A moment in history: Aug. 16, 1984

A moment in history: Aug. 16, 1984

· The Pulse

On this day in 1984, Edmonton's city council was washing away any hope of a fountain in the North Saskatchewan River.

The removable fountain flowed from the imagination of artist Peter Lewis. An Edmonton Journal article at the time describes a large flower-shaped creation that would have floated on the river near the convention centre. The fountain's plume was designed to be "about 30 feet high and glowing with colored lights which reflect the four seasons."

Aldermen (as they were called then) deemed the plan innovative, but they weren't keen on kicking in $71,000 of city money for it, which would have been added to $140,000 in private donations. Lewis took the rejection well, simply saying, "That's too bad. But life goes on."

Lewis had successfully used the North Saskatchewan as his canvas before. In 1980, to celebrate Alberta's 75th anniversary, he was commissioned to turn the High Level Bridge into a gargantuan artificial waterfall, taller than Niagara Falls.

The Great Divide Waterfall pumped 50,000 litres of water per minute up to the top of the bridge, then let it cascade back down. For 25 years, it was a staple of Edmonton's short summer season. However, in 2005, the waterfall was shut down over environmental concerns — there were worries about how the flood of chlorinated water would damage the river's health. The city spent the next few years arguing about whether to upgrade the waterfall to have less impact, but it was deemed too expensive. The High Level Bridge remained dry from that point on.

Lewis was far from done with his water-based art projects. He created more artificial waterfalls, including an illuminated project in his native United Kingdom in 2011. He created two temporary water features called Running Water for the 2012 Olympic Village in London, too.

Water was obviously a theme throughout Lewis' creations, but he did explore other media. In 1981, for instance, he arranged 1,200 bonfires across Scotland in the shape of a dove to mark the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Lewis retired to his home in Vancouver Island, where he built Bright Angel Garden, a 10-acre water garden that featured dozens of fountains and a thousand rhododendrons. That's where Lewis stayed until he passed away in 2020 due to illness.

Lewis's famous Great Divide is still Edmonton's most ambitious and striking artistic water feature. But we are still thirsty for a bit of aesthetic H20 in our public spaces. Earlier this year, the Alberta government released a computer-generated tour of the concept for The River, a water feature for the north plaza at the legislature grounds. That work is scheduled to finish in 2024.

This is based on a clipping found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse — follow @VintageEdmonton for daily ephemera.