New Canadian Canoe Museum site contaminated by cancer-causing chemical

Designated Parks Canada property beside Peterborough Lift Lock contains industrial solvent believed to have come from adjacent property

The design of the new Canadian Canoe Museum to be located beside the Peterborough Lift Lock. (Graphic: heneghan peng architects / Kearns Mancini Architects)
The design of the new Canadian Canoe Museum to be located beside the Peterborough Lift Lock. (Graphic: heneghan peng architects / Kearns Mancini Architects)

A major wrench has just been thrown into the plans to build a new Canadian Canoe Museum beside the Peterborough Lift Lock.

On Thursday (May 28), the museum announced that is own independent investigations have confirmed the designated site for the museum’s future building contains the chemical compound trichloroethylene (TCE).

A clear non-flammable liquid with a sweet smell, TCE was commonly used as an industrial solvent in the past. It is classified as a human carcinogen and a non-carcinogenic health hazard. Groundwater and drinking water contamination from industrial discharge of trichloroethylene is a major concern for human health and has resulted in numerous public health incidents and lawsuits in the U.S.

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“All of us at the Canoe Museum, our project partners, and supporters are highly concerned and extremely disappointed by the situation,” says the museum’s executive director Carolyn Hyslop.

The ground water at 353 Hunter Street East, owned by Parks Canada, is believed to have been contaminated by chemicals seeping from an adjacent property. The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks has issued a provincial officers order under the Environmental Protection Act to the property’s owner, directing it to undertake air quality, ground water, and additional onsite investigations and to provide associating remediation plans.

The museum has not identified the property owner, but only two factories were located in the area.

Westclox (formerly The Western Clock Company) operated a clock-making factory on Hunter Street, on the hill overlooking the Trent Canal, from 1922 until the early 1980s. The building, which has since been converted into condos and offices, is now called Time Square and is operated by the Skyline Group of Companies. It is unknown whether industrial solvents were used in the manufacture and assembly of clocks.

Fisher Gauge operated a metal die-casting plant at 194 Sophia Street near the Trent Canal. The company, which later became FisherCast Global, was acquired by DynaCast in 2008 and currently operates a factory on Neal Drive. Industrial solvents such as TCE are used for both cleaning and finishing metals.

A conceptual rendering of the new Canadian Canoe Museum, an 85,000-square-foot facility to be built alongside the Peterborough Lift Lock on the Trent-Severn Waterway. (Illustration: Heneghan Peng and Kearns Mancini Architects)
A conceptual rendering of the new Canadian Canoe Museum, an 85,000-square-foot facility to be built alongside the Peterborough Lift Lock on the Trent-Severn Waterway. (Illustration: Heneghan Peng and Kearns Mancini Architects)

“We are working with all parties including the Ministry, Parks Canada, and our community and funding partners to evaluate the overall impacts of these findings to our operations and our new museum build,” Hyslop says.

Ironically, the existing site of the Canadian Canoe Museum at 910 Monaghan Road (which has remained closed during the COVID-19 pandemic) was the former location of the Outboard Marine Corporation of Canada. The company, which operated from 1913 to 1990, manufactured outboard motors and related marine products, as well as other small engines, and used TCE in its manufacturing process. As was the practice at the time, the company occasionally discharged waste onto the ground — waste that included TCE.

Ground-breaking for the museum’s new facility, to be located alongside the Peterborough Lift Lock on the Trent-Severn Waterway, was originally scheduled to begin this year. The 83,400 square-foot facility was designed by the award-winning Irish team of heneghan peng and Toronto’s Kearns Mancini Architects.

“While the full implications of this environmental interruption are not yet fully known, we are fully committed to building a new world-class museum that will deliver on its vision and serve the needs of its patrons and local community while honouring and preserving this unique cultural asset of national significance,” Hyslop says.

 

This story has been updated to include information about two factories that operated in the area.

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