Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/8/2013 (1320 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On Aug. 6, an open house was held to present a new (and likely the last) development idea for the James Avenue Pumping Station.
I say "the last" because since it has been shuttered since 1986, a number of potential buyers have come looking, but the high cost to renovate the building, clean the machinery and remediate the land (all in return for a small amount of usable space) have driven them away. CentreVenture, the building's owners, have let it be known they want this piece of land developed soon, with or without the building.
The plan involves driving piles through the floor and adding a mixed-use, 14-storey (minimum) tower on top. It would have a restaurant and market on the first two floors, three floors of office space and the rest would be rental apartments.
Here is a brief history of the historic building.
Prior to 1919, Winnipeg's water system was made up of a series of wells and low-pressure pumping stations, such as the McPhillips Street Station, which distributed water around the city.
For fire suppression there was a network of fire hydrants, but they were fed at the same pressure as households. It was up to the fire wagons of the day to provide the additional pressure. Some large buildings constructed after 1900, such as Eaton's and the Kemp Manufacturing Building, included their own water reservoirs and pump systems to get around this problem.
Newspapers regularly reported large, devastating fires that razed entire blocks in other cities and towns. Winnipeg had its own close call in 1904, when the Bullman Block at Bannatyne Avenue and Albert Street caught fire. It destroyed the Bullman Block, Ashdown's store and the upper stories of the Duffin and Baker (Birt Saddlery) Block before firefighters got it under control. If it had continued a few doors to the north, it would have reached the newly built Union Bank Tower, Winnipeg's first skyscraper.
Due to low water pressure during the fire, water had to be pumped into the system directly from the Assiniboine River. The result was the contamination of the drinking-water supply and the worsening of an ongoing typhoid epidemic. In 1904, there were double the number of typhoid cases compared with the year before and 133 deaths.
It was clear the city needed a high-pressure water system to fight fires. The Board of Trade passed a resolution in December 1904 calling on the city to provide one for the downtown commercial district and agreed to pay 40 per cent of the bill. The resolution received a warm reception at city hall, which was no surprise given the council was made up of local businessmen.
It was up to city engineer Henry Ruttan to find the system that would work best for Winnipeg. He looked to places such as Philadelphia, which had just rolled out North America's newest and finest fire-suppression system.
Ruttan's system wouldn't impact Winnipeg's drinking-water supply in any way. Water would be drawn from the Red River through a pump house into a pumping station that contained four, 540 horsepower "Otto" engines by Crossley Brothers of Manchester, England. These engines were powered from an on-site, coal-fired generating station (now demolished).
The engines would be on standby and manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When a call came from the fire department, in a matter of minutes the system's network of 11.6 kilometres of high-pressure water mains and 78 hydrants would be ready to deliver between 200 and 300 pounds per square inch of pressure -- enough to send a stream of water up to 213 metres in the air.
The James Avenue site was chosen in 1905 for its access to the Red River and to rail lines for the constant coal supply that would be needed. Construction contracts were let in late summer 1906.
On Oct. 24, 1907, the first test of the system took place. Others followed in the days to come and soon the system was ready for action.
Aside from the conversion from river water to Shoal Lake water and from coal-powered generators to gas, the system continued to operate until Oct. 10, 1986, when it was taken out of service. The building was shuttered.
There have been a number of potential suitors for the building. Through the late 1980s and 1990s, the most mentioned reuse was as part of a science and technology museum, though it appears nobody ever floated a firm plan for such a venture. In the late 1990s, a deal to turn it into a brew pub with a museum component fell through.
In 2001, CentreVenture sold the building to Peter Ginakes and Bob Harris for $150,000. In 2004, it ended up buying it back for $750,000 but found one of the Crossley engines had been removed without permission and gifted to the Manitoba Agricultural Museum near Austin for a "substantial" tax receipt.
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