Ontario Street: Brewers, Bakers and Boilermakers, 1830-1970

I liked it. I liked the alliteration. It drew me to the PumpHouse to see what their special exhibit was all about. Did they ever make beer at the PumpHouse? What about bread? I had visited the PumpHouse when I was a university student at Queen’s many years ago, but I don’t recall anything about a brewery or a bakery being part of the history of this fine 19th century building. I just remember that the PumpHouse was built to pump water from Lake Ontario.

Credit: Sean McEvoy

I soon learned that the exhibit was a step back into history to explore who lived and worked on Ontario Street. Brewers, bakers and boilermakers were among the neighbours of the PumpHouse. Covering the period of 1830 to 1970, the exhibit brings together a wide variety of artifacts and historical photos that capture the activity and life on Ontario Street.

Credit: Library and Archives, Canada

The way it was set up appealed to me. I could start at one end of the street – I chose the Pumphouse end – and then move along the display to see what was on Ontario Street as if I was heading northeast toward what is now the LaSalle Causeway. This was a street busy with commercial activity in the 19th century, many of the businesses benefiting from Kingston’s unique position as a transhipment point. Ships that plied the great lakes could not handle the St. Lawrence River.  As the railway gained in importance, the Canadian Locomotive Works on Ontario Street began churning out steam locomotives for the Grand Trunk Railway, producing the first one in 1854. By 1878, the company was known as the Canadian Locomotive and Engine Company Ltd.

Credit: Sean McEvoy

My eyes were drawn to a photo from roughly 1880 that showed an interesting building on the corner of Ontario Street and Johnson Street. I knew it as a restaurant, but I learned it was originally Hanley Station, a passenger depot for the Grand Trunk Railway. If you’d had asked me before my visit to Ontario Street: Brewers, Bakers and Boilermakers, 1830-1970 about a train station on Ontario Street, I would have thought of the one across from City Hall. That one was owned by the Kingston and Pembroke Railway, a company that competed with the Grand Trunk Railway for passenger traffic.

Credit: Queen’s University Archives

Heading northeast along the display, I got to see stunning black and white historical photos of Ontario Street. At the far end was the Penny Bridge, so named because that was the toll to cross to Barriefield. There is also an interesting aerial photo of the firehall in 1890 taken from the dome of City Hall showing the industrial and commercial buildings that surrounded it then. This exhibit was on at the PumpHouse until Saturday, November 23, 2019.

Credit: Sean McEvoy

Credit for feature photo at the top: The PumpHouse, City of Kingston

Written By: Helen Cutts, KAM Visitor in Residence

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