Hamilton’s First Water Reservoir

Hamilton’s  First Water Reservoir

by Joachim Brouwer

All towns, villages and cities have places to store water for residents. Like public squares and court houses, water tanks signify a town’s importance.

The first water tanks were flimsy, rickety things made of corrugated steel with sloping tin roofs.

Today many towns and villages possess giant oval-shaped concrete tanks sitting on splayed legs, resembling resting spaceships. Emblazoned on the tank is often a brash, punchy platitude, extolling the town’s civic aspirations.

Hamilton has had its share of above-ground tanks over the decades. Ironically, as a town becomes a city, its water supply goes underground and out of sight. In the 1860s Hamilton had about 40,000 inhabitants that needed a reliable, clean water supply. Stream water from Ancaster Creek was initially proposed, but when the escarpment runoff water proved to be contaminated when it was stored, the then unpolluted water of Lake Ontario was chosen.

colour image of kenilworth reservoir
Photo by Joachim Brouwer

In the mid 19th century, the entire Crown Point perimeter figured in the gargantuan undertaking of diverting and lifting up thousands of gallons of Lake Ontario water. It was a public works project equivalent to the construction of the Red Hill Valley Parkway 150 years later.

The Waterworks Act of 1856 empowered Hamilton to appropriate as much land as was required. The Board of Water, which included luminaries such as Peter Balfour, Adam Brown, and Charles Magill, hardly winced at the budget of 300,000 pounds.

The grandiose pumping station, consisting of huge blocks of Queenston limestone and designed by the omniscient figure of Thomas Keefer, was located at the north-east border of Crown Point. The cast-iron underground pipes, the above-ground right of way (which we know as the Pipeline Trail) ran north-west to a reservoir half way up the Niagara Escarpment. The reservoir had a capacity of nine million gallons that travelled, by gravity, the five miles to Hamilton. Hand dug, it consisted of puddling clay, rubble masonry, and stone blocks with a cement border,

The residents of Bartonville (Crown Point’s only settlement for many years, near King and Rosedale) could see the conifers and manicured grounds of Reservoir Park directly above them. It became a popular summer destination.  The sinuous path of Ottawa Street coming up from the base of escarpment and Flock Road (which later became part of the Kenilworth Access) both led to Reservoir Park.

The reservoir’s success was demonstrated early on, when its water was used to put out a raging fire at a grain elevator at the Great Western Railway yards off Stuart Street.

Sometime in the 1980s the open reservoir was covered with a concrete shell, over which dirt was placed and grass planted. Full of thorny brush, the grounds are now barely discernible, as is the stone watering tower that served The Hamilton and Lake Erie Railway locomotives which laboured up the escarpment. There are only few concrete protrusions left to mark the site of Hamilton’s Reservoir Park.


2 thoughts on “Hamilton’s First Water Reservoir

  1. I have visited this site recently and found it not to be covered over but empty and overgrown with brush. Im curious about the tower that still stands next to the rail bed (rail trail). It has a chimney or smoke stack at the top and no sign of outlet for water at the ground level, any idea of what this may have been used for?


  2. This article is unfortunately very inaccurate. Firstly, the Kenilworth Reservoir was built in 1958. The original reservoir is called the Barton Reservoir and was built in 1857-1858 and is located just west of the Kenilworth Reservoir. The remains of which are still present and hopefully will be protected by the City shortly.


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