An Interesting Weekend

Yup, I did a few interesting things this weekend. It was the first open doors weekend for Ottawa, so I was able to wander around the Fleet Street water pumping station (at the end of the aqueduct that goes through Lebretton flats) and Lemiux island. I also just came back from seeing Metropolis at the ByTowne.

Fleet Street Pumping Station

The doors were literally open. After walking across the bridge, passing posters on easels describing the history of the building, I went down the curvey entrance ramp and into a giant hall with stone walls and a brick ceiling two stories up. There was a loud bass shrieking from the pump just inside the entrance behind some "caution" tape - an off-white cylindrical cone containing a transmission (gearing) on the top of the turbine shaft (the actual turbine is in the watery basement), with a horizontal shaft, spinning fairly fast, going through a disc brake and then to a snail shell shaped centrifugal pump, with a pair of two foot diameter pipes leading to and from it. 760 HP and about 1/5 of Ottawa's water supply (the whole plant can provide the high pressure pumping for Lemieux, which is half of Ottawa's supply). A few older cute instruments were scattered about (the kind with built in goose neck lamps for the operators to use), but the actual working stuff was automated and under remote control from Lemieux (square panels showing pump oil temperature in big LEDs (15C on the inactive pumps, 37C and 39C on the active ones), with a few buttons and other indicators). The sluice gates and valves are also automated. There were 3 inactive smaller turbine and pump combinations in the middle and at the far end, another large one shrieking away. Interestingly, until the 1960s the pumps were giant reciprocating ones filling the whole building. There are many historical remnants in the piping schematic - lots of abandoned pipes and valves marked inoperative. Still, for the $700,000 annual savings in electrical power, it's worth it. There were a couple of dozen people in the building and more wandering around outside on the pleasant Saturday noon.


I walked down the aqueduct, which is actually two streams. There's the slow moving stream you can see, with a low pressure water pipe hidden underneath (in 1917? they installed their first pipe and didn't notice a leak which caused a typhoid outbreak in Ottawa). Then beside it, under the ground most of the way, is a very fast moving flow of water which powers the plant. The pipes cross to Lemieux island on the open girder bridge. Under the road bridge are more pipes, this time high pressure ones which are used to supply the city when Fleet Street isn't pumping.

Lemieux Island

At the Lemieux island portion of the Ottawa water works, there were lots more people. There were also several volunteers to answer questions and give handouts on lead, chlorine and water quality, along with the easels and posters. The filter building still has the marble stairs and brass railings and fixtures. The little display of basins of flowing river water and treated water is covered up; you wouldn't otherwise know that the marble box at the middle landing of the stairs was a display of water quality prowness.

Upstairs, the main hall "filter gallery" has been renovated - the filter basins seem to be new concrete structures (and are now coagulation mixing chambers I think, not sand filters). The control panels with marble bases, brass handles and knobs and a brass strip chart recorder box on top are mostly reduced to marble boxes, except for one they preserved, along with another with a boxy 1980s automation control panel (including a CRT) bolted on top of another marble console. The real controls are in a PC sitting on a table showing a process status display. Of course, the big dials above the door for water flow rate, time and water level still aren't working.

Similarly, the pump house is being gutted. The low pressure pumps that suck in the water from the river have been moved to their own new pump house. There are still three diesel engines there for generating electricity, one which also has a pump on the shaft. There are posters describing their search for a replacement. There's one high pressure pump with an old synchronous electric motor - you can see the coils, and the whole thing is in a shiny new yellow wire safety cage with a "Danger - High Voltage" sign. The pumps are still the original snail shaped centrifugal ones, but this time I was allowed to wander around the pump house floor (with a hard hat) and got close enough to notice water constantly dribbling through small pipes at the end of the pump, apparently for cooling the bearings, or maybe for keeping it primed? The third high pressure pump was again old, but had a modern Siemens motor bolted onto the base where the old motor had been. Modern ones are so boring - just a big square box with ventilator slats, but it did have a plate on the side - 920 HP and 2300 volts. Behind the pump room wall is the pipe bay, where lots of automated valves (motor powering a shaft with a manual wheel that runs a worm gear that turns the valve shaft) which control where the water goes. The automation there seems to be original, probably they were once controlled by those brass handles in the filter gallery, but now it's a process control computer.


On Sunday, I went down to the ByTown theatre to see Metropolis a Japanese anime film inspired by the original 1927 Metropolis. It's pretty good, kind of like Akira in scale and quality. The story theme is about robots being oppressed by Humans. It starts with a new super-robot escaping from the lab (when the mastermind's adopted son burns the lab down), she imprints on a boy who attempts to rescue her. A parallel thread is the boy's uncle / detective searching for the boy and the renegade robot designer. The boy and girl manage to survive the bowels of the city (befriending a garbage collector robot) and get back out. There they join some out of work Human rebels who are fighting against the robots and are being fought and helped by the mastermind and his business empire (could be a double cross or could be the confusing plot). The ending has the boy rescuing the world from destruction at the hands of the girl robot turned into a vengeful supercomputer (the business guy had built a lot of military infrastructure that she was designed to operate), showing that a bit of heart helps.

Being Japanese, there's a super weapon that can be used to make Metropolis the most powerful nation on the planet, whimsical aircraft and an old steam train station (the director did Galaxy Express 999), and lots of beautiful explosions and destruction of the city at the end. The animation has a great graphical look, a bit like the original German Metropolis of soaring buildings and mass transit, combined with the dirty / dark / dangerous decaying underside of a city like that in Blade Runner. It's quite detailed, making the world come alive. Unusually, the motion is more fluid (more frames drawn) than much anime, perhaps because computer graphics can be used for some of the drawing (though it looks mostly like classical hand drawn animation) or perhaps it has a bigger budget ($14.5M) than usual. I'd go and see it again.

- Alex

Copyright © 2002 by Alexander G. M. Smith.