Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology.


Staff member
Feb 15, 2004
The Beach Strip
Modern pumping facility was pride of city

The Hamilton Spectator
May 11, 1985

J. Brian Henley

UNTIL THE mid-1850's, the citizens of Hamilton depended on wells, springs, or creeks for their water supply. There were several creeks running through the city, but these were beginning to dry up as more and more land was developed into building lots. Those living near the bay used that water while others sank wells on their own property.
During the early 1850's, there was increasing concern that the waters of the bay, as well as the water drawn from wells in the city, were becoming polluted and unfit for domestic consumption. Many felt that a major cholera epidemic in the city was made more deadly because of the unsanitary water supply.
Hamilton was poorly regarded by fire insurance companies, who felt that the fire brigade was severely hampered by having to draw water for fire-fighting purposes from wells.
In 1854, city council decided that, for sanitary and safety reasons, it was necessary to call for plans and specifications of a permanent water system for the city of Hamilton. The winner of the prize awarded for the best set of proposals was Thomas C. Keefer.
Keefer named three possible sources of water for the city. Water could be brought to the city by gravitation from the Ancaster area or it could be pumped to the city from either the bay or Lake Ontario.
A Board of Water Commissioners was legislated into existence in 1856, with Adam Brown chosen as its first chairman. The board was given the mandate "to examine, consider and decide upon all matters relative to supplying a sufficient quantity of pure and wholesome water". As the costs of the Keefer proposals were staggering for a city of 25,000, a spirited debate raged over how much of the system could be afforded; Despite strong opposition from many individuals and groups, the water commissioners were determined to build the best water works system possible. In January, 1857, Mr. Keefer was hired by the city of Hamilton to oversee the implementation of his plans. For the next three years, water mains would be laid throughout the city, while a major pumping facility would be constructed near lake Ontario to pump lake water to a reservoir located on the side of the escarpment in Barton Township east of the city.
On Saturday, May 14, 1859, as construction was nearing completion, the Water Commissioners visited the Water Works to monitor the progress of the project. At the Engine House, (now the Museum of Science and Technology, Woodward Avenue), the machinery was nearly all in place and the walls of the handsome stone building were up, but the roof had yet to be put in place and the huge chimney that was planned was yet to be constructed.
Leaving the Pump House, the party proceeded to the reservoir along track of the main pipes. A 30-foot right-of-way for the pipes had been purchased by the Water Commissioners. As the route went through some beautiful countryside, a Spectator reporter, who was on the tour of inspection, suggested that another 30 feet beside tire pipes be purchased so that a road could be built: "We hope the citizens will see to it that the chance of obtaining this line of road will not be lost sight of, as it would certainly be the most delightful drive to be met with anywhere,"
As part of the celebration of Queen Victoria's birthday, May 24, 1859, the Water Commissioners organized a public display of the new water works system's capabilities. At 4 p.m. a large party of dignitaries proceeded to the court house square where the first stream of water from the new city hydrants was turned on. As the artillery band, under the leadership of Peter Grossman played God Save the Queen, the stream rose fully 87 feet in the air.
The assembly then moved over to the vicinity of King and John streets, where another hydrant was tested. The Hook and Ladder Company of the Fire Brigade elevated two ladders in the middle of the street and demonstrated how a stream of water could reach the top of the highest building in the city.
On July 22, 1859, the Water Works were put through a comprehensive series of tests for the manager and directors of North British Assurance Company to prove the capacity of the new system for fire-fighting purposes: "The jet in the Gore was playing, while at the same time, no less than six streams were thrown from three hydrants in the vicinity. A large number of citizens were present and all appeared much gratified with the display."
A reporter for the Spectator visited the Pump House on November 7, 1859, and called the engines, installed by the Dundas foundry, under the direction of John Gartshore, to be the "largest of their kind on the continent, they are so compact, and their various parts so elegant, that as one looks at them at rest, he wonders how so much strength can be sleeping in so small a compass."
The Water Works were completed, and were officially inspected by the Water Commissioners on January 22, 1860. A Spectator reporter, who accompanied the tour of inspection, described the operation of the Gartshore Pumps as follow, "The massive machinery, the power of which is astonishing, moves with the regularity of a clock, and with but little more noise. The immense fly-wheels and walking beams seem to feel the importance of their motive power, so deliberative and solemn do their movements appear. While the powerful machinery is working, not the slightest jarring or trembling in the building can be felt, such is the strength and solidity of the bearings and walls of the engine room."
Later that year, on September 19, 1860, as part of the Royal Tour of Hamilton by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), the Hamilton Waterworks system was officially inaugurated.
In the Water Commissioners' address to the Prince, Adam Brown read the following: "The engines to which your Royal Highness is directed are specimens of Canadian workmanship, the most powerful and highly finished of their kind in the province. The fact that a city of 25,000 inhabitants has carried to completion an undertaking of such magnitude, shows that protection of life and property from fire, sanitary considerations, and social comfort, are as well understood and as highly appreciated here as in larger and older communities."
One hundred and twenty five years later, the Gartshore pumps, still housed in their original stone building, provide interested citizens with prime example of the wonders of nineteenth century steam technology, as applied to the needs of an urban water works system.
The pumping operation at 900 Woodward Avenue is open year-round for public viewing. Public hours are Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. The pumping station is closed Saturday.


