Old Pinawa Self-guiding Trail
Men on generator
(From the Pinawa Dam Old Pinawa
Self-guiding Trail brochure)
Welcome to old Pinawa. Come and explore the original town on the
Old Pinawa Self-guiding Trail. The townsite tour trail is 0.7 km
long and should take you about an hour to walk.
As you walk, refer to this pamphlet to find out what once existed
at each of the granite trail markers. Discover the history of this
isolated little company town that was self-sufficient and had great
This was a pioneering town, but of a different sort. The people
of old Pinawa were pioneers of hydroelectricity. The residents
constructed and operated the first hydroelectric plant of its kind.
The power they provided enabled Winnipeg to grow from a prairie town
to an industrial centre.
Old Pinawa Townsite Tour Trail
(click on a number to go to that section)
1. First Log Homes
In the early 1900s, the Winnipeg Electric Company set out to do
something unique-build a year-round hydroelectric generating
station in Manitoba's wilderness. Many people said it could not be
Construction started in 1903. Corduroy roads were built over
muskeg to get to the site. New immigrants, many from Scandinavia and
England, came to find work. They arrived in Lac du Bonnet by train,
then walked or hitched a wagon ride, crossing the Winnipeg River on
the ferry. At the time, the average labourer made ten cents an hour
for a ten-hour day. For skilled workers, the pay was fifteen cents
an hour. The work was hard, done by backbreaking labour and
Tents and crude shanties sprang up around the construction site.
As work progressed and men began to bring their families out, the
first permanent houses were built.
A row of log houses ran from here to the park office. Some people
called these first log houses Beehives. They had two bedrooms,
a screened veranda, white pine floors, with a garden and outhouse in
the back. Heat came from a wood stove, light from oil lamps, and
water from a pail dipped in the river. The Beehives were used until
Pinawa Channel School
(on right) and log cottages
of W. E. St. Rly. Co. at Pinawa, 1914.
Courtesy of Manitoba Archives,
Water Survey Collection, 412.
2. Company Garden
Matt and Lucy Pearson came from England in 1904. Matt heard of
work at Pinawa. He only had a little money, so he took the train
from Winnipeg to Milner Ridge, then walked to Pinawa. He landed a
job on the construction crew blasting the channel. Two years later,
Lucy joined Matt and they moved into a log house.
When the plant began to operate, Matt took up the job he was
trained for-gardening and landscaping. The Winnipeg Electric Company
hired him to grow vegetables for the town and maintain the grounds.
The three-acre company garden, in the open area west towards the
road, grew every kind of vegetable and some fruit. There was also a
greenhouse. Vegetables were supplied to the staff house and sold at
the company store in town. During the winter, they were kept in a
root cellar behind the town hall.
Because of Matt's hard work and good planning, Pinawa became
known as the "Jewel of the Wilderness." It was a very beautiful town.
These spruce trees were once a hedge. Look at the trunks about ten
feet up and you will see where they were trimmed; the branches now
grow in mass.
In Old Pinawa, you would
at the far end of the sidewalk, 1920s.
Courtesy Jessie Erickson
In winter, Matt tended the boilers that provided steam heat to
the town and plant. He was very involved with town activities,
including ordering the Saturday night movies, like those by Charlie
Chaplin, and later the talkies. Matt worked for the company for
45 ½ years, until he retired at age 69 in 1950, a year before the
3. Four Brick Houses
F our brick houses stood in a row down this lane. Look for cement
pads in the grass. These were the homes of people like the
Superintendent and Head Foreman. The last house, farthest from the
power house, was for visiting company executives.
The bricks for the houses were manufactured in Lac du Bonnet. The
houses were built in 1906 and had steam heat piped from the plant.
They each had a fireplace, dining room, indoor plumbing, and a
veranda. It didn't take long for them to get electric lights. One or
two even had a telephone.
One of the brick houses,
January 10, 1908.
Courtesy of Manitoba Electrical Museum
Elling Texmo left his family's island off the Norwegian coast
when he was seventeen. He arrived in Pinawa with wife Marie and
children in 1910 and started work as a dynamite man. Later he became
a foreman. Tex and his family lived in the second brick house from
the end. Part of his job, his favourite part, was taking the
visiting company dignitaries staying next door, on fishing trips
with the company boat. They caught plenty of sturgeon and walleye.
Tex was a gregarious fellow who got along with everyone. Tragedy
struck in 1929 when Marie died. The townspeople helped him cope and
care for his eight children. Five years later, through the Ranch
Romance Magazine, Tex started corresponding with a woman in
Kentucky. They eventually met and married in 1935.
Chiquita-Tex's daughter from his second marriage-described life
in Pinawa: "We almost lived as a large family, everyone sharing
each other's sorrows and happiness."
Tex lived here until he retired in 1951. In 1952, he helped
dismantle the plant that he had originally helped build.
4. Staff House
A large two-story brick staff house stood here. It was built in
1906 for single workers and visitors. There were ten bedrooms, a
smoking room, large dining room, kitchen, full basement with meeting
rooms and a suite for the matron who ran the house. There was also
a cook, and staff to care for the house. The company gardens,
chickens, cows and sheep provided the food.
