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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.


Posted September 13, 2014


Canadian Pacific Railway's

Octagonal Water Towers


This water tower was loosely modelled after pictures of the original tower at Rogers Pass, British

Columbia. (kuid:431633:109919)


This water tower was loosely modelled after pictures of the tower at Brookmere, British Columbia.



This water tower was loosely modelled after pictures of the tower at Cranbrook, British Columbia.



A partially completed tower shows a large wooden framework with wooden tank atop. (kuid:



Here a forest fire has damaged a water tower still under construction. (kuid:431633:111720)