A history of Lacombe’s water supply

Water was a prime necessity for the developing community.


Water was a prime necessity for the developing community.

With no dependable brooks or creeks nearby, local householders relied on shallow hand-dug wells for water.

The water from these shallow wells was alkaline and not particularly palatable so many houses were constructed with cisterns to store rainwater.

The story is told of Jake Dolmage who lived beside the railway station.

He was the CPR land agent and he also acted as the self-appointed immigration agent for the community  of Lacombe.

He would greet each newcomer as they disembarked from the train to determine whether they were interested in settling in the area or not.

If so, and if he liked the cut of their jib, he would offer to take them to the parcels of land still available for homesteading in the area.

If he did not approve of them he would offer them a drink from the well beside the station while casually mentioning that this was the best water to be found in the Lacombe area, but much superior water was very abundant further north.

Recipients of that advice usually re-boarded the train and continued their journey.

Because of its alkaline nature the water also did not produce ice of the desired quality for the Cummings’ skating rink.

To meet this challenge, Cummings equipped his rink with large storage tanks to hold rain water collected from the roof.

The teakettles of residents and the boilers of the railroad locomotives were particularly vulnerable to the corrosive properties of Lacombe well water.

Thus, in 1904 the newly fledged Lacombe Board of Trade with both the population and the railroad in mind, commissioned the testing of water from Barnett and Jackfish (now Lacombe) lakes.

The CPR responded in late 1905 by constructing a pipeline from a pump house located at the southeast corner of Barnett Lake to a water tower which was located on the east side of the tracks just north of where the present tracks cross Hwy. 12.

The line, constructed of wood staves and laid in a hand-dug ditch, followed a south easterly course to enter the town near the present day intersection of 52nd St. and 56 Ave.

The water tower was equipped with a float that rose or fell on the slender mast that crowned the tower.

This mast was visible from the lake so the pump operator at the lake always knew when to activate the pump.

The water tower, which was retired when steam power was replaced by diesel, has spent its declining years on a farm south of Clive.

Of course, water was an absolute necessity for fire control.

Prior to 1900 the primitive Burris pumper was charged with water carried in pails from the nearest private well or cistern.

An early use of this equipment, captured in a photograph by John Scales, shows the pumper with several firemen tending hoses amidst slush (obviously in below zero weather) within a few feet of the Halberg harness shop that stood on the corner now dominated by the entrance to the Flatiron building.

This shop was replaced in 1903 by the erection of the Merchant’s Bank.

After completion of the water line from Barnett Lake in 1906 the water source became the CPR water tower.

The town established its first volunteer fire brigade in 1907, but water to charge the pumper continued to be delivered by bucket brigade.

The first attempt to improve the delivery system came in 1910 when Town council responded to a petition and commissioned the drilling of a well in a location central to the business district.

The site chosen for this public well was adjacent to the town office. Good water was found at a depth of 209½ ft.

A water storage tank was erected above the well and the area around its legs was enclosed to serve as the dog pound.

Meanwhile the Blindman River dam had failed.

The Blindman River Electric Company folded in 1908 and the Town took over its assets.

The power source was then converted to steam by installing an auxiliary steam generator in Danners Peacemaker Flour Mill.

It was here that it served double duty.

It would power the milling equipment during the day and, by the simple expedient of shifting the position of the drive belt, it would power the electrical generator during the evening hours.

In 1909, the Town let tenders to construct a brick building adjacent to the Town office to house two steam generators.

However, the system experienced the same corrosion problems that had plagued the railroad locomotives a decade earlier. Those problems were eventually mitigated by new technology and changes in the water source. In 1920 the Town sold equipment and advertised land for sale.

This steam plant continued to operate until Calgary Power took over the franchise in 1929.