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The Greater Winnipeg Water District Railway

Mayor Deacon driving the last spike - December 1914
Mayor Deacon driving the last spike - December 1914

1924 photo of GWWD rail yard
1924 photo of GWWD rail yard at Plinguet St.

Excursion train to Shoal Lake in 1922
Excursion train to Shoal Lake in 1922

Hauling firewood
Hauling firewood, circa 1923 - This operation began in 1914 and ceased in the mid-50s.

Milk train
Milk train, circa 1935

Mack car and passenger car 6
Mack car and passenger car 6, circa 1935

Moving crane to Shoal Lake
Moving crane to Shoal Lake - 1994

  • The Greater Winnipeg Water District Railway was built to transport men and supplies for the construction of an aqueduct from Shoal Lake on the Manitoba-Ontario border to Winnipeg. Shoal Lake is the source of drinking water for the City of Winnipeg.

  • Work began on the railway in 1914 with the railway advancing along the right of way of the proposed aqueduct, building up the grade from bed material, with gravel for ballast and lumber for ties.

  • The line was completed in 1915, and serviced the construction of the aqueduct, which began the same year.

  • The entire project was finished by 1919, when the first water was supplied from Shoal Lake to Winnipeg.

  • In the beginning, three trains a week carried men and materials to the working sites along the way.

  • They also carried early settlers and their goods to and from St. Boniface.

  • Passengers travelled to and from their homes and cottages in southeastern Manitoba.

  • The Greater Winnipeg Water District (GWWD) attempted to reduce overall costs by working for other customers and bringing in revenue. Freight included:

    • firewood
    • pulpwood
    • poles
    • railway ties
    • ice
    • mail
    • milk
    • gravel
    • sand
  • The forest along the line was a valuable source of lumber, providing ties for the railway.

  • In the early years, trains brought firewood for resale to Winnipeg residents.

  • In 1935, more than 35,000 cords of wood were stacked in the St. Boniface Station yards.

  • As this market declined, lumber was shipped to pulp and paper mills in the US.

  • By the 1950s, the forest close to the railway had all been cleared.

  • Gravel was another source of revenue. The GWWD dug pits to supply aggregate for the construction of the aqueduct, and trains continued to haul gravel for use on municipal roads.

  • Eventually, more carefully graded material was needed for use in concrete.

  • At the peak of this service, up to six trains a day were hauling gravel for use as aggregate by Supercrete Ltd.

  • The last gravel train ran in 1993.

  • Until the 1950s, trains were hauled by steam locomotives.

  • The first diesel locomotive arrived in 1946, and others soon replaced the steam engines.

  • By 1969 four diesels were in service, and three are operating today.

  • Today, the train is used only for City of Winnipeg water supply needs. It is used to haul workers and supplies to maintain the aqueduct and railway.

  • It also hauls supplies to the water intake facility at Shoal Lake, and returns with waste materials that might otherwise contaminate the site.

  • The train is also used to provide security and surveillance along the aqueduct.

  • In order to protect the water supply, the railway is still the only means of reaching the intake.

  • Some interesting facts about the railway:

    • The railway is standard gauge (4 feet 8 inches) and 102 miles long.
    • The GWWD is Canada's longest industrial railway line.
    • The railway station at St. Boniface was built in 1935 and was made from granite quarried along the line.
    • The GWWD station at 598 Plinguet Street, St. Boniface, was designed by Winnipeg architect William Fingland.
    • During the construction of the aqueduct, more than 1,000,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel and 600,000 barrels of cement were moved.
    • The last steam locomotive was ready for emergency service during the 1950 flood, but was not needed.
  • The Greater Winnipeg Water District no longer exists. The railway and the aqueduct belong to the City of Winnipeg, and are maintained and operated by the Water and Waste Department.

Due to security and safety concerns, tours of this facility are not available.

Last updated: June 29, 2018

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