Have you noticed the magnificent new Boathouse on the Gananoque waterfront? The Thousand Islands Boat Museum (TIBM) has been building a tangible legacy to house special nautical treasures…and it’s almost complete! The Boathouse is already attracting visitors from far and wide, sharing the magic spirit of the Thousand Islands with all who visit.
The Museum is about to celebrate its 6th birthday, so let’s start with a few words about how the Boat Museum came to be.
In 1993, the "Thousand Islands Antique Boat Museum Trust" was created by a group of individuals committed to creating a Canadian boat museum. This imagined museum would collect, preserve and display in-water boats, and would offer hands-on learning. Over the years the Trust collected boats significant to the area in preparation for the eventual creation of a museum.
Before it had a physical home on the waterfront, the organization started with a pilot boat-building program in the local high school and community conversations about establishing a boat museum. In 2014, a 49-year agreement to lease 4 waterfront buildings and a water lot from the Town of Gananoque was signed. Finally, a unique boat museum on the Canadian shores of the St. Lawrence River was possible.
Through the commitment of its volunteer Board of Directors, the Thousand Islands Boat Museum (TIBM) was incorporated under the Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act, in November 2014, as a private organization, independent of the Town of Gananoque or any other government body.
The Museum has been busy since then! Boats have been built in the local high school, kids have learned about River safety, and events like the TIBM Boat Show and Family Day have become annual celebrations. The Sailing School is in its 4th year (128 kids aged 8 – 14 have learned to sail), a team of 8 university/high school students have been employed every summer, all of the Museum buildings have been renovated and spruced-up, the collection of boats has been maintained and increased (we’re up to 35), and exhibits telling stories about the River, boats and people have been developed.
The TIBM works in partnership with many organizations including schools, businesses and other museums, including the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, NY. Although the two museums are independent of one another, the TIBM is grateful to the ABM for advice, support, loans of in-water boats, and for help during the crucial stages of development. Both museums look forward to a bright future collaboratively celebrating the boats, people and stories of the St. Lawrence River and the Thousand Islands region.
From the outset, the Museum knew that it would need protected docks and undertook to raise money to build the impressive dock system and breakwater, (Phase 1 of the project). This first phase was developed and completed in 2016 at a cost of almost 2 million dollars.
In the meantime, the Museum continued to add to its collection and moved on to Phase 2, the development of a protected in-water exhibit gallery that would complement the existing indoor collection and ultimately become the centerpiece of the facility. These floating artifacts needed to be kept safe from the sun and elements in a beautiful display space. In 2017, the Museum accepted the exciting donation of "Windswept lll", the 1935, 52 ft Ditchburn commissioned by the Billes family of Canadian Tire fame. This fine example of Canadian boat building quickly became the flagship of the Museum, but would also need protection against the elements for proper display and programming.
In 2018 the Boathouse dream became a reality. By February, another $1.5 million had been raised and work started to build the second phase of the in-water exhibit space. Construction began in September 2018, and by spring 2019 the Museum had a protected backdrop for its in-water collection. Phase 2 was celebrated at the 6th Annual TIBM Boat Show held on July 13, 2019.
The design of the Boathouse is unique to Canada and was developed by an architect with deep roots in the islands, and a background in historic boathouses of the Thousand Islands region. He was inspired by several iconic boathouses from the Thousand Islands’ Gilded Age, at the turn of the last century.
Phase 3, the last stage of the Boathouse, includes completion of the interior ceiling, wide arched openings on the sides and the delivery of electrical service onto the docks for lighting. The new structure will also feature interactive exhibits to enable audiences to experience and understand regional Canadian marine history. This phase will require a further investment of $1 million and is tentatively scheduled for the fall of 2019.
Once completed, the TIBM will have invested $4.5 million to create this stunning waterfront facility. Over 85% of these funds will have come through the generosity of private donors. The balance will have come from successful grant applications to the Thousand Islands Community Development Corporation, Canada Cultural Spaces Fund, and the Ontario Trillium Fund.
With the bricks and mortar development of the Boathouse almost complete, the Museum continues to depend on the sale of admission tickets, seasonal passes and larger gifts to fund its many community programs and events. Please visit the TIBM website at www.tiboatmuseum.org to learn how you too, can enjoy and support all that the Museum has to offer.
There’s something for everyone at the Thousand Islands Boat Museum – come join us on the waterfront and celebrate every season here at the TIBM.
By Susanne Richter, Executive Director, Thousand Islands Boat Museum, Gananoque, ON.
Since January 2013, Susanne Richter has been at the helm as Executive Director of the Thousand Islands Boat Museum. Susanne brings a wealth of experience to the job, including working for the Canadian Federal Museum System. In April 2009, Suzanne wrote an article for TILife; A Trickling Stream of History, describing The Victoria Rose, one of Gananoque's most historic properties.