A Brief History
of the
Old Pinawa Dam Heritage Park

-- Part I --

The beginning

In 1870, the Province of Manitoba was created. The new province was less than 7% of its present size. It extended from Gladstone and Crystal City in the west to Seven Sisters Falls and Piney in the east; from the 49th parallel in the south to Winnipeg Beach in the north. It's population in the November 1870 census was 11,963.

Western Canada was evolving quickly. The City of Winnipeg was a "boom town". It was the railway gate to the west, an outfitting centre for homesteaders, trappers and construction workers.

In 1873, the Honourable R. A. Davis, proprietor of the famous Davis House on Main Street, surprised the population by lighting the front of his business with an electric arc light, an amazing new invention that gave off far more light than the gas lamp across the street. This was probably the first practical use of electricity in Manitoba. More surprising was that this event happened six years before Thomas Edison's first incandescent lamp, and three years before Alexander Graham Bell spoke to Mr. Watson on his telephone.

Opening Winnipeg Electric Street Railway Co.
Opening Winnipeg Street Railway Co. - 5 Sept 1892

With so much enterprise in a city that was the gateway to the west, Winnipeg earned the reputation of Canada's "Chicago of the North". As the population climbed, the demand for electricity and gas grew. Electrical inventions and improvements appeared at an amazing rate. One of the spinoffs of this demand was the formation of the Winnipeg Street Railway Company by James Austin who saw the need to move people around the city cheaply and quickly. His horse-drawn street cars were the beginning of mass transit. In 1891 the first electric trolly car came into use in Winnipeg. In 1892, City Council awarded exclusive streetcar rights, not to Mr. Austin and his North West Electric Company, who were running the streetcars then, but to James Ross, and William McKenzie who had very powerful financial backing.

Mr. Ross and Mr. McKenzie's consortium realized that the development of Winnipeg hinged upon a continuous year-round supply of electricity. They formed the Winnipeg Electric Street Railway Company and with the new technology available about electrical generation, looked for a location that would be suitable for hydroelectric development.

Before construction started
Before construction started - 14 May 1903

This led to the construction of the Pinawa Generating Station between 1903 and 1906. It was to be Manitoba's first year-round producer of electrical power.

No one realized the enormous hydroelectric potential of the Winnipeg River. It was a real test of faith to tackle an engineering challenge of this magnitude. Some people thought that electricity could not be sent over great distances.

The area where Pinawa Dam was built was rough, unsettled, with no roads, no bridge across the Winnipeg River and no railway lines into the site. Machinery and methods to construct the dam were men and horses and derricks and steam power and sheer hard work.

One of the major problems was the transportation of materials to the site. During winter, heavy equipment was carried over the river ice from Lac du Bonnet. In the summer a scow brought the materials. Roads were called "Lumberjack Trails", and when they became impassable, corduroy roads were built. Corduroy roads were made from logs placed side-by-side across marshy or boggy terrain. There is still evidence of the corduroy roads today.

Horse teams and sleighs were used during the construction
Horse teams and sleighs were used during the construction

In all 50 to 75 teams of horses were kept in constant use. Without horses, nothing major could be built, so the horses were treated exceptionally well. When the horse barn was built at the Pinawa town site, it was heated.

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Last Updated February 16, 2006

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