First-time visitors to the Brooks Aqueduct National and Provincial Historic Site in Newell County are often surprised at the size of this retired piece of irrigation infrastructure. The largest structure of its kind when it was built, it looks like a slender-legged version of the massive aqueducts built in Roman times. Also similar to its ancient cousins, though no longer in use, it remains an impressive monument to the ingenuity of its builders.
Erected between 1912 and 1914 by the irrigation division of the Canadian Pacific Railway, this river on stilts began to flow in 1915 and diverted water from Lake Newell into southeastern Alberta’s irrigation system. Built on 1,030 reinforced concrete columns, the halfpipe shell, or flume, was a little more than six metres wide and almost three metres deep. When constructed, the structure was 20 metres tall and spanned 3.2 kilometres across the valley adjacent to the reservoir. The remaining portion of the structure is somewhat shorter than its original length.
It passed under the railway’s main line by means of a steel and concrete siphon. Still intact, this roller-coaster water tunnel worked on the Venturi Effect to briefly transport water underground and back up to an aqueduct’s full height, minus a few centimetres.
Under the stress of its load, extremes of Prairie weather, alkaline water and leakage at its copper expansion joints, the concrete structure deteriorated over time but, despite the necessity of annual repairs, remained in service until 1979 when it was replaced by a canal.
Located eight kilometres southeast of the town of Brooks just off the Trans-Canada Highway at the Tillebrook Provincial Park entrance, the self-guided aqueduct site features a picnic area and wetland with hiking trails. Designated a national historic site in 1983, the structure and 19-hectare site are now preserved by the federal and provincial governments, the Eastern Irrigation District and the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration.
During the May to September summer season of 2016, the last year numbers were collected, the Aqueduct received 3,032 visitors.