Parksville Water tower
The water tower located along the E&N Railway at the Parksville train station was constructed in 1910 to service steam trains running between Nanaimo and Port Alberni. The station was originally called McBride Junction, named after Premier McBride. Due to confusion with freight between McBride Junction and McBride in northeast British Columbia, the name was changed to Parksville.
Though the train station is still in use, the water tower was slated for demolition in the spring of 1996. Deemed by the community as a significant part of the local area's history, The Vancouver Island Water Tower Preservation Society was formed to save the tower from the wrecking ball. The E&N Railway Company agreed to transfer ownership of the historic water tower to this group for restoration. It is the only railway water tower on the Island in its original state and is one of four remaining in the province. The tower is unique in its design as it has no outer shell to protect the water from freezing.
The Society's plan was to move the tower from its previous location south of the station to a secure location where restoration would take place. Once the restoration was complete, by the summer of 1997, the Society wanted to see the Water Tower placed between the Train Station and the Alberni Highway. Such placement would keep it historically correct near railway property and be a landmark entrance for the City of Parksville. The Tower became the entrance to the City from the new Inland Island Highway 19 and Alberni Highway 4A.
The above artwork was commissioned by artist Gail Peters in order to form a major part of the fundraising required to restore the Tower. The exquisite artwork is a collage of the water tower, Parksville train station and a rail car with the water tower being the predominant feature.
In November 2020, Parksville city council approved the donation of the water tower to the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Division of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association (E&N Division CRHA). Council also approved the donation of $35,000 to assist with some minor restoration of the tower 25 years on from its original restoration in 1997. In 2019 the city investigated the condition of the tower and an engineering firm was hired to assess the structure. The water tank and tower were found to be in poor condition and intervention was required to reinstate structural stability and slow the ongoing deterioration.
The cost to demolish the tower was estimated to be $35,600; the cost to remediate in place was $273,000; and to deconstruct, move and rehabilitate the tower was estimated to be $321,000. The city recognizes that the water tower has been a landmark on the Alberni Highway for years and is pleased to have the E&N Division as its new caretaker.
Parksville Station & water Tower History
In 1884, coal baron Robert Dunsmuir had been given the contract to build the Esquimalt & Nanaimo (E&N) Railway, and passenger service began in 1886. Robert's son James sold the railway to the CPR in 1905. VIA Rail was formed in 1977 to take over CPR passenger rail service and assumed responsibility for the E&N service in 1979.
The Parksville Train Station was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1910. For a short time, the station was called McBride Junction after Premier Richard McBride from 1903 to 1915, but according to Mr. Stanhope, who at the time was the manager of the local co-op store situated where Buckerfields is now (across the street), supplies intended for Parksville kept going astray and were ultimately traced to a town named McBride in the Rocky Mountain Trench. As a result, the station was renamed Parksville.
The station was leased to the City of Parksville by CP Rail but it is now owned by the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) which manages the Island Rail Corridor lands and its structures. The ICF currently leases the station to the Arrowsmith Potters Guild who have been the tenants since 1995. The building is maintained by the Potters.
The E&N Railway Parksville Water Tower was erected around 1910 to supply the steam engines running trains between Nanaimo and Port Alberni with water for their boilers. Steam locomotives were replaced by diesel in the 1950s. The tower is one of only two towers left on the E&N rail line, and the only one left of its design.
In May 1996, CP Rail and VIA Rail wanted to demolish the 4000-pound deteriorating water tower because they considered it a safety hazard, but the City of Parksville issued a stop work order, which required CP Rail to make an application with Parksville for demolition, pending talks to save the structure. It was agreed the tower was a landmark worth saving, so plans were made to preserve it for its historical value although there wasn't a $40-50,000 budget to pay for the necessary repairs and moving costs. There was no room for the tower at Craig Bay Heritage Park (now Parksville Museum), and CP Rail preferred to move the tower away from the tracks.
The tower was taken apart and moved by Nickel Bros. to the City Works Yard for restoration. A committee was incorporated as the "Vancouver Island Water Tower Preservation Society" in November 1996 and restored the tower through fundraising efforts. The Society ceased to exist in 2000.
The restored tower now stands as a historical landmark at the entrance to the City of Parksville, symbolizing the pioneer spirit that brought the first people here. The railroad served by the tower was the single most important factor in the opening up of this area to the early settlers.
Before the railway went in, there was a dirt track up the east coast. That dirt track still exists today. It got paved over and we now call it the Island Highway.
Excerpt from "Parksville And Then Some" by Marjorie Leffler
One interesting facet of Vancouver Island's railway history was the many station gardens. The first was established at Duncan, and later on, gardens were cultivated at Ladysmith, Lake Cowichan, Nanaimo, Parksville, Union Bay, Royston and Courtenay.
In 1944 the station agents at Ladysmith, Union Bay and Royston were awarded prizes for their gardens.
The Parksville Garden & Parkland Society, over a period of five years (2005 to 2010) with the help of volunteers and the City of Parksville, created through fundraising efforts a new railway garden between the Water Tower and Train Station. This railway garden was eventually turned into a public park. Their goal was to have a beautiful established railway garden by 2010 when the Station and the Water Tower celebrated their centennial.