5 Must-See Museums in Kingston

By Patrick Bisson

Kingston is Canada’s museum capital with something for everyone at our 20 museums and national historic sites. It’s all here, from small, specialized museums to national historic treasures.
Discover Canada’s nautical heritage at the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes, including the 3,000 tonne ice breaker Alexander Henry or explore the Canadian tradition of hockey on display at the International Hockey Museum featuring memorabilia from top-calibre NHL players (rumour has it that hockey started in Kingston). 
Experience Kingston’s past first hand at one of its many fascinating museums. Many sites offer guided tours, special programs and exhibits for children throughout the year.

Pump House Steam Museum

The Pump House Steam Museum offers learning events throughout the season for museum-goers of all ages. Drop-in programming for families, tours and special events for school and camp groups, lectures and programs for adults, and a number of free days, when the museum is accessible to all. The Pump House Steam Museum is adding even more science, tech, engineering, arts and mathematics to their programming – putting the S.T.E.A.M in the Museum! Through new programming and exhibitions, its clear that the museum is devoted to providing a space where kids can play and learn. Check out their current exhibits below:

Ashes to Innovation: Fighting Fires in Kingston

Limestone City has been plagued by fire since its foundation. Find out how fire has shaped Kingston – and how firefighters have learned to use science and technology to prevent and put out fires. Explore amazing artefacts from the past and present – including a piece of the infamous crane at the centre of the dramatic rescue on Princess Street in December 2013. Created in partnership with Kingston’s Fire & Rescue Services, this exhibition give visitors unprecedented access to the work of real fire fighters and the tools they use to do their job. Check out this exhibit until November 29!

Phoebe Centennial: Celebrating 100 Years of the Steamship Phoebe

Built in 1914 as a private pleasure craft, the Steam Launch Phoebe spent her early years in the Muskoka region, and five years travelling the Rideau Canal before officially retiring in 1984. Now, the ship makes her home at the Pump House. Celebrating her 100-year journey from Kingston’s Davies Dry Dock and back again, the volunteers at the Pump House present a special exhibition for visitors to enjoy until November 29!

The MacLachlan Woodworking Museum

In 1967, Sandy MacLachlan created the Woodworking Museum as a Centennial Project. To house the collection, he dismantled an 1855 log house and moved it to Princess Street in Kingston. There it operated as a privately-owned museum for over a decade. In the early eighties, it was bought by the former Pittsburgh Township and once again, the log house was moved to its present location at Grass Creek Park. The MacLachlan Woodworking Museum holds the most extensive, nationally significant collection of woodworking tools in Canada. Be sure to check out their current exhibits:

Foundations: The Making of a Museum

The Log House remains the largest object in our collection. Museum founder Sandy MacLachlan brought this historic structure to Kingston in 1966 to house his collection of woodworking tools.  This year the Log House gets a facelift including a new exhibition that delves into the history of the house and its current site at Grass Creek, the creation of the museum and building of the collection. Don’t miss this informative exhibit on until November 29!

Ivor Blower: Inside the Mind of a Collector

The MacLachlan’s collection of over 3000 woodworking planes is widely recognized as being nationally significant. Many dedicated collectors have donated to this collection, including Ivor Blower. Blower spent many years assembling a highly personal collection of hand planes that demonstrate the artistry of the toolmaker. With over 100 planes on display, this exhibition allows visitors to get a sense of the beauty of these objects, and to delve into universal questions of why we collect and what makes an object collectible. On until November 29!

Kingston Penitentiary Museum

The “Friends of the Penitentiary Museum” are dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the fascinating history of Canada’s Federal penitentiary system. Some have a correctional background while others have a passionate interest in Canada’s history. It’s obvious that they are not alone in thinking exposure to correctional history is key to understanding any society since more than 25,000 people per year visit this award-winning museum housed in the former Warden’s residence of Kingston Penitentiary.
The Kingston Penitentiary Museum is located in the former Warden’s residence of Kingston Penitentiary, built by inmate labour between 1870 and 1873. To date, eight rooms have been converted for use as public display galleries. Exhibits range from contraband items to inmate art; staff uniforms and insignia to full-scale replicas of Canadian federal penitentiary cells. The collections consist of historically significant artifacts, photos and documents from federal penitentiaries from all across Canada, which reflects the national scope of the museum’s mandate.
While museum visits are self-guided, when possible, volunteers and staff are always on hand to answer any questions.

