James Avenue Pumping Station
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Much of downtown Winnipeg was threatened in 1904 when
a fire raged out of control at James Ashdown’s Main
Street hardware store. The domestic water supply, fed by
artesian wells, proved inadequate to fight a fire of this
scale. Untreated Red River water was pumped into the domestic
supply in a desperate attempt to increase water pressure.
The fire was extinguished but contamination of the city’s
water supply resulted in 1,300 cases of typhoid fever in
the following days.
Winnipeg already had North America’s highest rate of
typhoid since much of the immigrant population north of downtown
had no access to the artesian wells and regularly consumed
river water. Regardless, the business-oriented civic leaders
saw fire protection for their new commercial buildings as
the priority. James Ashdown, owner of the fire-ravaged hardware
store and foremost member of Winnipeg’ commercial/political
elite, led the way in the construction of the James Avenue
High Pressure Pumping Station. He became Winnipeg’s
mayor in 1906.