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Nelson’s forgotten reservoir

Updated: May 15, 2022

Some of the earliest picture postcards of Nelson (seen below) look west down the Kootenay River with the corner of a pond in the foreground.

The latter was the Park Street reservoir, which sat between Observatory and Gore streets on the north and south and between Park and Cherry streets on the west and east. It was just below the present Nelson-Salmo Great Northern Trail, formerly the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway.

It has long since been decommissioned, but it might surprise you to learn that it’s still there. Although it takes up the better part of a city block in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, it’s well hidden.

Above all from Greg Nesteroff collection

City of Vancouver Archives AM54-S4/Major Matthews Collection

The earliest mention I can find of a reservoir in Nelson is in the Tribune of Dec. 22, 1892. It was reportedly near the corner of Mill and Hall streets, and I presume it’s the one marked below on Perry’s Mining Map of West Kootenay, published in early 1893.

But another reservoir already existed near the future site of Mountain Station. I don’t know who built it — several private water works companies operated in Nelson at the time — but it was likely the Consumer Waterworks Co.

The Nelson Miner referred to this second reservoir on July 21, 1894:

Nelson is supplied with water from a small dam situated on the hillside above the town, scarcely large enough to supply water from the quenching of one fire. The dam or reservoir is supplied not by a spring, but by a small stream of water which rises far up the hill above the railway line. When it was first put in the railway did not exist …

(The “small stream” mentioned is probably Ward Creek.)

The Miner worried that nearby privies and slop from a railway cookhouse were contaminating the creek, but the station master denied it. The following year the Miner complained “The supply in the dam is low. It is covered with a foul scum and dogs are said to swim about in its waters.”

The City of Nelson acquired the assets of the Consumer Waterworks Company following incorporation in 1897, and either expanded the reservoir or rebuilt it. The Economist of Oct. 6, 1897 provided us with this description:

The reservoir, an earthen one with clay puddle lining, is situated at the corner of Robson and Park streets, at an elevation of 460 feet above Baker street, and has a capacity of one million gallons. It is fully 40 feet above the highest point in the city — the head of Stanley street.

Water was brought from Anderson Creek via a two-mile flume.

Here’s how the reservoir appears on the 1899 Nelson fire insurance map.

Here it is on a 1912 map, labelled “Reservoir capacity 1,000,000 gallons,” along with a bunch of streets to the east that were never built. (The second image has been rotated counter clockwise.)

And here it is on the 1921 fire insurance map, although I’m not sure what the hand-drawn outline denotes. Perhaps just the area that was fenced off.

Here is one later postcard view, from the 1930s or so.

Greg Nesteroff collection

The reservoir continued to be used until 2003, when a neighbour complained of water in their basement and worried the reservoir was leaking.

Upon being drained, the reservoir slumped — something that had never happened before. Since it was exposed to contamination, the city decided to get by without it for a while. By this time another reservoir existed nearby at Mountain Station (built in 1937, with a capacity of nearly five million gallons) as well as one in Rosemont (300,000 gallons, mainly for fire flows).

The Park Street reservoir was decommissioned and vegetation allowed to grow in.

None of this received any media coverage at the time — it was only mentioned in passing in 2005 when the city decided to build a 440,000 gallon reservoir in Fairview. It was completed the following year.

The Park Street reservoir remains fenced, with a small forest growing out of its former pond. It’s still the home of a pressure reducing station.

Despite the amount of land it takes up, it’s easy to miss because you can only really spot it from the lane that connects Cherry and Park streets.

I forgot it existed, if I ever knew, until noticing it on Google Maps, where it still shows up as a body of water. (The satellite image, however, disabused me of that notion.)

As for its future: an update to the city’s water master plan in 2018 recommended turning it back into a reservoir for fire flow storage.

— With thanks to Rob Nystrom, Donna Macdonald, Gil Bogaard, and Ernie Gilfillan. Updated on May 15, 2022 to add the 1930s postcard view.

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