Marine Museum of the Great Lakes

Tall tales, high adventure, bold exploration and mighty enterprise highlight the story of Canada’s great inland seas. Founded in 1975,  The Marine Museum of the Great Lakes‘ facilities now include a library, reading room, archives and a book & gift shop and houses the original pumping station and steam engines built in 1891.
The Museum has on display a wide ranging collection of marine artifacts and exhibits, a significant fine art collection, and is home to the Gordon C. Shaw Study Centre, and Audrey Rushbrook Memorial Library.  Current exhibits highlight the growth of ship building and shipping technologies, the history of boat building, the life of the sailor, as well as regional Kingston’s maritime history and our place on the Great Lakes.  The recently opened Eco Gallery focuses on environmental issues/successes related to the Great Lakes.

New Age of Sail Exhibit

Until November 30, The Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston will present a look back at the explosive growth in the popularity of recreational sailing from the late 1950’s, through the 70’s.
During these innovative years, the transition from wood construction to fibreglass gave designers the ability to conceive lighter, stronger and more durable boats. They were boats that builders could mass produce for an affordable price. And since they required less maintenance than their wooden predecessors, their owners could spend more time sailing them, and less time working to keep them shipshape. New yacht clubs and class associations sprang up as a post WWII affluent middle class began looking for new ways to spend leisure time.

The Original Hockey Hall of Fame

Founded by the National Hockey League and the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association on September 10, 1943 – Kingston’s International Hockey Hall of Fame and Museum is the “Original Hockey Hall of Fame” and the oldest sports hall of fame in Canada. Captain James T. Sutherland of Kingston spearheaded the bid to bring the Hockey Hall of Fame to Kingston and was inducted into the hall in 1947 – one of the first forty members inducted into the hall during the Kingston-era. The Original Hall of Fame is proudly located in Kingston, Ontario.

See hockey’s rarest and most unique artifacts, take a stroll through hockey history and learn about the evolution of the game and the prominent role Kingston played in its development. You’ll see hockey’s only square puck used in the first organized game in Kingston in 1886, Canada’s first Olympic hockey gold medal won in 1924, hockey’s oldest jersey from Queen’s University (1894) and a salute to Kingston’s own Don Cherry. There is also a tribute to four Kingston players who scored Stanley Cup winning goals, Kingston’s ‘Golden Girl’ Jayna Hefford and many of the top artifacts from the NHL’s ‘Original Six’ era.

Don Cherry Exhibit

Don Cherry grew up just around the corner from the Hockey Hall of Fame on Albert Street in Kingston. The exhibit includes one of the Hockey Night in Canada icon’s trademark loud sports jackets and high-collared shirts. The exhibit follows Cherry’s career from his early days in Kingston as a 15-year-old playing for the Jr. B’ Kingston Victorias, his Memorial Cup winning season with the Barrie Flyers, his lone NHL game as a player with the Boston Bruins in 1955.

There are also artifacts from his days as captain and Calder Cup winner with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League, his outstanding five-year run as coach of the Boston Bruins in the 1970’s, his one-year stint coaching the Colorado Rockies and his involvement with Team Canada at the 1976 Canada Cup tournament and the 1981 World Hockey Championships. There is also the ‘Key to Kingston’ he received when honoured by the City in 1993.

Original Six Collection

In 2002, the IHHOF unveiled the “Original Six” collection, a tribute to the N.H.L.’s original six teams and the stars of hockey’s golden era. Sweaters, sticks and photographs of hockey’s all-time greats are featured including Richard, Beliveau, Howe and Bower. This collection is located on the main floor of the Hall.