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Article from The Colonist              April 11, 1946

City Watersheds

Frank M. Kelley

Victoria’s fresh water supply and it’s treatment have been topics if discussion, pro and con, since it was considered expedient – as a purely defensive measure, it was stated – to mix a dash of the chemical chlorine with the aqua pura flowing through the system of pipelines carrying the liquid to the metal taps of the city’s households and hostelries.

About the advisability of continuing, now that the men in uniform have been dispersed, to chlorinate the local water supply, which proponents of the bacillus-killing preparation claim is still necessary, or whether the contrary view should have its way and water reach the thirsty in its natural quality, is an argument likely to continue indefinitely, no matter which trend of thought prevails.

It could be, too, in a few years at most that hitherto unknown methods of assuring pure water supplies and the good health of the individual will be introduced and possibly produce just as decided divisions of opinions as the water we are using today has created in the last few years. Such arguments show that certain citizens are definitely interested in the welfare of their community, however.
Good water is this city’s most priceless possession. For many years Victoria’s main water supply came from Beaver and Elk Lakes. When it was decided to go to Beaver Lake for water, the City Fathers, busy with trying to make two ends meet, probably never envisioned the future expansion of this community.

Food and Drink from Taps

Demands on the Beaver Lake fluid grew greater year by year with the result that in certain Summer months housewives had to attach muslin bags to taps in order to strain the water needed for family use. Earthy matter clung thickly to the material and at times small bugs and occasional little leaches would be revealed. “Food and drink” were the words commonly used by Victorians to describe the concoction. Naturally this water was not drinkable and had to be boiled first. Had chlorination been the practice in those days it would have required a lot of the chemical to purify it. Yet Victoria escaped outbreaks of disease which usually threaten communities where the water is not pure or nearly so.

Then it came to pass that Victorians began to realize that the city had a future, in which water would be an important consideration. The closest natural location was the area containing the Goldstream Lakes; but this had been alienated by private individuals grouped under the name of Esquimalt Water Works.

Members of this company believed for some time that they would be called upon to supply Victoria with water, and had made numerous overtures to this end. Victoria went farther afield, however, when it decided to move, and secured a much more extensive watershed in the Sooke Hills, the main reservoir of which was, and is, Sooke Lake. This move meant that the Esquimalt Water Works people had to eventually sell their holdings to the city when it was ready to take in what is logically part of Victoria’s water storage area.

While on the subject of water, the time may be opportune to say something of Victoria’s first source of water and the conditions prevailing before the Beaver Lake project came into existence. The writer arrived here long enough ago to hear what some of the original citizens had to say about water, which had been at one time in the luxury class. There were wells; but these, while they were sufficient to supply the needs of the Hudson’s Bay Company post, were entirely inadequate when the gold-seekers from Oregon and California landed in the vicinity of the Fort and built a town of wood and canvas nearby.

Derived Name From Spring

Spring Ridge derived its name from the existence of a spring, located on land belonging to the Hudson’s Bay Company, from which it was hauled in barrels from door to door and sold by the bucket for ten cents. It cost more in the saloons. If a thirsty person craved water, a glass of the Spring Ridge fluid was the same price. Victoria remained healthy and there were no epidemics.

What would have happened had a fire occurred must be left to conjecture; for the town depended mainly on the cart-drawn water, although there was a large cistern containing salt water in case fire should break out in its vicinity. This was located at the bottom of Yates Street, from which the water would have been pumped if needed.
Only once while water came from the Spring Ridge location was the continuity of supply interfered with. That was when George Hunter Cary, a legal luminary, who was one of Victoria’s early residents, purchased the site of the spring from the Hudson’s Bat Company. When the water-carriers arrived one morning to fill their barrels they found the spring fenced in. Result – considerable indignation, which caused the company to cancel the sale, when the purveyors of water carried on as usual. Cary, by the way, was the builder and owner of a turreted building, long known as Cary Castle, parts of which remodeled still stand near Rockland Avenue on Government House grounds, part of the residence of British Columbia governors since purchased by Governor Seymour, the first governor to occupy it.

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