James Avenue Pumphouse Food and Drink in Winnipeg, Manitoba offers great food in an historic setting
James Avenue Pumphouse Food and Drink opened in fall 2021 in the Exchange District of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Located within an historic pumping house building, the restaurant contains views of the century-old pumping machinery through tall glass walls.
The James Avenue Pumping Station was built between 1906 and 1907 after a large fire in 1904 on Main Street proved that the current water supply couldn’t provide the fire department with the pressure needed to protect the city. That fire forced the City to pump Assiniboine River water into the mains. The contaminated water resulted in a typhoid epidemic.
Designed by City Engineer Colonel Henry N. Ruttan, the pumping station was one of the most sophisticated water supply systems in the world at the time. Massive pumps and gears manufactured in England, Scotland, and the United States were shipped to Canada and moved by rail to Winnipeg. Without modern cranes, much of it was moved into place by horse-drawn block and tackle equipment. Because of their weight, the pumps were installed mostly below grade. They could be lifted on large blue columns by the crane system that was built before the pumps were installed. Gas created by burning coal and oil originally powered the pumps. This was converted to natural gas and electricity in the 1960s.
The system was built and installed at a time when very few homes or businesses in Winnipeg had running water and a dam was under construction on the Winnipeg River to bring electricity to the city. The pumping system originally drew its water from the Red River, but that proved to be an unsafe and unreliable source of water. After the 155-kilometre Shoal Lake Aqueduct opened in 1919 to bring water to Winnipeg from Shoal Lake, the water supply to the pumping system was changed. The plant operated until 1986 when it was decommissioned due to the difficulty and expense of servicing the old equipment.
After sitting empty for several decades, a redevelopment project was approved in 2016 to convert the pumping station into a multi-use facility with retail, commercial, and residential space. The building’s interior has been redesigned while maintaining the historic exterior and the machinery inside. Additional buildings on either side add extra space.
The restaurant occupies space in the original pumping station building. A pair of old fire hose carts flank the front entrance.
The restaurant is accessible. The walkway from Waterfront Street is even with no steps and there are no steps to get into the restaurant. My husband uses a walker. He was able to easily navigate into the restaurant and through it to our table.
Décor inside the restaurant includes old copper extinguishers on a shelf above the bar and fire hats hanging on the wall.
The menu offers a great deal of choice. Tacos, burgers, sandwiches, salads, dan dan noodles, pasta, and dressed-up comfort food. Plant-based and gluten-free menus are available.
I visited for lunch with my husband and a friend. I had the Chili Coconut Mussels, which came with curly fries and naan. It was delicious. The naan was one of the best I’ve tasted. My husband and friend were equally pleased with their meals: blackened tacos and fish and chips. I tasted the made-from-scratch tartar sauce that came with my friend’s fish. It was great.
Glass walls allow restaurant patrons to see the old pumping station equipment.
I had one small complaint about the restaurant. It was noisier than I prefer. At times we had to speak quite loudly to talk to each other. It also took me longer than I thought it would to find a parking spot. Limited metered street parking was further limited by current construction in the area, but I did eventually find street parking a block away. There are a few pay parking lots in the area which may have spots available, depending on the day and time.
Despite parking concerns and the loudness, the cool atmosphere and fantastic food will bring me back.
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