Fountains of My Youth

Remember drinking fountains? They seemed to be everywhere when I was young. Parks, the beach, even the school playground. They were used for drinking, of course, but they also often had a side tap for washing hands, rinsing a scraped knee, or filling a dog dish.

Water fountains had the power to make any place a potential picnic place.

Water fountains had the power to make any place a potential picnic place. A place to stop and fill your water bottle, splash your face and hands, and sit down for lunch.


Wikipedia tells us that the modern drinking fountain dates from the 19th century, when burgeoning cities began to install centralized plumbing as a public health measure. From the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, the drinking fountain enjoyed the image of a fundamental urban public good, essential to human health, something like how we now view wifi.

The addition of drinking fountains in parks, public squares, and along bike paths would be a tremendous addition to our active transportation infrastructure.

Into the 1980s and 1990s, drinking fountains began to disappear. Ostensible concern around them harbouring potentially pathogenic bacteria was met, not with safer design, but with widespread removal. I’ll leave it to the conspiracy theorists to work out the role that the "beverage industrial complex" may have played in the demise of the drinking fountain. But it was clear by the turn of the millennium that drinking fountains had all but disappeared from public view.


In recent years, new models of drinking fountain have begun to reappear. They dot the landscape at Landsdowne for example, where they are much appreciated and well used on a hot day.

From the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, the drinking fountain enjoyed the image of a fundamental urban public good, essential to human health...

Ottawa’s new Official Plan examines how cycling and walking can emerge as viable transportation options in a carbon-constrained world. The addition of drinking fountains in parks, public squares, and along bike paths would be a tremendous addition to our active transportation infrastructure.


If Queen Victoria could figure out how to plumb for public fountains in the nineteenth century, surely we can figure it out again for the twenty-first. Here's to wishing for a return to the fountains of my youth.


~JANET MARK WALLACE is a regular blog contributor for Walkable Ottawa.


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