Our Story

If you are interested in a fun and enriching activity to do in Kingston, look no further than the PumpHouse.

The PumpHouse is located in one of Canada’s oldest original water works – where steam-powered pumps provided the first running water to Kingston residents from 1851. Only six similar preserved water pumping stations remain in North America.

PumpHouse: History in Motion

This timeline follows the conditions which brought about the creation of the PumpHouse as an infrastructure and as it stands today as a museum.

Disease, Fire, and Capital
Disease, Fire, and Capital
Image Credit: Queen's University Archives


Kingston experienced a Cholera epidemic which caused the death of 1 in every 16 Kingstonians.

Did you know?

Cholera is most commonly caused by pollution of water. This pollution often came from citizen's garbage disposal and manure left from farm animals.


A water supply system powered by steam was proposed for the first time.

1840 - The Great Fire of Kingston

This fire set the entire what is now downtown of Kingston ablaze destroying 40 buildings and causing over £70,000 in damage.


Construction of waste water drains began for wealthy homeowners. Drains were primarily located in the downtown area but weren't highly successful due to their constant blockage.

February 1842

The Town of Kingston decided to form a Water Works in response to health concerns and the need for water to fight fires.

Did you know?
Kingston was the capital of the Province of Canada

Kingston was the capital of the Province of Canada from 1841-1844. Pictured above is City Hall circa 1857.


The Great Fire flagged many of the problems with Kingston's emergency mechanisms.
Fires were put out by groups of volunteers, often divided. The religious climate of Kingston at this time often mean't volunteers would spend valuable time fighting with each other as opposed to putting out the fires. In addition to this, buildings were insured by both parties. If Catholics showed up at a fire and found out  it was insured by the Protestants, they would leave the building to burn.

1842- Keeping the Capital

While the government was discussing the removal of The Capital from Kingston, the town decided it would need water works in order to maintain its status as the Capital. The Town was indebted to its new town hall they could not afford to build a water system themselves; private investors undertook the project instead.

November 1844

The capital of Canada was moved to Montreal.

May 18th 1846

Kingston was incorporated as a city which gave it the right to erect, preserve and regulate cisterns, reservoirs, or other conveniences for good wholesome water. This water was intended to be used for extinguishing fires and for public consumption. Also, to make structural changes to prevent waste form fouling public waters.


A private company was founded to manage the water supply. At the same time, the first Water Works in Canada began in Toronto, Ontario


A bylaw was passed to prevent the construction of wooden buildings in the city. They instead suggest the use of local stone, beginning the city's legacy as the "limestone city".

Image Credit: Queen's University Archives
Image Credit: Queen's University Archives

Another cholera threat was reported in town and "health police" were formed.

June 1848

Water Bailiff was hired to regulate all of the water supply and maintain the equipment for half the cost of the water. The system failed less than a year late due to lack of use and subscription to the service.

Bringing Water to the People

May 30th 1849

The privately owned City of Kingston Water Works Company Incorporated was given a 50-year contract to supply water to Kingston.

Did you know?

Kingston was the fourth in Canada to build a Water Works Company.


The City of Kingston purchased 10% of the company ($1000) in shares) and in return received free water to keep dust down in the streets, for fire hydrants, a water fountain in  Market Square and public baths for the poor.

December 1849

The Water Works Company now had 22 subscribers for water delivery.

Did you know?

Sir John A. MacDonald was one of the largest shareholders in the Water Works Company.


Construction of  the Water Works plant began. This building is the core of the current PumpHouse museum.


The city installed a walking beam engine with double pumps to pump water from Lake Ontario to the city.


Pumping on average 450,000 gallons of water daily.


Water Works building was expanded to house offices and lodgings for the engineers or plumbers.


Volunteer fire companies amalgamated to form the first City of Kingston Fire Department.


Kingston experiences another major fire. It started near the current location of the Grand Theatre and burned for 12 hours before it was controlled.


Water was at a high cost, making it largely inaccessible to a lot of the public. It cost 20% more in Kingston than in other cities.
The company rationalized that high cost came from consumers leaving their taps running in order to avoid having their pipes freeze in the winter. In addition they argued that excavation costs for pipes was much higher due the limestone base. Also steam powered engines to pump the water were more costly to run than water power engines.


The Board of Health was established in Kingston and worked to improve the water quality and sanitation in the city.

Fall 1884

Outbreak of cholera linked to contaminated wells filled with organic matter from cows, sewage and homes.

June 1885

The Board of Health asked the City to request five additional hydrants to provide free water for the poor and needy.


1144 service pipes had been laid 822 of which were in use. Water services were metered to some businesses however most customers paid a basic fee where costs were added to cover additions such as a bath, a cow or a horse.


Water Works rejected an offer of $50,000 to buy the business worth about $120,000.

August 10th 1887

The city voted unanimously to buy the Kingston Water Works.

October 1st 1887

The Kingston Water Works was purchased and $140,000 was invested to expand the works to house two new pumps. The City at this time was providing water to 200 consumers and were able to reduce all water rates by 20%.

May 14th 1888

A water tower was built on Water street to provide greater water pressure to the upper parts of the city.

September 17th 1888

The Osborne Killey manufacturing company was commissioned to build a cross-compound sliding valve engine with riding cut off.


Half of the water pipes were replaced with pipes of greater diameter and 140 new hydrants were installed.


Osborne Killey engine was installed.


Water purity tests indicated that the intake pipe for the Water Works was located in polluted water.


775 consumers were added to the 900 users the City had inherited, when it was purchased the Water Works was making a total of 1675.


Three extensions were added to the intake pipe including a filter. After this City residents were encouraged to seal up their wells.

January 1896

The Inglis steam engine was added as a backup pump for the Osborne-Killey engine. It was bought from John Inglis and Sons for $10,300.

Did you know?

The John Inglis had a Corliss valve which could produce 5 million gallons of water per day.

Innovations in Water Works


A new addition was added to the back of the building to house new electric pumps.


Two electric pumps were installed to operate as the primary pumps.


The Osborne-Killey engine was retired.


The John Inglis engine was retired.


he Water Works was closed and a new water purification plant was opened on King Street.


Jack Telgmann and prominent community members receives City permission to  restore the Kingston Water Works.


The 1973 renovated building was presented to the City of Kingston as a gift for the Tercentenary Celebrations.


Steam Museum  opened its doors as a museum and local steam attraction.


Steam Museum opened its doors as a museum and local steam attraction.


The City of Kingston takes over management of the museum, now known as the PumpHouse museum.