©1998 Wm James
...a sufficient quantity of safe and wholesome water...
Professor of Water Resources
Click on the following headings (only the hyperlinked items have material):
Background reading is James, W. and E.M. Hamilton's Old Pump
Phelps Publishing, 1978.ISBN 0-9697422-2-3.
The story of the Hamilton's Pump Station built 1857-1859, which supplied water to the City of Hamilton at the edge of Lake Ontario, down near Windermere Basin. The heroes of this story are:
This article covers the 1850s and 60s when this part of Canada was very close to the Western edge of settlement in North America; and was known as "Canada West".
This was a period of rapid change. These views in 1854 show Hamilton as essentially an agrarian town. It was not unusual to see geese and swine in the streets, in those days. The next views are only 15 years later (in 1871) and show Hamilton with a large array of very solid stone buildings and the beginnings of a heavy engineering industry. In the background, at the edge of the harbour, is the Great Western Railway Workshop.
The story starts in 1835, when Dundurn Castle was being built. Tenders were called by the Police Council for sewers and water works. A result of that was an award of five pounds for a winning plan to Mr. Macpowers. I don't know of any action being taken on that plan and have not been able to find any trace of it. In that period there were many fires that were quite disastrous in terms of lives lost - many complaints are evident in the minutes. John Gartshore's first foundry burnt down and was rebuilt in 1846.
Hamilton was incorporated as a city in 1846. During the period there were numerous complaints in Hamilton about "the incestuous relationship between wells, privies and cesspools." A Board of Health was appointed in June 1847 prior to the immigrant season. One of the first orders they promulgated was that individuals should remove garbage from backyards and the streets in front of the property at least twice a year. Open cesspools were common, and the normal practice was to just drain the privies into the roadside ditches. Later there was a by-law that fined people for dumping offal, decayed meat and carcasses in the street outside their properties.
In 1848 there was an epidemic of smallpox and the Board of Health very rapidly ran out of funds. They did not have very much anyway, and as the expected government support did not materialise, the Board of Health was promptly dismissed - they had to be re-appointed in two weeks since people continued to fall sick. In 1848 Rock Castle was built, and it had the only two-storey privy in Canada West. Here is a picture of Rock Castle as it was in the early 1970s. In 1849 there was another a major outbreak of cholera. In Hamilton the population was 10,000, and it was developing into a modern city. The city formally resolved that sewers be constructed. They did not do anything about it for another five years however. We know that horses, swine, geese and dogs were impounded regularly - it was the local trick to break down the impoundment and let these animals run free around the town. In 1853 Central School was built. The population of Hamilton had now doubled, in three years, to 20,000 people, all using wells - five wells provided by the city. There was still no city dump, and no drains. The arrival of the first train in this year was one of the most significant events. In fact, it's evident from the newspapers, the town was much more pre-occupied with the railways and with wrecks than with water supply. The council now faced the prospect of a major expenditure on sewers and water works, and, on December 20th, the city engineer, William Hodgins, submitted a report on a proposed water supply.
The sources from which a supply is anticipated are the Hess Spring, the Ancaster Creek, Burlington Bay and the Grand River. The latter is, however, hardly worthy of attention, as the distance of the nearest point from Hamilton would necessarily increase the expense of conveyance beyond all reasonable limits; at all events, far beyond the cost of a supply from any of the sources mentioned above. The Ancaster Creek appears to me to be the only source of supply which is free from the objections which may be urged against any of the others I have mentioned. With respect to the proposed plan of using the waters of Burlington Bay as a source of supply for this city, I believe that as long as other can be adopted this should certainly be avoided, the nearness of the extensive marshes of Coote's Paradise, Ferguson's Inlet, and others and their intimate connection with the Bay, the masses of decayed and decaying vegetable matter with which they are everywhere impregnated, prove this in point of quality, no worse source could be selected. It is true the water is very soft and suitable for washing and other domestic purposes, but in my opinion it would very soon affect the health of those obliged to drink from such a source. The want of any ground of sufficient altitude near the lake will render this mode of supply exceedingly expensive, rendering a great length of forcing pipes necessary in addition to the fixed cost of the engines, buildings, and pumps, and a constant outlay for stores, fuel, repairs, and superintendence.
The following is taken from my review of newspapers of the period 1853-1860 . The principal newspaper was The Daily Spectator and Journal of Commerce which was the forerunner of the present day Spectator. Each daily edition was four pages long, three of these being solid advertisements. The only page of news was set in very small type and, unlike today's newspapers there were no headlines. The attention given to the water supply during this period was surprisingly scanty. In August 1855, the newspaper published the first City Engineer's preliminary study of the possibilities for a waterworks system in Hamilton (submitted to City Council 2 years previously). Mr. Hodgins favoured the Ancaster spring as a gravitational source, on account of it's superior water quality and the lack of need for extensive pumping equipment. He opposed the Bay as a source, on the grounds of poor water quality, though, ironically a Professor Croft from Toronto later found it to be one of the best in this respect. The main reason that the Ancaster spring was eventually rejected as an alternative, was it's inability to provide for the city's projected population expansion. The publication of this report, some two years after it was submitted to City Council involved the public in the choice of a source of water supply. Letters to the editor usually supported Mr. Hodgin's selection of the Ancaster spring and the public was extremely wary of proposals to pump water from the Bay. The high cost associated with these schemes made the public skeptical. This general public scepticism of the Gartshore project may account for the lack of attention given it in the press. It seems clear that at the time the public did not appreciate the significance of the water supply, regarding it as an excessive expense on an unproven and unnecessary system.
