The sunlight twinkles off the freshly painted siding as if smiling at its own shimmering self. Should a first time visitor to Canada spot the Humboldt water tower, looking remarkably like an ocean side lighthouse, they may frantically double check their map.
Situated more than 1500 km (930 mi) away from the Pacific Ocean the tower makes a bold, if not puzzling to visitors, prairie architectural statement.
Perhaps consulting engineers Chipman and Power were longing for the sea when erecting the lighthouse look-alike Humboldt water tower in 1915. Or the irony of a water tower being made to look like a lighthouse tickled their funny bone.
Whatever the intention of the original builders, the standpipe water reservoir (the technical design term) is stunning against the bright blue prairie sky. Eleven such lighthouses on the prairies were constructed in the time period. Today only four remain standing including this one in Humboldt, Saskatchewan.
Where is Humboldt Saskatchewan?
The city of Humboldt is situated 113 km (70 mi) east of Saskatoon in the heart of Canada’s prairies. Located at the intersection of Highway 5 and Highway 20, Humboldt is surrounded by a large, rural community.
History of the Humboldt water tower
Pioneers settling on the wide open Canadian prairies faced countless challenges. Perhaps none more arduous than obtaining a clean and adequate water supply. The Humboldt water tower is a significant example in the history of prairie survival.
In 1915, at a then staggering cost of $300,000, the 29 m (95 ft) high tower was built. Drawing from nearby lakes, the water tower provided adequate drinking water to the residents of Humboldt until 1977.
What to do with an abandoned water tower?
Falling into such a state of disrepair, in 1996 the city of Humboldt, Saskatchewan began considering burning down the water tower. A passionate group of volunteers, lead by Norman Duerr, successfully petitioned the city to allow the group to restore the water tower as part of the heritage of the community.
In what must be the true definition of dedicated volunteerism, the first step of clearing out pigeon droppings began. Known as the ‘Pigeon Pooper-Scooper Patrol’ our tour guide at the water tower tells of volunteers being lowered by pulley system into the tank from the top down.
Armed with buckets and shovels they deal with over two feet of pigeon debris at the base of the water tank.
Over two decades, volunteer efforts brought the water tower from the brink of demolition to a stunning, historical prairie landmark. Each of the new 143 spiral steps inside the tank of the water tower bear the name of the individual who donated $500 to the restoration cause.
How can I tour the Humboldt water tower?
You can see the exterior of the lighthouse tower at the corner of 5th Street and 3rd Avenue in the city of Humboldt. Or keep your eyes peeled for the conical shape cedar shingle roof higher than most buildings in the small Saskatchewan city.
Guided tours are available in the summer months and by appointment the rest of the year. The tour includes a climb of the 143 spiral stairs to the exterior catwalk. The 360 degree view of the prairies and the city of Humboldt itself are well worth the effort.
Information about the tours can be found by visiting the Humboldt Museum website.
Not sure if you will get to Humboldt, Canada? Click on this short video for our visit to the water tower.
What is the most unusual piece of architecture you have seen?