In the days of the steam locomotive the Canadian Pacific Railway built enclosed
water towers that could be heated during the harsh Canadian winters to keep
the water from freezing. Towers, pump houses and coal sheds were constructed
approximately 50 miles (80 kilometres) apart, the distance a steam locomotive
could safely travel between water refills.
Distinctive octagonal towers began to be built in 1903 to replace low, round,
wooden tower in use since 1882. Built to fairly standard plan, the octagonal
towers contained a wooden or steel tank with a capacity of (40,000 gallons
(181,840 litres) of water. The tank rested upon a framework of large wooden
support timbers. A coal-burning boiler powered a pump, which circulated warm
water into the tank to kept the tank from freezing. Later electric pumps were
used to circulate the heated water. A ball, or "float", glided along a pole atop
the tower to indicate the level of the water inside.
It was usually the job of the section man, who patrolled and maintained section
of track upon which the water tower was located, to keep the fire stoked. This
would require visiting the tower daily when temperatures were low (as much as
– 40°C and even lower during the dead of winter).
Forest fires were a threat to infrastructure in the interior of British Columbia,
particularly in the early years. For example, in 1885 a forest fire consumed
fourteen boxcars of lumber destined for construction of the Stoney Creek trestle
in the Beaver River valley. In 1886, the first year of transcontinental operation,
the Surprise Creek bridge caught fire three times as forest fires swept the
Beaver River valley.