Hamilton Waterworks

(1859) Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology

Waterworks engraving


The Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology is located in Hamilton’s first public waterworks, completed in 1859 and now a National Historic Site. The site is the only intact mid-19th-century waterworks surviving in North America. All the major buildings are also preserved, including the boilerhouse, pumphouse, chimney and fuel shed. Other features, such as the workers’ houses and the elaborate landscaping, are only visible as fragments.

Thomas Coltrin Keefer, a prominent civil engineer, designed the waterworks system. The plan included two steam-powered pumping engines that drew water from nearby Lake Ontario and pushed it to a reservoir three kilometres west and 57 metres above the level of the lake. From the reservoir, water flowed downhill into the city.

The waterworks provided clean water for citizens, but also much-needed water for factory processes. The system included fire hydrants, which limited fire damage and lowered insurance rates — an important factor in garnering support for the project from the local business community.

The steam engines were constructed in Dundas, Ontario, by the John Gartshore Company. Built to a very advanced design, the engines and pumps operated continuously until 1910.

The municipal pumping station projected a strong and prosperous image for the city. The waterworks was an example of the Italianate architectural style favoured for industrial and public works structures in the 1850s. Notice the elaborate brickwork on the chimney, the Romanesque windows and the irregular stonework.

By 1887, the waterworks could no longer meet the ever-increasing demand for water. In that year, a second pumping station was built beside the original building. This station contained two engines, designed and built in Hamilton by the Osborne-Killey Company.

In 1910, a new station with electric and steam turbine-driven pumps replaced the older installations. The steam engines remained as backup engines. By 1938, the need for backup engines had passed, and engineers closed the two older plants.

In addition to preserving this important landmark, The Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology conserves and interprets the region’s industrial heritage.

ames McFarlane joined the waterworks as the Chief Engineer in 1859. He retired in 1910 at the age of 81.

The original area was a mixture of farmland, marsh and woods. Since 1859, the district has become a mixed light-industrial and residential neighbourhood.

Keefer may have sought architectural help from Thomas Seaton Scott, a Montreal architect. A watercolour of a building resembling the Hamilton station has been preserved in the Scott Collection at the National Archives of Canada.