The James Ave Pumping Station

Designed to Lower Fire Insurance Rates

in the Golden Age of Machinery

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas



the James Ave Pumping Station is a rare jewel from the golden age of machinery. Built by City Engineer Col HN Ruttan in 1906, the James Ave Pumping Station was designed to help keep Winnipeg fire insurance rates low.


Winnipeg was growing rapidly. Massive stone warehouses with wooden post and beam construction were springing up all over the warehouse district. The trade they did in supplying all of western Canada was so good they kept expanding and new firms wanted to expand into Winnipeg. The major problem they were facing were Winnipeg's high fire insurance rates because of the reduced ability of the fire department to fight fires.

There simply wasn't enough water coming out of the fire hydrants to do the job. The answer a high pressure pumping station called the James Ave Pumping Station. When complete it became the pride of the City Waterworks and Fire Department and was partly responsible for the construction of additional warehouse capacity.


The Pumping Station was designed by City Engineer Lt Col Henry Norlonde Ruttan. He was borne in Ontario in 1848 and served as a survey engineer to Sir Sanford Fleming. He began his career as City Engineer starting in 1885 and would serve for the next 29 years till 1914.

Ruttan designed Winnipeg's first artesian well system in 1900, which gave the first pure water for decades. But its volume was inadequate to serve the whole city (The north end did not have water at this time). And if a big fire broke out the pressure was inadequate.

By 1900 the Red was too polluted and in 1904 when a big fire broke out and river water was used it ended up polluting the water supply causing a typhoid outbreak. It would not be till 1919 that all Winnipeggers could have pure and abundant water. Ruttan served as head of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineers and was one of the best known engineers in Canada. At his retirement dinner held at the Fort Garry in 1914, Ruttan was declared "the supervising genius of Winnipeg's expansion."


Ruttan also had a distinguished military career, which resumed during WW1. He had fought against the Fenians in 1866, was Captain of the Little Black Devils in 1883, and served in the 1885 Saskatchewan Rebellion. Ruttan died in 1925 at his home at 180 Westgate.


Most of the $1,000,000 cost in 1906 was raised from taxing downtown businesses. When finished it had the capacity to create pressures of 300 LB per square inch pushing 9,000 gal per minute and was the largest such plant in the world. Initially it drew water from the Red River and supplied water for drinking as well as fire fighting. But by the time the Shoal lake Aqueduct was completed it drew this fresh supply of water.

It’s a living museum of how the city's equipment and operations functioned 90 years ago. There is nothing else quite like it in North America. In 1962 the engines were converted to natural gas.


The pumping stations operated until when it was taken out of service. It continued to serve as a training facility for the city's waterworks dept. It is in remarkably intact condition the old engines and pumps are still there I the last few years there has been interest to turn this wonderful authentic interior into a restaurant with a brew pub theme.


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