He became Mayor to see the Aqueduct Built

by George Siamandas

Thomas Russ Deacon became Mayor of Winnipeg in order to ensure the aqueduct was built. Deacon was born in Perth Ontario on January 3, 1865. He started work at age 11 at a country store and by age 12 Deacon was working in logging camps were he rose to foreman by age 20. Deacon realized the value of education and returned to school earning first his high school diploma and in 1891 a degree in civil engineering from the University of Toronto. His first job was as superintendent for the construction of the North Bay Ontario waterworks.


In 1892 he took a job in Kenora (previously known as Rat Portage) to work as a manager of the Ontario Gold Commission. Deacon stayed in Kenora a decade and served as an alderman and acting mayor. As the century turned Deacon was now working for the Mikado Gold Mine. He must have had limited success at finding gold because he got the nickname "Chief No Gold." Deacon left Ontario in 1902 and came to Winnipeg. Deacon went into partnership with HB Lyall in the founding of the Manitoba Bridge and Iron Works.



Deacon became an advocate of Shoal Lake in 1902. It was during his stint in the Lake of the Woods area that he became familiar with the Shoal lake region. In 1906 Deacon was appointed to the Water Supply Commission and soon let his preferences for the long term benefits of the Shoal Lake source be known.

For the next decade the issue was debated for years with most Winnipeg politicians preferring the less costly options of using the Winnipeg River. Only one man showed vision and was able to see through this political fog of uncertainty. It was Councillor Thomas Russ Deacon who argued strongly in favour of Shoal Lake. Despite the cost! He knew the water was of high quality, it was abundant, and its higher elevation meant it could flow simply and elegantly to Winnipeg by gravity alone. Winnipeg the city with a future deserved Shoal Lake over other proposals like the Winnipeg River.


The pivotal election was in 1912. Deacon was persuaded to run against Alderman JG Garvey at the last moment. The Telegram had supported Garvey on the basis of his 16 years of civic service. But Deacon knew that Garvey was against the Shoal Lake plan. Deacon felt it was Winnipeg's destiny to become a great city and the matter of high initial cost would be taken care of by future growth. If he believed in the aqueduct he had to become mayor. Deacon ran a series of newspaper ads each bearing a new message. Deacon was not just for good and abundant water, he was also for a larger civic health department, better civic staff, support to the Winnipeg General Hospital and workers compensation. His slogan became Winnipeg demands progress. Deacon's second mayoralty election was fought in the fall of 1913. In October of 1913 they voted in favour of the Shoal Lake Aqueduct expenditure of $13.5 million.

Deacon's leadership was well received, and at the same fall vote, Thomas Russ Deacon was re-elected mayor of Winnipeg. It was the culmination of a ten year effort of Deacon as a prominent citizen to see the Aqueduct built.


Manitoba Bridge merged with Domminion Bridge in 1930 and became Canada's largest stocker of steel in Canada. Structural steel was fabricated and used in railway and highway bridges, buildings of all kinds, as well as hydro transmission poles and towers. The company had locations all across Canada.

Thomas Deacon died May 30 1955 at age 90 at 144 Yale Ave and is buried at St James Cemetery. Deacon had three sons and one daughter. Winnipeg's main water reservoir located east of the city is named in his honour.


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