Staff member
Feb 15, 2004
The Beach Strip
Hamilton's First Pumphouse.
(A publication from the City of Hamilton)

Victorian Hamilton

The 1850s were prosperous times in Hamilton. The Great Western Railway had located its headquarters and largest railways shops in the city which helped to stimulate economic growth. New factories and businesses were being established and Hamilton's population quickly rose past 10,000. The growing city was at the heart of the emerging Canadian Industrial Revolution.

Urbanization, however, had its costs. In early days, residents drew water from the city's public wells or purchased it from private suppliers. As the population grew, the water supply had become inadequate. The city was also without a sewer system. Therefore, the little available drinking water was easily contaminated by industrial, household and human waste.

The pollution led to the spread of cholera, the curse of 19th century urbanization. Cholera wiped out entire families in a violent and ignoble fashion. Victims suffered terrible fevers, vomiting, diarrhoea and often death. People lived in terror of a disease that attacked without discrimination for age, class or religion. In 1854, cholera in Hamilton claimed over 500 lives - 1 in every 40 residents. . By mid century, the new science of epidemiology was proving that people who drank clean water were far less likely to develop cholera than those who drank polluted water. Armed with this new knowledge, the city held a competition to choose the best design to provide a clean and steady supply of water.

The new waterworks system would not only provide Hamiltonians with water for private consumption but also feed fire hydrants. These would help to diminish destruction caused by fires and reduce the high fire insurance rates that many believed were inhibiting Hamilton's commercial and industrial expansion.

Thomas Keefer, chief engineer of the Montreal Water board and one of Canada's most noted engineers, was appointed judge of this competition.

Thomas Keefer (1821-1915)

Although his many engineering accomplishments attest to his resourcefulness and high standards, Keefer is also remembered as one of the founders of the engineering profession in Canada. He firmly believed that engineering was a professional activity, or should become one, with appropriate ethics and standards: a progressive attitude for his time. It is fitting that in 1856 he became the first engineering professor at McGill College (now McGill University).

Keefer also contributed to an emerging national identity with his two pioneering treatises on transportation: The Influence of Canals in Canada and The Philosophy of Railroads. In the latter work, Keefer crystallized the current economic theories concerning the effects of a railway on the new land. Simply put, Keefer argued that the construction of a railway would result in commercial and industrial development in the area served by the new line. He insisted that the future of Canada lay in such railway expansion.

His academic and literary work aside, Keefer was, by the mid 1850s, a highly experienced civil engineer. His dissatisfaction with the plans submitted for the competition led him to devise his own, creating a system whose principles remain virtually unchanged even today.

Keefer's Plan

Other schemes for delivering water to Hamilton incorporated a variety of sources: Hamilton Harbour; entrapped streams on the Escarpment; even a diverted Grand River. Keefer criticized all of these approaches for failing on one of three grounds: inadequate supply, poor quality or excessive cost.

Keefer realized that Lake Ontario was the only practical source of water in the long term. His proposed system drew water from an infiltration basin at the lakefront and pumped it to a reservoir atop the Niagara Escarpment. From there, gravity carried the water through pipes into the city. Burlington Bay remained the dumping site for the city's waste water.

