The story of Selkirk’s water tower

The town of Selkirk, Manitoba was incorporated in 1882 and achieved city status in 1998. Located 22 kilometres north of Winnipeg, its population of 10,278 makes it the seventh largest community in the province.


Selkirk Water Tower (1961) — 353 Jemima Street

After a 1958 inspection the town of Selkirk got some bad news about its old water tower, a 60,000-gallon (227,000 litre) tank built in 1909. Engineers found it to be so badly corroded that they gave it less than two years before it failed, leaving the community without a water supply.

In January 1961, the city put out tenders for a new, 250,000-gallon (946,000 litre) tank. It favoured an elevated structure even though it would be more expensive to build and maintain because, thanks to gravity, it could deliver water to homes and hydrants during a power failure.

The Horton Steel Company of Fort Erie, Ontario won the competition with its "Horton Watersphere" design.

Horton was the Canadian branch of Chicago Bridge and Iron Works. Though it had several corporate divisions, the manufacture and erection of large water towers was one of its specialties. In 1930, Horton built Brandon’s 625,000-gallon (2.4 million litre) tower and through the 1950s and 60s did the same for cities such as Yorkton, Sault Ste. Marie and Red Deer.

Work got underway on the Jemima Street site in March 1961 by sinking thirteen reinforced caissons 25-feet (7.6 metres) into the ground. Before the 27-foot (8.2 metre) diameter sphere went into operation that summer, it was painted in what the Selkirk Enterprise referred to at the time as a “bilious green” with SELKIRK in black lettering. The current colour scheme dates to 1998.

As Selkirk grew, so did its water needs. In 1977, it began to supplement its well water supply with water from the Red River.  After complaints about water quality, in 1995 the city dug additional wells and built a 2.4-million-gallon (9-million litre) underground reservoir making drinking from the Red a thing of the past.

The tower still plays an active role in the city’s water supply system and is its best-known landmark. Its image was used as the City of Selkirk’s 125th anniversary logo in 2007.


Daerwood School (1950) — 211 Main Street

Daerwood school was built to replace the ageing South Ward School built in 1907 on this site. By the 1940s, the old building had become outdated and, like all schools in the area, very overcrowded.

The architect chosen to design the $150,000 structure was Scottish born and trained Edgar Prain from Winnipeg. 

Though he had some experience designing or expanding urban schools Prain chose to do something very different in Selkirk. Rather than the traditional brown or buff brick inlaid with decorative Tyndall stone features, he used a variety of coloured bricks in alternating patterns. The simple silhouette and curved main entrance gives Daerwood School a distinct art deco feel.

The school division turned to its pupils to pick a name for the new school. The winning essay came from 10-year-old Barry Gordon, son of mayor W. E. Gordon. For his efforts Barry received a $15 prize.

Ground was broken in April 1949 but the discovery of an underground stream beneath the site meant that the contractor, Leitch Construction of Winnipeg, had to drive 65 steel caissons before construction could continue. This caused a significant delay in construction time and inflated the price tag.

On July 15, 1950, Daerwood school’s the cornerstone was laid.

The ceremony included acting mayor Steve Oliver, Mr. C. Harper, chair of the school board, Edgar Prain and a performance by the Selkirk Male Voice Choir. The person who got to lay the cornerstone, inside of which is a metal box containing "many documents of interest" including Barry Gordon's winning essay, was provincial education minister C. Rhodes Smith.

The school officially opened to the community on Friday, January 26, 1951. Over 1,500 people showed up to get a tour of its eight classrooms and gymnasium before classes began on Monday.

Some areas of the school, like the basement home economics area and some equipment, had to be put on hold due to budget constraints. Long-time school principal Mae Gardner hosted a tea during the open house to raise money to furnish her own office and teachers’ lounge.

The school has been expanded a number of times. To the credit subsequent school division officials, they chose to hide the additions behind the original building leaving its unique, colourful façade intact.


Garry Theatre (1954) — 225 Manitoba Avenue

Selkirk’s original Garry Theatre opened on November 29, 1948 as part of Rothstein Theatres Ltd. chain.

The Rothsteins were a well-known Winnipeg-based family. Nathan, president of the company, got his start as a theatre owner but by this time was president and general manager of Winnipeg’s Marlborough Hotel ownership group. The day-to-day operations of the theatre business was left to son, David. At its peak in the late 1950s, Rothstein Theatres operated nineteen theatres in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The Selkirk Enterprise newspaper congratulated the Rothsteins weeks after the opening for “raising the level of entertainment” in Selkirk. The city’s other theatre, the Roxy on Eveline Street which the Rothsteins had operated since 1938, was too small to get first-run movies.

On Sunday, January 3, 1954, the Garry suffered a major fire. Nobody was hurt and, thanks to its newer construction and relatively modern fire protection systems, the blaze did not spread to other buildings on Manitoba Avenue.

Eleven days later, Rothstein took out a newspaper ad thanking firefighters for their efforts and letting patrons know that new projection equipment and chairs had already been ordered and that firms, such as general contractor Claydon Construction of Winnipeg, were signed and would soon start rebuilding.

In what Rothstein boasted was “one of the greatest rebuilding jobs in history” the Garry Theatre re-opened on April 12, 1954 with mayor Steve Oliver cutting the ribbon. The first film shown was the romantic comedy Kiss Me Kate.

The new, 110-seat theatre boasted nicer chairs than its predecessor as well as air conditioning and a wider screen for new technologies like CinemaScope. It retained a unique feature of the original theatre: a crying room for moms and babies.

In 1972, the Rothstein family sold off its theatre holdings to Rokemay Theatres, a forerunner to Landmark Cinemas which own it to this day.

Landmark closed the theatre in July 1976 for extensive renovations which included the addition of the building’s unique wooden façade. It re-opened on August 11, 1976 with a showing of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Christian explores local history on his blogs West End Dumplings and Winnipeg Downton Places.