot wooden steam launch Phoebe, over the objections of several of its members who felt that she would be a too large a financial and physical liability to maintain. The Phoebe was built in the early part of 1914 by the Davis Dry Dock Company at Kingston. She was bought from the estate of A. S. Wickstrom, of Skaneateles NY with the assistance of a grant of $13,000 US by the Canadian Department of National Museums, plus a contribution of $1,600 by the FSME.
The safety water tube boiler of the Phoebe complemented the land based fire tube boilers and as such the acquisition supplemented the many steam engines, steam driven electrical generators, the triple expansion Davis marine engine, and many more acquisitions in the “Engineerium”. These examples of steam power added to the Inglis and Osborne-Kelley steam engines and pumps in the main engine room of the museum.
In the summer of 1979, volunteers swarmed under and over the historic wooden boat to repair her for a return to the water to participate in the Kingston steam boat regattas.
The Phoebe left Confederation Basin in May of 1982 for Ottawa to lead the parade of boats from Dows Lake to the very downtown of the City of Ottawa, at the head of the locks leading down to the Ottawa River, as part of the 150th anniversary festivities. The event drew thousands of spectators around Confederation Basin, at the Kingston Mills lock station, all along the Rideau Canal and most of all in downtown Ottawa. After the festivities, on her return home she experienced several problems including a leaking garboard and a couple of groundings on shallow lakes just outside the canal markings. (Figure 8)
Figure 8. Triumphant departure of the historic steam launch Phoebe from Confederation Basin in 1982. She was heading for Ottawa via the Rideau Canal, to participate in the 150th anniversary of the opening of the canal. Parks Canada organized a parade of historic boats from Dow’s Lake to the head of the locks in Ottawa; Phoebe was the lead boat in this parade.
In 1983, Jack Telgmann, Gordon Snider and several steam boat enthusiasts were reaching the end of their physical abilities to maintain and operate the steam launch. At the same time their preoccupation with the Phoebe led to more and more friction with the other members of the FSME who felt that too much time and effort was spent on the steam launch, at the detriment of other museum activities. On July 2nd, 1983, after a difficult three day outing to Clayton NY, across the lake from Kingston, to participate in the annual classic and antique boat show, Jack and Gordon had a fall-out as a result of some minor misunderstanding and some longer standing friction between the two men. A personal letter from Jack Telgmann, dated February 1, 1984, to Gordon Snider shows in a touching style the tensions that existed among the aging volunteers who were in charge of the museum, including the Phoebe. In closing Jack writes: “As curator of a museum you have to get used to taking unnecessary heat. I’ve sure had my share of heat and all sorts of horrible things attributed to me, but the formation of a Board of Management that I’ve always wanted should help. I have wanted to be relieved of that job for five years. One of the duties of the board will be to find a replacement while I’m still available to tell them what and where the valves are to drain etc. I will be 73 this month. Sincerely, Jack.”
In the summer of 1984 Cogeco Television made a documentary of the museum, interviewing Jack Telgmann, the “Curator Retired”. The documentary also introduces Ron York as the newly appointed Curator. Ron York had worked the summer before in the museum and had fallen in love with the steam engines and boilers. He was a licensed stationary steam engineer and fully qualified to run the live steam displays that were a major tourist attraction. Ron mentions in the video that many visitors are “steam buffs” and Jack indicates that the annual number of visitors peaked at between 15,000-20,000, with many coming from the USA. He refers to plans by the Federal Government to give the museum the title “National Museum of the Age of Steam in Canada”, but at the same time he expresses his worries that this may not happen. Jack mentions that 1984 seems to be slower because of the economic downturn and the related lack of tourists, especially from the USA. The video shows Jack sitting down, looking old.
