Cooper Cove was the site where the flow line was being assembled.

Our water pipeline adventure

Historian Elida Peers writes about the past in the Sooke region

We take it for granted, but an adequate water supply is surely one of society’s foremost needs. When it was determined late in the 1800s that the growing City of Victoria needed a source of water that would serve long-range needs, the city fathers searched for a solution.

Sooke Lake was chosen as the best available source and plans were set afoot. Late in 1911 Westholme Lumber Co. was contracted to construct a flowline that could carry water from Sooke Lake to Victoria.  For two years this company employed hundreds of men to survey and slash out a grade on which a concrete pipeline could be laid.

The plan was to construct a dam at Sooke Lake, lay 27 miles of concrete pipeline that would carry water by gravity to a reservoir that would be built at Humpback (Goldstream) and then deliver the water for distribution to Victoria residents via a riveted steel pipe.

The scene here shows Coopers Cove in 1914, when the inlet was a hive of activity. If you were standing on the upper side of the highway east of the cove, where this picture is taken from, today you would see a restaurant/kayak college where the main construction shed stood, and where the road runs westward in the upper right of the picture you would now see the Shell station.

While the picture shows hundreds of concrete pipe sections, 4 feet diameter and 4 feet in length, there were actually more than 35,000 sections manufactured. Though you see high voltage hydro poles here, carrying electricity from Jordan River to Victoria, it ran right through Sooke with no transformer station that would have allowed local access to electricity.

The concrete was mixed by steam powered boilers fueled by oil. Gravel, sand, cement and oil barrels were brought in by barges, and again, hundreds of men were employed, both in the manufacturing process and the challenging task of installing the pipes along the prepared grade.

Walking along the pipeline as a youngster, I saw it as a fun outing and had no concept of the incredible challenge that these hardy men undertook. First, to survey a route that would provide a gravity flow, following along all those gulleys and canyons, with a drop from Sooke Lake to Humpback Reservoir of only 171 feet; then to slash brush and blast rock to create a level grade, build concrete trestles over the gorges, manufacture the pipe sections and transport them on a narrow gauge railway the 18 miles to Sooke Lake and nine miles to Humpback Reservoir.  What a feat of engineering!

Perhaps it was small wonder that the first contractor and the city parted company and new management took over early in 1913, completing the job throughout the next two years. A firm called Pacific Lock Joint Pipe Co. from Tacoma was contracted to produce the concrete pipes, which carried water to serve Victoria between 1915 and 1971. Since then, the water has flowed through the bored Kapoor Tunnel, but somehow that doesn’t sound nearly as adventurous as this early heyday of construction.

Elida Peers,

Historian

Sooke Region Museum

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