The staff house was busy in the early days because there were
more single workers. Omer Bernard stayed at the staff house when he
was a lineman. He was responsible for checking the transmission
line from Pinawa to Lac du Bonnet.
Amy Dorland was the staff house matron in 1935. Her husband had
died the year before while working at the Seven Sisters plant. The
company found her a job so she could support her young son Bill.
One of Bill's chores included delivering the milk in town. The
milk was brought to the staff house every morning after the company
herd was milked. There, it was separated into cream and milk, then
bottled. Bill delivered some; the rest was sold at the store. Amy
and Bill left the staff house when she married Harry Nystedt who
operated the ferry across the river to Lac du Bonnet.
The Winnipeg Electric Company took good care of its employees. At
Christmas, there were turkeys for every family, and a toy for every
child. The company supplied transportation to Lac du Bonnet and even
ran the ferry. A doctor was supplied as needed and a room in the
staff house was used as a doctor's office. When an influenza
epidemic broke out, the company sent a nurse immediately, thus
saving many lives.
Old Pinawa's staff
house, c. 1908.
Courtesy of Manitoba Electrical Museum
5. Company Store
The company store was a busy place, especially on payday or when
the mail arrived because it was also the post office. The
accountant's office was around back. Bill Loveridge, described as
"gentle goodness," was the storekeeper and postmaster for several
In the beginning, this tiny store had to carry all the staples
because a trip to Lac du Bonnet was a journey by horse and wagon on
corduroy roads. Staples included things like flour, sugar, salt and
Out for a walk with three little ones:
note the houses in the background, n.d.
Courtesy of 5. Hobson
The company gardens and animals supplied a lot for the store. The
cows provided meat, milk, butter and cheese; chickens provided meat,
eggs and feathers for pillows; and sheep provided meat and wool. As
the community grew around Pinawa, local farmers also brought in
produce and meat to sell at the store.
Clothing was not available at the store. A travelling salesperson
stopped in town to sell fabric to the women, who created shirts,
pants, and dresses with it. Later, with the arrival of the Eaton's
catalogue, many things could be ordered and delivered to the post
office. The catalogue served another purpose. When the new catalogue
arrived, the old one was retired to the outhouse.
6. Town Hall
There were about twenty families and several single people
living in Pinawa. The population was near 100 most of the time. By
1919, the school, also used as the town hall, was no longer big
enough to hold events, so a warehouse was renovated into the town
Tennis courts, c. 1914.
Courtesy of E. Ehrlich
The hall became the meeting place, movie theatre, church and
dance hall. It even had a player piano that fascinated the children.
In a time before cars, the town made its own entertainment. Everyone
volunteered for something.
Victoria Day in May and Dominion Day on July 1 were big events,
featuring picnics, hand-cranked ice cream and bonfires with roasted
potatoes. At the Christmas concert, everyone, young and old,
played a part. People who had moved away, came back to attend the
Halloween Dance. Everyone in town brought home-cooked food from
their country of origin. Even after cars were commonplace, allowing
travel beyond the
town, the residents continued to hold town events.
The Winnipeg Electric Company made sure there were many
recreational facilities for the people of Pinawa. These included
tennis courts, two hockey rinks, a baseball diamond and a curling
rink. The curling rink had one sheet of ice. Teams from Great Falls,
Pointe du Bois, Seven Sisters and even the Granite Curling Club in
Winnipeg, came to play. Visiting teams stayed at the staff house.
The Gibbons garden was
one of many beautiful yards, c. 1940s.
Courtesy of F. Waite
7. Five Lumber Houses
In the late 1920s, things began to change in Pinawa. Cars were
replacing the horse and wagon-making the trip to Lac du Bonnet, and
even Winnipeg, a lot easier. Materials were brought in over better
roads. Lumber houses replaced the log cabins.
This is the foundation for one of a set of five lumber houses,
built of materials from the sawmill in Lac du Bonnet. Inspired by
gardener Matt Pearson, people took pride in their homes and
community, creating park-like yards and gardens.
There was a healthy competition established by the company among
the "Jewel of the Wilderness" and her sister towns of Great Falls
and Seven Sisters to see who had the most beautiful gardens. WE:
Winnipeg Electric Employees Magazine, reported on the annual
competition every year. Pinawa won its share of awards.
On your way to the barn, watch for the foundation of the former
one-pump gas station, located in the clump of balsam or black
8. Horse Barn
From 1903 to 1907, when the dam was being built, horses were the
most important part of the workforce. They did the heavy work, like
pulling the generators into place and hauling turbines on sleighs
from Lac du Bonnet to Pinawa. Horses were the bulldozers, tractors
and dump trucks in those days.
Fifty to seventy-five teams of horses were used during the
construction phase. Later, twelve teams were kept for daily work,
and housed in the barn that stood here. A couple of fast pacers were
always kept ready for emergencies like trips to get the doctor. The
horses were treated well. They had hay and oats to eat, a
steam-heated barn and several staff to take care of them. Some
horses did die during construction due to accidents or from foot
disease caused by working all day in mud.