Jack’s tone and appearance perks up when he mentions to the interviewer that twenty eight steam boats sailed up the Rideau to Ottawa and back to Kingston and that the informal steam regattas of the 1970s and early 1980s had become the Steam Boat Flotilla Association with seventy six members from the USA and Canada. He emphasizes that this is the first year the Phoebe has been left in storage. Change is in the winds…
In October 1984, the FSME issues a report entitled “The ‘Phoebe’— An Appreciation”. In it they state the background of her acquisition, the fact that the society had invested to this date $6,000.00 “or so” in her maintenance and repairs. The report aims at providing a basis for discussion on the future of the Phoebe. It lists several severe problems with her support in the boat house at the rear of the museum: a leaking hull, and the almost impossibility of making repairs. Six options are suggested: simply abandoning the vessel; making her part of a static display; only making cosmetic repairs that would not result in making her seaworthy; contract her repair out to a qualified shipyard with initial costs in the tens of thousands of dollars, followed by a considerable annual maintenance bill to protect the investment; donate the vessel to a Federal, Provincial or Municipal Government or to another museum; or, finally, put the vessel up for sale. In the conclusion it says; “A decision must be made soon because the vessel is becoming more derelict the longer she sits in the slip.” ,
At the same time as concern about the Phoebe comes to a head, a letter from the City of Kingston dated November 21, 1985 to Gordon Snider introduces a draft Feasibility Study for the Steam Museum by H.M. Sardinha Architect, 218 Wellington Street, Kingston, Ontario. The study is commissioned to assess the physical needs of the museum: foundations, water ingress in the basement, floors, roofing, masonry, windows and doors, plumbing, heating and ventilating, steam condensation, electrical and lighting. A budget of $125,539 is recommended for repairs and restoration. There is no documentation to indicate that in the following years the recommendations were followed up. It is certain from later observations that the remedial work to prevent water rising in the basement of the main engine room was never completed. However, since the roof finish in the report was defined as “cement-asbestos corrugated panels”, it is clear that the original 1890 roof was replaced at least once at a time when asbestos was generally used in construction, during the 1930s-1950s. And, because the asbestos corrugated roof was leaking in many places, the recommendation to replace the roof finish with a galvanized steel product was most certainly followed up. Other work was likely delayed or never done, an assumption supported by personal observations of the building envelope in the late 1990s.
The letter and important information in the report is personally addressed to Gordon Snider, which seems to indicate that he still had influence in the organizational matters of the museum at a time when Jack Telgmann had just stepped down as the Curator, passing his position on to the newly appointed Curator-Engineer Ron York, on salary with the City.
In the meantime, there is no evidence that any action was taken with respect to the delicate state of the steam launch Phoebe since the 1984 high alert from the FSME. It is apparent that she was left abandoned in her slip at the rear of the museum until 1986, when the FSME executive took matters in their own hands, bypassing Jack Telgmann and Gordon Snider.
On December 3, 1986, the FSME sent a letter to Douglas Fluhrer the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation: “At a recent meeting of the Frontenac Society of Model Engineers it was decided that the Society no longer has the human and financial resources for the maintenance of the steam launch ‘Phoebe’. This situation also precludes our being able to provide an operating crew should the Vessel ever be restored to operating condition. Under these circumstances the Society is willing to transfer ‘Phoebe’ to the City of Kingston for the sum of One Dollar ($1.00), in the hope that you may be successful in obtaining a grant for restoration. This offer is made on the assumption that it is considered desirable for ‘Phoebe’ to remain in Kingston, her place of origin.” The letter was signed by G.Buddles, Secretary-Treasurer FSME.
The answer from Mr. Fluhrer arrived five days later, on December 8, 1986, sent to Gordon Snider, and not to G.Buddles, with a copy to R.J.Smith, Supervisor of Facilities and P.N.Lawson, Director of Operations. It reads: “The attached letter comes as no surprise to me, but it does raise some very complicated considerations, if the City is going to consider accepting this offer. For starters, this is the typical gift the average group cannot afford to keep up, and if accepted, we are no exception to this situation. I know that you, Gordon, had a lot to do with the Phoebe, way back, and hence have a good idea about what is involved just to keep the boat in storage, wet or dry. Perhaps the three of us could get together soon to give this matter our combined attention.” Signed: “Douglas R. Fluhrer, Commissioner, Parks & Recreation.”
Note that the letter/memorandum is directed to Gordon Snider, museum volunteer-historian, longtime friend of Jack Telgmann, and not to the Secretary-Treasurer of the FSME who had sent the letter, offering the Phoebe to the City of Kingston, in the first place. There is confusion in the management of the museum and in the communication between the City Commissioner Fluher, the FSME and the key volunteers who established the museum. It is also a sign of tensions between members supporting the steam launch Phoebe and the members of the FSME who were more supportive of live steam in the museum and pursuing their club activity of constructing and running model steam locomotives on a 3.5 inch gage track at the rear of the Pump House Steam Museum.