We arrive at 1853, and in 1854 there was a major outbreak of cholera in Hamilton, which was the hardest hit town in the province. Wagons went through the streets daily, people threw the corpses out into the streets, burial pits were dug on Burlington Heights, and they were lined with quicklime. There was a food shortage as farmers refused to bring food into the city. 552 people died in July and August alone. The city did cause a dump to be created, however it was restricted to dead animals found in the streets.
On Sept. 16th an advertisement appeared for a public competition for water supply and T.C. Keefer, a prominent consulting engineer and chief engineer for the Montreal Water Board was appointed judge. In January of 1855 1,000 pounds was awarded to Samuel McElroy , who was an American, and William Hodgins, the city Engineer was given third prize.
A progress report was given, in 1855, by Mr. Hodgins on the sewers. They were all behind-hand and the contractor was unable to complete them. Sewers were built in the wrong place. A contractor found going down one of the roads a line of stakes which he thought was the line for the sewers. But it later turned out to be the line for the new railway for the Great Western Railway. He dug up the proposed siding and put down sewers. Subsequently they had to be replaced and the sewers put in the proper place, alongside. Evidently there were other last minute changes when the contractor decided that some of the main sewers would outfall locally at the bay. A result of all of this, was that Hodgins was fired. He then refused to hand over the remaining sewer contracts and plans. Hodgins now had his proposal for the Ancaster streams published and the whole issue became public. In June the 19th the Hamilton Water Act was promulgated and this created the Board of Water Commissioners. T. C. Keefer was appointed Associate Engineer for the Water Works and he made a report recommending Lake Ontario as the source of Water. The Water Commission started issuing semi-annual reports, and these are very important engineering documents as they give regular progress reports on the construction of the pump-house. The streams, of course, were ultimately rejected and it's very interesting to note the hydrological theories used in that study by T.C.Keefer. They are essentially similar to what we teach our second year students today.
A Mr. Mills, evidently a local citizen, offered to supply water to the city at considerably less cost than Mr. Keefer (from streams on the mountain). There is no trace of his proposals left, as far as I could find. Anyway he did succeed in setting the cat among the pigeons again, and as a result a New York firm was called in to check Keefer's designs. That's also a very valuable report, because it very strongly favoured Mr. Keefer, being singularly impressed by his earlier report. They did however scale down certain parts of his design, the result of which was to make the water works insufficient at an earlier date.
In 1857 work started on the Hamilton Water Works. It proceeded at a time of great depression in the United States and Canada. It was decided to go ahead both to reduce the cost of the building and to create work. The public showed little interest in the construction of the water works. They were still much more interested in the excitement of the railways and its wrecks, including an important wreck in Hamilton. Some illustrations from the local press at the time show how dramatic the public impact must have been. On March 12th the GWR passenger train crashed through the swing bridge spanning Desjardins canal and fell through the ice 40 ft below. Of 100 passengers, 59 were killed and 18 injured. The engine was raised on March the 24th. The investigation showed that an axle broke on the engine, and although the axle lay in six feet if water, they did not bother to lift the axle to examine it till 1873, sixteen years later (I've often wondered why). The Great Western Railway Shops date from this time and this is a panorama view of them. They were manufacturing some very heavy machinery. In 1857 the total assessed value of Hamilton was one million dollars. There are some important commercial blocks, still extant, dating from this time. Meantime John Gartshore's foundry was a major mechanism for manufacturing mills. The population of Hamilton now reached a local high of 25 thousand people.
The harbour was dojng very well - it's profits were doubling approximately every three years at this time. The lighthouse was built in 1859. St. Mary's Cathedral in 1859 burned to the ground. On May 24th the Fire Department was able to put on a display. However there was no supply from the Water Works until October. The display used rain water that had accumulated in the Barton Reservor, which had now been partly completed Reticulation pipes had been laid so there was a good head of water standing in the pipe even though no water had been formally supplied. Gore Park had been ornamented with fountains and railings and the engineers in the Water Works played a prominent part in this. In fact Mr. Charles Robb who assisted with the design of the fountains was the mechanical engineer from Montreal supervising the design of the steam engine that was being built by Gartshore. In September 16th was the official opening by the Prince of Wales The population by now had fallen to 19000, and the assessed value of Hamilton had dropped to half a million dollars. Elms were ceremoniously planted to commemorate T.C.Keefer, Adam Brown and Sir Alan MacNab. The population dropped to 18000 in 1861.
