TimeLinks: James Street Pumping Station

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Turn of the Century Winnipeg was under constant threat of fire. Most of the buildings were of wood frame construction. Long, cold winters, poor insulation, and stoves and boilers with inadequate safety devices made fire a constant hazard.

To complicate matters, in many of the poorer parts of town, there were several families living in houses designed to house only one. The haphazard conditions in which they lived, which included wood and kerosene cooking stoves in rooms that were no designed for them, only amplified the risk of fire.

Before the completion of the Shoal Lake aqueduct in 1919, the city relied on a series of artesian wells for its water supply. This was adequate to meet drinking water needs, but was inadequate for fire fighting, especially as Winnipeg's skyline came to be dominated by taller buildings where greater water pressure was required to fight a fire.

In 1904, a major fire nearly destroyed two blocks of Main Street, and the cry came from citizens and insurance companies alike to improve the city's fire protection. In 1905, the city responded with a promise to open a high pressure pumping station to provide water to fire hydrants. The James Street Pumping Station opened in 1907. It's job was to draw water from the Red River and push it at high pressure though a grid of special mains and pipes that were laid under most of the downtown area, and later extended under most of the rest of the city.

Page revised: 29 August 2009