Company teams did much
of the work and provided transportation, c. 1908.
Courtesy of Manitoba Electrical Museum
The stable boss was in charge of the barn and horses. His job
also included driving the company officials to Lac du Bonnet and
back. In winter, sleighs were pulled by horses for the trip to town.
Passengers were kept warm with heated bricks and piles of blankets
and buffalo robes. In the early days, if you didn't have a horse to
take you places, you walked or snowshoed.
9. School House Walk
The old schoolhouse was a ten-minute walk from town into the
trees, over the bridge and up the hill.
The first school, built in 1913, was located by the park
entrance. It was a one-room log structure with a big potbelly stove
that the nine students gathered around for warmth on a cold day.
This first school also served as the community hall for several
The second Pinawa
Courtesy of L. Bruce
The second school was built farther from the town. Some say the
reason was to keep the town quiet so shift workers could sleep
during the day. The new location was also more accessible for
children from the growing farm community around Pinawa. This was a
one-room school as well. Grades one to eight were taught. The older
children were often responsible for helping the younger ones with
School lessons included going to the movies. The children had to
learn to read the subtitles of silent movies. Teachers took
advantage of the outdoor classroom around them. There were plenty of
field trips to identify trees, animal tracks and plants.
Children were an important part of the town. There were
activities planned for them at every event. The children also found
many other things to entertain themselves, such as swimming,
skating, fishing or just exploring nature.
10. Wood Pile Yard
Just up this road to the north was a huge woodpile. Several men
were employed all winter to cut and haul wood to feed the two large
boilers at the plant that supplied heat for the power house and the
brick houses, staff house, store, and horse barn. Twenty cords of
wood were needed just to heat the school in winter.
Wood was needed to heat
the town of Pinawa, n.d.
Courtesy of F. Waite
Hans Erickson immigrated to Canada from Norway in 1904. In
summer, he blasted rock during the construction of the dam. In
winter, he cut wood for the boilers.
Like many of the European immigrants, he was drawn to Canada, the
"Land of Milk and Honey," by the promise of free land. Immigrants
were granted title to the land if they cleared and farmed it. While
Hans worked for the Winnipeg Electric Company, he started clearing
land just past the school. Hans was one of the first to receive a
homestead grant of land in this area. His farm supplied the company
store with milk and he continued to cut wood for the company in
When Pinawa closed and the diversion dams were blasted, Hans
would not leave the farm to witness the sight. His daughter said it
broke his heart to know it was being torn down.
11. Last Seven Houses
Some people called Pinawa a quiet oasis. Perhaps this had to do
with the atmosphere of the town, because the power plant would have
made a continuous roar.
You have been walking down a little street here, where a row of
houses-four small ones and three big ones-stood. The family gardens
were in the field behind you.
Nature provided for the
early residents of old Pinawa, n.d.
There were always visitors coming out for holidays and former
residents coming back to visit old friends. The residents enjoyed
the rugged setting and everything nature provided. Many families ate
venison all winter, fish all summer, grouse in fall and wild
berries and preserves for dessert. The only drawback was the bugs.
Girls, who still mostly wore dresses, put newspaper under their
stockings to prevent mosquito bites.
On Sunday evenings after church service, families would stroll
through the town. Often they found themselves up on the walkway of
the dam looking out at the islands and quiet water.
12. Looking into the future
On September 21, 1951, after 45 years of service, the first
year-round hydroelectric plant in Manitoba switched off the power.
By then the town of Pinawa was almost deserted. Only a few employees
remained to take the power plant out of commission. Those who did
not retire were moved to other plants-Great Falls, Seven Sisters and
Pointe du Bois. To the end, the company took care of its people.
Mrs. Bernard, who wrote the monthly article "Pinawa Pointers" for
the Winnipeg Electric Employees Magazine, submitted her last column
over fifty years ago. In it she wrote:
I often wonder what it will be like here in years to
come... if this place is ever a ghost town, I'll bet there will be
nothing but friendly spirits here. If, years hence, someone comes to
Pinawa on a summer's evening, I'm sure if one listens carefully,
there will be strange sounds carried on the twilight breeze. The
echo of the laughter of all the children who have played here from
the beginning, the voices of the women discussing gardening and
recipes and calling the small fry in at night and the raillery of
the men coming home from work at five o'clock. Though Pinawa may be
deserted, I'm sure it will never be lonely.
Other interpretive features you can explore in the park are the
signs on the information kiosk, historic photographs in the park
office, and the nature trail.
The Pinawa hydroelectric
plant and town, c. 1920s.
Courtesy of Manitoba Archives: Pinawa Collection 1-1
The Friends of Old Pinawa and Manitoba Conservation wish to thank
the many former residents who shared their stories, and those who
generously donated to construction of the trail.
Visit the Manitoba Conservation Web site:
Courtesy of Manitoba Archives, Pinawa Collection 1-1
Why not visit our neighbouring communities?