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James Avenue Pumping Station at 109 James Avenue

Article by Laura McKay, on behalf of the Heritage Winnipeg Corp.
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director.

The James Avenue Pumping Station - photographed on the Exchange District BIZ Walking Tour
Designed by City Engineer Lt. Col. Henry Norlande Ruttan, the James Avenue Pumping Station is a good example of early industrial architecture. Originally, it was made up of three main structures: a gas producing plant, a large gas storage tank (gasometer), and the powerhouse. The powerhouse is all that remains. The machinery was manufactured in Scotland and England before being shipped to Winnipeg.


1880-1900 - The Winnipeg Water Works (a private company) supplies for all of Winnipeg's water needs through pumps in the Assiniboine River, including both domestic water supply and the city's fire hydrants. 

1904 - The water supply to the city is inadequate to support its growing population. During the summer or a large fire, when additional pressure is needed, water is pumped from the Assiniboine as well. Unfortunately the river has become badly polluted and an outbreak of typhoid is linked to the an incident when a serious fire forced the river pumps into action.

City Engineer Lt. Col. H.N. Ruttan, 1914. Photo credit City of Winnipeg Historical Report.

1905 - City Council decides to create a system to protect the large and costly buildings of the downtown and relieve some of the pressure on the current system. Surveys and plans are drawn up under the supervision of City Engineer, Lt. Col. H.N. Ruttan.

1906 - James Avenue Pumping Station is built. Completely separate from the domestic water supply, the high pressure pumping station serving downtown was lauded as one of the most sophisticated in the world. Most of the $1 000 000 price tag is raised through taxation of the downtown businesses, who benefit from the security and reduced fire insurance premiums. 

Construction of James Avenue Pumping Station, 1906. Photo credit City of Winnipeg Historical Report.

Drawn from the Red River, the water is pumped at 9000 gallons per minute at 300 psi through eight miles of mains to supply over seventy hydrants throughout the downtown area. The pumps could be started and working to capacity within 3.5 minutes of receiving a call.

1911 - The new system is so successful that by 1911, no fire progresses past the building where it began.

1914 - H.N. Ruttan officially retires from his position as City Engineer.

Interior of the station during construction, 1906. Photo credit City of Winnipeg Historical Report.

1919 - Winnipeg finally provides all of its citizens with an abundant supply of pure water through the creation of the Shoal Lake Aqueduct.

1962 - The engines are converted to natural gas and electricity and thus the gas producer plant and storage tank are demolished. The station continues to operate, responding to fire calls in the downtown. 

Image from the interpretive centre proposal

1983 - A proposal is put together (while it is still in use) to turn the pumping station into an interpretive centre "... to increase public awareness and understanding of the historic powerhouse and its operation", but nothing comes of it.

1986 - The station is decommissioned by the City of Winnipeg and has been vacant ever since.

Interior of James Avenue Pumping Station, 1980. Photo credit City of Winnipeg Historical Report.

More Recently

July 9, 2012 - Pumping-station conundrum (Winnipeg Free Press) 
July 13, 2012 - What might have been at pumping station (Winnipeg Free Press)

March 16, 2013 - Exchange brew pub might make Irish eyes smile (Winnipeg Free Press) 
May 14, 2013 - Pumping station eyed for development (Winnipeg Sun)
May 15, 2013 - Driving downtown development (Winnipeg Free Press)
August 7, 2013 - Bold new plan for pumphouse (Winnipeg Free Press) 
August 8, 2013 - Big plans for James Avenue Pumping Station (Winnipeg Sun)
August 11, 2013 - The pressure is on Blog of the Week: West End Dumplings (Winnipeg Free Press)
December 16, 2013 - Bold concept for pumphouse may enhance strong appeal of Exchange (Winnipeg Free Press)

January 6, 2014 - 'Victory for Downtown': pumping station developer (Winnipeg Sun) 
January 6, 2014 - 24-storey tower OK'd for old Winnipeg pumphouse (CBC News) 
January 6, 2014 - Exchange tower plan bashed (Winnipeg Free Press)
January 6, 2014 - Exchange District tower approved (Winnipeg Free Press)
January 7, 2014 - Tower shows vision (Winnipeg Free Press) 
January 7, 2014 - Civic committee OK's 'monstrosity' (Winnipeg Free Press)
January 8, 2014 - City has a penchant for bending the rules (Winnipeg Free Press)
January 10, 2014 - Tower designer not licensed (Winnipeg Free Press)
January 10, 2014 - Leaps of faith no way to run a city (Winnipeg Free Press) 
January 10, 2014 - Pumping station backer never claimed to be an architect (Winnipeg Sun)
January 11, 2014 - Tower's opponents can relax (Winnipeg Free Press)

Sources & Links

City of Winnipeg Historical Report (Short) - James Avenue Pumping Station
City of Winnipeg Historical Report (Long) - James Avenue Pumping Station 
Heritage Winnipeg Website Updates on James Avenue Pumping Station
Manitoba Historical Society - James Avenue Pumping Station
Virtual Heritage Winnipeg - James Avenue Pumping Station
Winnipeg Downtown Places - 109 James Avenue: High Pressure Pumping Station 

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