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Greater Winnipeg Water District
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The Greater Winnipeg Water District (GWWD) was incorporated in 1913 to supply water to the City of Winnipeg and surrounding municipalities. In May 1914, construction began on the aqueduct to bring water from Shoal Lake to Winnipeg. In March 1919, water from Shoal Lake flowed into Winnipeg’s taps and on September 9, 1919, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales (The Prince Edward) dedicated the aqueduct. In 1935, the Greater Winnipeg Sanitary District (GWSD) was incorporated to manage wastewater collection and treatment for the participating sections of the GWWD. These two corporations existed until 1961, when their functions were taken over by the Metropolitan Corporation of Greater Winnipeg.
The GWWD was originally comprised of the City of Winnipeg, the City of St. Boniface, the Town of Transcona, the Rural Municipality of St. Vital, and parts of Fort Garry, Assiniboia, and Kildonan. By 1960, the area serviced by the GWWD also included parts of St. James and Tuxedo.
The GWWD had two boards: the Administration Board and the Board of Commissioners. The Administration Board had the policy-making function and was originally composed of the Mayor and four Councillors of the City of Winnipeg, the Mayor and one Councillor of the City of St. Boniface, the Mayor of Transcona, and the Reeves of the four other municipalities. The Administration Board’s Chairman was the Mayor of Winnipeg. The Board of Commissioners was responsible for operations and it had up to three members. Usually, the Board of Commissioners was composed of a Chairman, Treasurer and one other Commissioner. The Chairman was the City Engineer, and the Treasurer was the Commissioner of Finance of the City of Winnipeg. The third Commissioner was appointed by the Administration Board. A Board of Equalization, appointed by the Public Utilities Commissioner, was also established to determine the assessment levied on the taxable land in each municipality.
The aqueduct was largely built by three contractors, although the GWWD tendered and administered ninety-nine contracts during construction. The three main contractors were J.H. Tremblay Co. Ltd., Thos. Kelly & Sons, and the Winnipeg Aqueduct Construction Co. Ltd.
As no roads existed along the proposed route of the aqueduct, the GWWD created and operated the Greater Winnipeg Water District Railway to run parallel to the route to facilitate the movement of materials and workers. Construction of the railway track began in 1914 and was completed in 1915. The track runs from its terminus in St. Boniface to Waugh, Manitoba near Shoal Lake. After the aqueduct was completed, the railway was also used to carry freight and passengers in an effort to reduce the costs of construction. Freight included firewood, pulpwood, poles, railway ties, ice, mail, milk, gravel and sand. Although initially only three trains ran a week, at the peak of its operation up to four trains a day hauled gravel for use as an aggregate in concrete manufacture.
The first meeting of the GWWD Administration Board took place on July 30, 1913. By the fall of 1913, active work was underway and survey parties were determining the most economical route from Shoal Lake. As the waters of Shoal Lake are part of the Lake of the Woods, which crosses the boundary into the United States, it was necessary to secure the approval of the International Joint Commission. It was also necessary to secure the consent of the Ontario Government as the boundary line between the provinces of Manitoba and Ontario passes through Indian Bay, a tributary of Shoal Lake. Further sections of the aqueduct were located on reserve land belonging to Kekekoziibii Shoal Lake 40 First Nation and the sale of this land was required. The provisions of the Indian Act allowed for reserve lands to be sold with the price of the land set by the Governor in Council and the proceeds of the sale going to the Band. The Department of Indian Affairs valued three thousand acres of Kekekoziibii Shoal Lake 40 First Nation's reserve land at fifty cents per acre. Approximately fifty-five acres on the mainland were valued at three dollars an acre. As the Falcon River ran into the proposed intake area in Indian Bay, a diversion was built so that the waters of Falcon River, which had an unwanted colour, ran into Snowshoe Bay instead. The Falcon River diversion, consisting of a 2.4 km dyke and 840 m channel, solved the problem of unwanted colouration of the water supply, but had the effect of limiting Kekekoziibii Shoal Lake 40 First Nation's access to the mainland.
