Sunday, 9 October 2011

Thirsty in Brandon: A history of the waterworks (Part 2)

For Part 1.

Source: eBrandon
Part 2 of 2: Brandon's Water Tower

Brandon in 1920s (Library and Archives Canada)

By the late 1920s Brandon's 'direct pumping' waterworks system was under strain on a couple of fronts. For one, it was running close to capacity and experienced dips in the pressure at peak times. This annoyed residential users, angered industrial users and worried fire department officials.

As Brandon and the municipalities upstream of her grew, so did the amount of sewage and industrial pollutants that they released into the Assiniboine. The current system didn't allow for any treatment, such as chlorination, because the water never sat anywhere long enough to be treated.

In early 1930 Brandon announced a major upgrade to the system: a 625,000 gallon* elevated water tank. That volume represented about one-third of the city's daily water usage which would be chlorinated, then stored. The pumps, and therefore the water pressure, would be set at a constant level and at peak demand water would be released from the tower into the mains.

In the spring of 1930 the City of Brandon hired W. M. Scott, a Winnipeg-based engineer, to draw up plans for the new mile-long water main and standpipes needed to accommodate the new tower.

Once the c
onstruction began, Scott claimed that Mayor Cater assured him that he would do the consulting work on the water tower phase of the project. After a couple of weeks working on his own time, it became apparent to Scott that it was not Cater’s project to give out. Council hadn't made a decision as to who would consult on the tower and were openly contemplating doing it themselves.

Brandon Daily Sun, June 21, 1930

In mid-June Scott quit the project and returned to Winnipeg, firing off a letter to council in which he "...expressed some dissatisfaction with the manner in which city council has handled the situation..." (June 16 1930, Winnipeg Free Press). The following week, council decided that they wanted Scott back on the job. They approved a $2,500 contract and sent Mayor Cater to Winnipeg on a 'special mission' to make the offer in person. Scott accepted.

June 17, 1930, Winnipeg Free Press

In the midst of the wrangling, tragedy struck the project.

On June 16, 1930, Joseph Trelka (the above headline misspelled his name) was working in a water main ditch on Louise near 16th Street when it caved in on him. Fellow workers dug him out and rushed him to hospital but he died just before noon from major internal injuries.

A check of the Henderson Directories shows that Trelka was a teamster but, like thousands in Brandon at the time, found himself without work. The water main construction that he was assigned to was part of a Depression relief scheme for unemployed men. The cave in took place at 9 a.m. on his very first shift.

Trelka lived on 10th Avenue and left a wife and five young children.

July 25, 1930, Winnipeg Free Press

Officials were surprised that there were only two bids for the water tower, both coming in just hours before tenders closed. One was from Manitoba Bridge and Iron Works of Winnipeg ($54,000), the other from Horton Steel and Iron Works of Bridgburg, Ontario ($49,500). Horton's 'elevated gravity supply water tank' won.

U.S. Horton Tank ad ca 1928

Horton Iron Works was the Canadian division of Chicago Bridge and Iron Works (CB&I). Formed in 1865 by Horace E. Horton, the Canadian division was established in 1913 and renamed Horton Iron Works as a tribute to the late founder in 1921.

1938 tower patent (source)

Despite the name, the company’s specialty was the construction of industrial, steel tanks. In 1890 Horton revolutionized the tank business with the ‘hemispherical-bottom elevated steel tank’, a few years later they introduced the elliptical-bottomed tank to the market. Horton and CB&I had numerous patents and their water tanks were fixtures in hundreds of towns and cities across North America. (See below.)

In August 1930 construction of the tower's footings began. The contract for concrete was let to A. R. McDiarmid Limited at 800 Assiniboine and the lumber contract was split between McDiarmid and Wade and Sons, a cabinetry company at 117-14th Street. Their work had to be done by the end of September, that's when the Horton Steel Works took over the site.

Brandon in 1940s, tower in background (Peel)

On December 12, 1930, right on schedule, the water tank was ready for its first test and was filled to capacity to check for weak spots in the iron work. Once it passed it was emptied, filled again and put into service the following week with little fanfare. (Painting had to wait until the spring of 1931.)

The Brandon Sun later interviewed waterworks chief engineer Robert McFarlaine who said that the strain on the pumps and the unequal pressure were things of the past and that "...there is not a single part of the entire system that is not directly benefited by the operation of the tower." (December 14, 1930.)

Present Day

Source eBrandon

The 'Horton elevated gravity supply water tank', sits on the grounds of the East End Community Centre, which was created the year after the tower was erected. It served Brandon until it was decommissioned in 2001.


Letter to Ed, Brandon Sun, re: Heritage

September / October 2011: The tower was considered surplus and in 2011 Brandon city council voted to tear it down in 2012. A campaign that included Councillor Len Isleifson (Riverview) and the Brandon East Enders fought the move and at the October 2011 city council meeting the tower was saved. (See more of the debate at eBrandon.)

December 2011: The tower is featured in a national Molson TV ad !

Other Horton Tanks

As mentioned above, CB&I installed hundreds of tanks across North America, though the American ones were built in U.S. plants.

As for the Horton Steel Works' Canadian towers, most that still exist are from the 1950s and 60s era. Examples are here 1, 2, 3, 4, plus there are two in Sudbury that are part of a a Save the Towers campaign and a 1958 tank in Lethbridge that has been converted into a restaurant.

There are few references that I can find for existing Canadian tanks of the same vintage as Brandon's. Waterloo's ca 1927 tower was demolished in 2010.Yorkton had a circa 1930 Horton tower but it appears to have been torn down after the construction of a new one, (I am still checking on that). There is an existing 1931, 189k gallon Horton railway water tower in Hillsborough NB.

A side note is that Horton Steel Works built the steel plates and hydraulic operating pistons that make up the Winnipeg Floodway gates (source.)

The Company

The Horton Steel Works plant in Bridgeburg, now part of Fort Erie, Ontario, closed in 1996. The town is exploring redevelopment options for the brownfield site. The parent company, now known as CB&I, still operates around the world. Their most recent Canadian contract was for $50m to build a twelve tank complex at an oil sands project in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

For more on CB&I during the Depression.

Reference / Sources:

- Photos of current Brandon water tower used with permission from eBrandon members
- Brandon's Henderson Directories,1892 - 1933. (Some are available at Peel).
- Brandon Sun: pre-1910 at Manitobia; 1920s & 30's from library microfiche.
- Brandon population stats from Clark.
- Brandon: A History by Barker (at Winnipeg Public Library)

© Christian Cassidy. Please do note duplicate or re-post this material without consent of the writer.

For more of my Brandon History posts.

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