The Phoebe would become a “stranded asset” of the City of Kingston.
In the meantime, Ron York, Curator, operated live steam at the museum during the tourist season from 1984 to 1991. It was the only museum in Canada to showcase Victorian steam technology in this manner. The museum operated Tuesday through Sunday. The spring opening started in mid-March and the fall season ended mid-November. Ron assisted with dock and site maintenance at the Olympic Harbour during the winter months. (Figure 9)
Figure 9. Ron York, Curator, holding Osborne-Killey model in front of real engine and pump. From Kingston This Week, August 11, 1990.
Douglas Fluhrer, a committed and commonsense “can-do” supporter of the museum, retired from his position of Director of Parks and Recreation on May 6, 1991. He then was appointed by Council on a part time contract to continue his work until July 31, when a new director was expected to be in place. On June 10, 1991, members of Council received a short list of candidates, for the position of Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, selected by the Search Committee from a list of 130 applicants! Brian Sheridan, who would become the new Commissioner and who would propose to drastically change the status of the Pump House Steam Museum, was not on this list…
In the report of the Committee of the Whole “In Camera”, July 9, 1991, the motion to approve the appointment of Mr. Brian Sheridan, effective September 3, 1991, to Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, was carried. However in third reading in Council Meeting, July 30, Alderman Bennett opposed the bylaw to appoint Brian Sheridan as Commissioner, “not because he disapproved of his appointment, but because the candidate who was not on the list of those who had applied and was not on the short list of candidates…received privileged access to resumes, personal information and interview results on the short-listed candidates.” It appears that Brian Sheridan was already employed by the City and seemed to have the inside track? The motion was carried with Alderman Wilson abstaining. A by-law to execute the contract “Between the Corporation of the City of Kingston and Brian Sheridan, (Commissioner of Parks and Recreation Position)” was approved at the same meeting. With that decision Brian Sheridan would take over from Doug Fluhrer on September 3, 1991.
Brian Sheridan’s first appearance on the list of staff attending Council meetings was on September 24, 1991. At that meeting Mr. R. K. Fiebig, City Treasurer and Acting Chief Administrative Officer, made a presentation to Council entitled: ”1991 Budget -The Process- The Challenge-The Decisions.” It is clear from the abbreviated Council minutes report that several budget cutbacks were proposed for Council’s approval. Was this an ominous sign for the continued operation of the Pump House Steam Museum in a year when the US Savings and Loan crisis led to the 1990-92 recession, demanding cutbacks in the City’s operating expenses?
In late 1991 museum season, the new commissioner was introduced to the curator of Pump House Steam Museum at which occasion Douglas Fluhrer addressing the commissioner, said: “From now on this is all yours…”
Late 1991 or very early 1992 City Council was informed by staff that funding for the museum needed to be curtailed as lack of funds at Parks and Recreation did not warrant the operation of the museum by the City. Council approved staff’s plan, according to a 2005 report to the Community Services Committee discussing this past agreement: “to move the PHSM to an arms-length operation in 1992, City Council approved a new lease agreement by which the MMGLK’s, (Marine Museum of the Great Lakes), Board assumed the full responsibility for the management of the PHSM on behalf of the City of Kingston…since 1992, Council has approved payment of $64,439.80 annually for the combined operation both sites.”
Council minutes of December 10, 1991 show that appointments to the Pump House Steam Museum Board of Directors have been deferred, with Alderman Jim Neill and Director of Parks and Recreation Mr. B. Sheridan remaining on the Board for the time being.
Jim Neill opposed, without success, the transfer to an arms-length management of the Pump House Steam Museum.
Ron York, museum volunteers and many supporters of the museum heard the news for the very first time when Council approved this drastic measure and the local newspapers reported it. The transition of a live steam museum to a museum with static exhibits, only open during the summer season and managed on a unrealistically low budget by the Marine Museum, a charitable organization itself, was difficult to comprehend by those directly involved with the Pump House Steam Museum. The poor communication with the volunteers and especially with the Curator of the museum about his termination of the museum’s management, and its transfer to a private organization, has affected the enthusiasm of the earlier museum volunteers and members of the FSME ever since.
The 1992 transfer of the museum management opened a different phase in the history of the Pump House Steam Museum which will be described in a separate, second part, of this paper. This second article will discuss socio-political issues from 1992 to current, based on an extensive oral and physical database.
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