Six proposals were entered in the design competition for a water works system for the city of Hamilton and only three were awarded premiums by the city in 1855. All entries were submitted to Robert McElroy, Chairman of the Committee on Fire and Water. The awards were given to plans for drawing water from Burlington Bay only, although Thomas Keefer, who judged the contest, was beginning to favor a scheme to bring the water supply from Lake Ontario. The first place winning design was submitted by an American, Samuel McElroy. McElroy envisaged a pumping reservoir at the base of Burlington Heights on the bayshore with the engine house nearby, and a storage reservoir at the corner of York and Dundurn Streets. The plan specified the "Cornish" type of engine, a single action, slow motion, long stroke powerplant. The estimated total cost of McElroy's system was 99,000 pounds. The second prize was awarded to three consultants who felt the vegetation-free waters of the Bay near the Desjardin's Canal were best suited for Hamilton's water supply. Their proposal called for a covered reservoir located in the west end of the city near Locke Street. Two Cornish engines were specified, and the total cost of this system was 67,000 pounds. The third plan was submitted by William Hodgins, who had abandoned his Ancaster streams scheme in favour of Burlington Bay. Hodgins also located his reservoir in Dundurn Park and his plan differed little from McElroy's. The total cost of the third system was 66,000 pounds. Thomas Keefer stated at the time of the competition that he felt one pumping engine should be sufficient for supplying the city with water at a rate of about 50 gallons per day. He felt that such extravagances as water filtering systems and covered reservoirs were pointless wastes of money and that the pumping engines should draw the water from the Bay directly into the distributing reservoir.
Engines and boilers. The engines which were actually built and installed in the Gartshore Pumping Station were of English design, but were constructed wholly by the John Gartshore Company of Dundas in Ontario. The two engines typical of the equipment installed in the period 1800-1850, were fore and aft compound condensing beam engines incorporating the separate condenser and parallel motion linkage developed by James Watt. Each engine was rated at 100 horsepower, and each had both a high pressure and a low pressure cylinder. Two walking beams, believed to be the largest continuous castings ever made in Canada, are positioned high near the roof of the station. Each beam, which is 30 feet long and weighs 14 tons, transmitted the power from the steam engines to the pumpers below via large connecting rods which resemble ornately carved pillars. The stroke of these connecting rods was approximately 6 feet. Two 24 foot diameter flywheels, each weighing 22 tons, one positioned at the ground floor level. The original combined pumping capacity of the engines was 3,300,000 gallons per day. In 1882 the pumping units were enlarged from 24 inch cylinder diameter to 30 inch cylinder diameter to increase the daily pumpage to 5,350,000 gallons. The four original boilers providing the steam for the engines were wood fired. Farmers brought timber from their woodlots to the station by horse team and later coal was delivered by sailing schooner and by rail. The wood fired boilers were 30 feet long, six feet in diameter, and each weighed about 9 tons. In all they consumed about 1 ton of fuel per day working one engine. These boilers were replaced in 1882.
Structure. The engine house and boiler room were built by George Worthington of Hamilton, and at the time of their construction were proclaimed to be a the best hydraulic masonry anywhere. Construction began in 1857 and lasted for two years. Both structures are built of cut stone. The engine house consists of three floors plus a basement. The engines are accessible from the first and second floors, the pumps and related piping from the basement and the great walking beams from the upper floor under the roof. A hand operated winch, also located on the upper floor, was used to lift engine components during maintenance procedures. Steel girders, embedded in the pumphouse walls, form part of the engine's frame. The chimney of the waterworks reaches a height of 150 feet, and for many years was the highest structure on the Hamilton skyline. The boiler house, which is entirely open from floor to roof rafters inside, is approximately two stories in height, with dimensions of about 35ft by 45 ft.
Reservoir and Filtering Basin. To bring the water from Lake Ontario to the pumping station, which was over 2,000ft. from the Lake's edge , a large basin, 1200 ft. long and 78 ft. wide, 16 ft. deep, was dredged out of the sand along the beach; as the water seeped through the sand into, the basin from the Lake it was filtered . A 1920 ft. long, 33 inch diameter wooden pipe carried the water downhill from the basin to the pumping station, where it was pumped through an 18 inch diameter cast iron pipe to the Barton Reservoir. The Barton Reservoir was built on the mountainside at Ottawa Street, and the water surface was left open to the elements. The exact capacity of the original reservoir which has since been enlarged and was still in use in the 1970s, is not known precisely, but 6 million gallons appears to be a reasonable figure. The water was carried from the reservoir at an elevation of 185 ft above the surface of Lake Ontario through a large distribution main under Main Street to James Street. Smaller connecting pipes also went into operation with the rest of the system.
A large number of original drawings and blueprints relating to the existing Gartshore Pumping Station and to some of the competing designs are available in the McMaster University Library, after I moved them from the blueprints vault of the City Engineering Department. A total of 69 drawings, most of which could be made suitable for display purposes with a little cleaning, are currently housed in the University's Map Library. In general, the drawings were in surprisingly good condition considering their age although some were in very poor condition. Most of them are watercoloured and printed on heavy canvas-like paper. The collection has been roughly divided into 8 categories: