116 Gordon Street

The Boat House

Bylaw: (1997)-15531

Legal description: Park Lot 97, Registered Plan 8, Canada Company Survey

Designated portions

The designation includes:

  • All of the exterior walls of the building;
  • All original window and door openings on the designated walls of the building which have been exposed as part of the 1997 restoration;
  • The roofline over the building, including the upturned eaves, wooden brackets and dormers.

The designation does not include:

  • any interior elements of the building.

It is intended that non-original features may be returned to documented earlier designs or to their documented original form without requiring City Council permission for an alteration to the designation.

Property history

This structure is Guelph’s last remaining boat house to be associated with the City’s river systems. The building features elements of recreational or pavilion style architecture in its upturned eaves and wooden buckets. While the existing building is thought to have been built circa 1930, the site has a long association with the river beginning in the mid 1870’s.

The first boat house was constructed at this site, near the Dundas bridge, in 1876 by a Mr. O. Coulson. Later, in 1879, Edward McKeague opened a successful boat rental business here, and by 1882, had entered into partnership with cabinet maker James Johnson, father of opera singer and later General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Edward Johnson. By 1885, James’ brother, William, uncle of Edward Johnson, took over as manager of the boat house after James purchased the “European Hotel” (renamed later as the “King Edward Hotel”).

It was during William Johnson’s proprietorship of the boat house that one of the City’s most active social and sporting organizations was formed. The Speed Canoe Club recorded a membership of 250 people between 1895 and 1900. The Club met every Thursday, gathering at Johnson’s boat house, which flew the club colours of green and white on these occasions, and embarked on a mile and a half trip to Victoria Park, where they were entertained by musicians, including a young Edward Johnson.

In 1910, the City of Guelph purchased the estate of mill owner Peter Gow, comprising the lands along the Speed and Eramosa rivers on the east and west sides of Gordon Street and including the lands occupied by the boat house. In 1916, William Johnson received approval from the City’s parks and Shade Commission to construct a new boat house on the site of his existing boat house. The building was to be kept in good order and repair by Mr. Johnson and was to be turned over to the Commission in 1927 at the expiration of 10 years.

At William Johnson’s death in 1924, John Ferguson Armstrong took over as proprietor of the boat house and remained in this position until 1936. It is thought that the existing building on this site was constructed during this time, either as a new building or as a renovation of the building constructed in 1916. A confectionary shop occupied the building circa 1940, after which the Nay League entered into an agreement with the City in 1941 to occupy the boat house for the duration of the war. This agreement was renewed in 1950, and the Sea Cadets operated out of the building until 1993.

Restoration of the boat house was completed in 1997 through the partnership of the City of Guelph, contractor Jonathan Taylor and operator Michael Teppo for a multi-use facility including an ice cream parlour, river interpretive centre and visitor information service. The restored boat house is considered a significant heritage riverside feature at this important gateway to the City’s core.

The designation covers the exterior of the boat house including the roofline, upturned eaves, wooden brackets, and original window and door openings which have been exposed as part of the 1997 restoration.