Renovations continue at The Boathouse in Kitchener's Victoria Park with plan to open this year

Renovations at The Boathouse in Kitchener's Victoria Park continue. This photo, taken Tuesday, shows the fencing remains up around the venue as crews continue to work in the space. (Kate Bueckert/CBC - image credit)
Renovations at The Boathouse in Kitchener's Victoria Park continue. This photo, taken Tuesday, shows the fencing remains up around the venue as crews continue to work in the space. (Kate Bueckert/CBC - image credit)

The Boathouse in Kitchener's Victoria Park is getting closer to opening, although there's still no official date for the venue to start welcoming patrons.

James Barr is one of the owners of Walkinshaw Holdings, which will operate The Boathouse, and says the interior is "really starting to take shape" after a lot of work had to go into renovating the city owned building.

Some drywall is up, a patio has been poured, flooring is completed.

"I will say it's exciting being someone who's allowed to go in it to see what it looks like when you're actually in this space," Barr said.

He said the contractors found a secret basement to the building early on in renovations which had been used for dry storage at some point. It is located very close to the lake in Victoria Park, so the decision was made to fill it in.

"That old basement was well below grade and there was water in there. We decided we're not messing around with that," he said, adding when it came to other areas of the building, "there were no skeletons, literal or really metaphorical, which is good."

James Barr is with the investor group Walkinshaw Holdings. The group have taken over The Boathouse. Barr said they are confident The Boathouse will be open by next summer.
James Barr is with the investor group Walkinshaw Holdings. The group have taken over The Boathouse. Barr said they are confident The Boathouse will be open by next summer.

James Barr is with the investor group Walkinshaw Holdings. He's pictured here in August 2023 when renovation work got underway at the city owned building. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

Work on the exterior of the building continues, including adding an addition for washrooms and closing a wall along the waterfront.

But the plan is still to open this year, Barr said.

"We don't have a date yet, but we are getting closer and closer. Things are pretty full steam ahead," he said.

They've also hired a general manager and a chef and work has begun on a menu. As well, the group is in talks about booking entertainment.

"There's a few things left we have to kind of check off the list," Barr said.

A photo taken from across the water in Kitchener's Victoria Park shows some of the work that's being done to renovate The Boathouse. The group that will operate the venue says they plan to open this year.
A photo taken from across the water in Kitchener's Victoria Park shows some of the work that's being done to renovate The Boathouse. The group that will operate the venue says they plan to open this year.

A photo taken on June 20 from across the water in Kitchener's Victoria Park shows some of the work that's being done to renovate The Boathouse. The group that will operate the venue says they plan to open this year. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

History of The Boathouse

The Boathouse is a city-owned property located on Jubilee Drive beside Victoria Park Lake. It was built in 1929. It has historically served as a music venue, but it's seen closures over the last 10-plus years.

In 2013, the venue closed after the tenants fell behind on rent and utility payments. It reopened in 2015 but closed abruptly in October 2019 and has sat empty ever since.

In 2021, the city said it had delayed issuing requests for proposal to secure a new tenant due to the COVID-19 pandemic and challenges faced by the restaurant and hospitality industry.

The city announced the proposal from Walkinshaw Holdings to run The Boathouse in August 2022 and at that time, the city said it was hoped the venue would open by spring 2023.

That didn't happen as renovation work was not approved by city council until April 2023. Construction fences went up around the building in August 2023.