To raise water from the lake to the reservoir, the waterworks required pumps driven by steam engines. Keefer selected two independently operating 70 ton Woolf Compound Rotative Beam Engines and four Cornish style boilers. These engines were chosen for their high efficiency, reliability and steady action. They were built by John Gartshore's Dundas Iron and Brass Foundry of Dundas, Canada West.

The Waterworks Buildings

Hamilton's waterworks was formally inaugurated in 1860 by the Prince of Wales on the first royal tour of the Canadas.

The complex was an impressive one: the enginehouse was clothed in a handsome Northern Italian chapel style building set on a mound. The height of this building was emphasized by the shorter boilerhouse with its hipped roof and simple bull's eye windows while the chimney imitated a traditional Italian campanile (bell or watch tower). As the tallest structure in the area, the 150 fwt ,-chimney could be seen several miles from shore and served a.s » navigational landmark.

Locally quarried stone was carefully cut by stone masons to form the round arches of the enginehouse windows. These arches echo the architraves of Roman aqueducts and reveal the massive flywheels of an engine completely integrated into the structure of the building.

Working Conditions

The complex was run by two teams of at least three men: a stoker or fireman, an oiler and two engineers (one Chief Engineer and one Shift Engineer) who traded between the 13 hour night shift and the 11 hour day shift.

Working at the site could be both unpleasant and hazardous. Temperatures in the boilerhouse reached 140°F and there was the ever present danger of a boiler explosion. The stoker or fireman manually fed up to 300 Ibs of coal per engine, per hour into the boilers! He also cleaned the boilers regularly by climbing into the stuffy and dark interior and chipping at the scale.

In the pumphouse, the mutton fat based oil spread a rancid smell throughout the building. The poor lighting added to the threat of burns or getting caught in the moving engine. Oilers cleaned the engines and tended the approximately 100 oil cups in each engine. These tasks required skill since they were performed constantly while the engine was running.

Despite these drawbacks, the steady cash wages and on-site lodgings provided for the men and their families made employment at the pump desirable.

Employees were paid the very good wage of about $1.00 a day. In contrast, the Chief Engineer received roughly $2.00 a day.


Staff member
Feb 15, 2004
The Beach Strip
Later History of the Waterworks

In 1882, to meet the increased demand for water from new industries, replacement boilers and pumps nearly doubled the capacity of the station. Hamilton's industrial growth, however, soon outgrew this new capacity. A new station, using Hamilton made Osborne-Kiley engines, was erected in 1887 adjacent the earlier building.

In 1910, an electrically powered station was built and daily use of the 1859 waterworks was finally discontinued. The steam engines remained on stand-by service until 1938. The pumphouse then became vacant except for the occasional cleaning crews and a steady trickle of visitors.

During the 1970s, the Institute of Power Engineers (Hamilton Pump Group) volunteered to return the engines to operating condition. In 1983, the pumphouse was opened to the public as the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology with the former boiler room used as a gallery to display changing exhibits.

In 1988, the site was absorbed into the City of Hamilton's Department of Culture and Recreation. The Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology is now dedicated to preserving and communicating Hamilton's industrial heritage including the 1859 Waterworks.

Steam Power

Although steam power was not actually harnessed for practical use until the 1700s, steam technology has been evolving for almost 2000 years. From the days of Ancient Greece to 17th Century France, experimenters sought to discover the properties of atmospheric pressure, vacuum and heating and cooling.

By 1712, Thomas Newcomen applied these principles to his "Atmospheric" pumping engine which used the weight of the atmosphere pushing against a vacuum to pump water out of mine shafts. Since the vacuum was created by condensing steam in a cylinder, this has been considered the first steam engine. Although very inefficient, it was able to keep deep mines free of water. It was not, however, suitable for many industrial applications.

James Watt (1736-1819) substantially modified Newcomen's engine. He separated the condenser from the steam cylinder; added a parallel motion linkage (a collection of interlinked bars that guided the piston rod); and developed the principle of double action. In the process, Watt and his competitors created steam engines both powerful, economical and steady enough to run factories.

Following Watt's achievements, boilers became more efficient and engines became both more sophisticated and much faster. Steam engines pumped water, drove factories, trains, ships and eventually even automobiles and helicopters.

Charles Parsons' invention of the steam turbine in 1884 eventually ended the dominance of reciprocating steam engines but not of steam power. Indeed, steam turbines generate much of the electrical energy currently used in the world.
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