Water Quality in Owen Sound has been an issue since the 1840s, two Owen Sound entrepreneurs in the 1870s attempted to rectify the situation.
This past Monday evening panic struck our household, especially the teenagers, when we lost water pressure. Anyone who lives in a rural area, especially in the past few months, knows about the fear of a well going dry. Fortunately, after a call to Murray, our helpful plumber, who gave us directions on what to do, we discovered that the pump only needed priming.
After the water started flowing normally again, the discussion in the family room turned to how the early settlers in this area got their water.
When I told them that in Owen Sound many people depended upon water being caught in rain barrels, there were many looks of disbelief in the room!
It is somewhat ironic that obtaining pure water for consumption was a big problem for the early citizens of Owen Sound. After all, the community is located on the shores of Georgian Bay and two rivers run through the town. But, in the early decades of Owen Sound's existence, health problems related to impure water quality were rampant in the town.
Many subscribe to the theory that Owen Sound had expanded its industrial base without consideration to the protection of its water quality and supply. Although there is some truth to this circumstance, noted Owen Sound historian Melba Croft relates in her book, Fourth Entrance to Huronia, that the water supply was so tainted that in early times school children drank liquor from a hollowed log located at the door of the school house rather than drink the water!
In the 1870s Owen Sound was a thriving port community and industries abounded in the harbour area. Most of them dumped their refuge into the harbour, contaminating the water for human consumption.
Fortunately, two local entrepreneurs, Richard Notter and S.J. Parker, realized that the community's water supply had to be improved. Their reasons were two-fold. One, Owen Sound was getting a reputation as an unhealthy place to live. This made it difficult to attract new commercial and industrial enterprises to locate in the area. Secondly, they felt that it was time that something was done to improve the living conditions in their community.
At that time Owen Sounders depended upon three main sources for their water. One was a spring located near Inglis Falls, private wells and the rain barrels. These barrels were located on many street corners and also on private property. To purify the rain water collected from these containers, it was poured through a piece of cloth.
In 1876 Notter and Parker discovered that a government statute allowed private enterprise to establish public water works systems. For three years they worked to create an effective and sanitary water supply system for Owen Sound. Finally, in 1879, after working to create what they considered to be the best possible system and lobbying for the support of community leaders, the town council enacted a bylaw favorable to their plans.
The Act authorized the construction of the water works and, after a payment of $35,000 from Notter and Parker, they were awarded the rights to supply the community with water. The bylaw also stipulated that after 10 years the town had the right to purchase the utility from the two men at an arbitrated price. In October 1880, amid great fanfare, the water works began operations. The town council declared a civic holiday on the occasion. Everyone was convinced that the health problems associated with the consumption of impure water had been defeated. However, that was not the case. Owen Sound still suffered from many outbreaks of disease which affected the health of its citizens and visitors. It was not-until almost a half century later, in the late 1920s, that modern purification methods finally solved the dilemma concerning drinking water quality in Owen Sound.
A version of this article originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on February 12, 1999
12-year-old Walks to Owen Sound in 1851 from the journal of a teenage boy's experience travelling with his brother in the untamed Upper Canadian wilderness.
In the 1920s, Owen Sound got New Elevators. After losing the CPR elevators to fire, the community fought hard to get new elevators for their harbour and improve the community's economy.
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1960s Owen Sound marked a period of change and new growth to the commercial and industrial life that would impact the citizens of Owen Sound and change the patterns of doing business.
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Brooke: A brief history of an important, yet distinctly different, community that became a key element in Owen Sound's development as a important Georgian Bay port city.
Charles Rankin, I Presume: October 7, 1840 marked the meeting of Land Agent John Telfer and surveyor Charles Rankin on the banks of the Sydenham River and the founding of Owen Sound.
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Black History: The Underground Railway is an important part not only in terms of black history, but of the history of southwestern Ontario.
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Billy Bishop: Owen Sound Hero earned national and international fame as a World War One Fighter pilot and used his high profile to aid in the World War Two effort.
John Harrison - A Tough Owen Sound Pioneer whose grit and determination created a prosperous life for himself and his family in a new community.
William Harrison, The Source of John Harrison's Grit: details the influence of John's father, William Harrison, on John and his siblings.
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Black Clawson Kennedy: An Iconic Owen Sound Industry provided income for area residents and economic development for the community for almost 150 years.
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Owen Sound 1840 Onward! From a clearing in the Georgian Bay wilderness to a booming port city the 1800s were a time of growth and prosperity.
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Owen Sound Tavern Bylaw (1857) tried to tackle the issue of monitoring taverns in the Upper Canadian pioneer wilderness.
Owen Sound's 1857 Bylaw: Dog Control illustrated how a pioneer town controlled dogs in the community, sometimes even using harsh measures.
Owen Sound CPR Strike in 1908 immobilized harbour activities in that important Georgian Bay port, the CPR's eastern Great Lakes terminus.
Owen Sound CPR Link began with a bang, suffered a setback, and ended with a whimper.
Owen Sound Entrepreneurs: S.J. Parker & Richard Notter used their wealth and their friendships to built many community-oriented businesses in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
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Pioneer Story of a Child in 1846 (Part 2) continues the memories of Elizabeth Byth as she encountered life in the Upper Canada wilderness that became Owen Sound.
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Water Quality in Owen Sound has been an issue since the 1840s, two Owen Sound entrepreneurs in the 1870s attempted to rectify the situation.
Owen Sound, located on beautiful Georgian Bay offers a wide variety of entertainment and shopping delights for visitors of all ages. The city and its surrounding area has a rich history, parks and other natural areas for bird watchers, hikers, cross country skiers, etc.