The City of Winnipeg Archives acknowledges the following sources:
City of Winnipeg, compiled by the City Clerk. Municipal Manual 1955. Winnipeg: Henderson Directories, .
City of Winnipeg, Water and Waste Department, “The Greater Winnipeg Water District Railway.” Last updated June 29, 2018. Available: https://www.winnipeg.ca/waterandwaste/dept/railway.stm
Ennis, David A. “Developing a Domestic Water Supply for Winnipeg from Shoal Lake and Lake of the Woods: The Greater Winnipeg Water District Aqueduct.” Master’s thesis. University of Manitoba, 2011.
Special thanks to the Water and Waste Department for supplying key details.
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Prior to 1880, water was taken from the Assiniboine and Red Rivers and delivered in barrels and tanks by ox-drawn carts driven by private “water-men.” In winter, the water came from wells and was delivered on sleighs. The cleanliness of the river water was in doubt and concerns over sufficient water for fire protection prompted City Council to give a franchise to a private company to supply water to Winnipeg. From 1880 to 1899, Winnipeg’s first water supply system was run by the Winnipeg Water Works Company. The water was sourced from the Assiniboine River with a pumping station located at the present site of the Cornish Library near the Maryland Bridge. The quality of the water remained poor, as the river carried a great deal of sediment from bank erosion and was also commonly used as a dumping area for manure and other refuse. As well, concerns over the inadequate amount of water supplied for domestic use, sewer flushing, and fire protection continued.
The city and the Winnipeg Water Works Company entered into dispute for several years with the city unable to force the company to improve its supply and unable to negotiate an agreeable settlement with which to buy out the company. In 1895, a report by Walter Moberly, a Canadian engineer, recommended the Winnipeg River as a supply for the city’s water. In 1897, the Fire, Water and Light Committee of the city commissioned a report from Rudolf Hering, an American engineer, on Winnipeg’s water supply and waterworks. His report also saw the advantage of the Winnipeg River as a supply source, but recommended artesian wells as the most cost-efficient system.
In April 1899, the City of Winnipeg purchased the Water Works plant and distributing system. By October 1900, water was supplied to most parts of the city through artesian wells. Although the well water was considerably more pure than river water, concerns with this system included excessive water hardness and an insufficient supply for fire insurance requirements. In 1901, Winnipeg built the first water-softening plant in North America, although adequate softening for industrial purposes was still not feasible. In 1904, a serious fire caused the City of Winnipeg to pump water from the Assiniboine River into its supply. This river water induced a typhoid outbreak throughout the city and increased interest in locating a safe water source.
In July 1906, City Council created The Water Supply Commission through a special Act of the Manitoba Legislature. This Commission included the Mayor, James H. Ashdown, four Aldermen, three citizens, and the Chairman of the Provincial Board of Health, and was responsible for investigating where to find the best source of water to supply the city. In August 1907, a board of consulting engineers made a report to the Commission and recommended the Winnipeg River as the new water supply. However, the report recommending the Winnipeg River was not acted upon as the city was engaged in a six-million dollar hydro-electric development, also at the Winnipeg River. The hydro-electric plant was completed in 1911, and by 1912, the question of water supply again became urgent. In 1912, H.N. Ruttan, the City Engineer, recommended extending the artesian system to Poplar Springs, a natural spring located in the Rural Municipality of Rockwood. At the same time, City Council asked Judge H.A. Robson, the recently appointed Manitoba Public Utilities Commissioner, to recommend a permanent supply of water. Judge Robson engaged Charles S. Slichter, an American engineer, to make a report. Slichter recommended Shoal Lake and Robson endorsed this recommendation.
The aqueduct and railway brought changes to the area. Free homesteads were given along the route, and settlement began in 1917 primarily along the Birch River. Summer train excursions to Shoal Lake were popular, and the trains were also used by people travelling back and forth. Regular passenger service ended in 1977 and summer excursions stopped in 1982. Currently, the train is used to transport workers and supplies to and from the water intake facility at Shoal Lake and to provide security surveillance and maintenance support along the aqueduct.
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Greater Winnipeg Water District
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