Power on the Kootenay: The Fred Elwell Collection

Don Ohs Collection : Bonnington Falls powerhouse construction 1906: 4500 KW Rotor, weight 26 tons, Sept. 23rd 1906
Don Ohs Collection

One of the board members of the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History heard of a collection of photographs showing the construction of a powerhouse on the Kootenay River in the early 20th century. A couple years of searching and the Institute was able to digitally archive the photos of Fred Elwell detailing the building of the Upper Bonnington Dam in 1906 by West Kootenay Power & Light.

The photos show the large concrete forms. This would be the largest concrete building built in BC at the time. It also shows the lack of safety equipment for the crew. Despite being high up no one is tethered and the hard hat has yet to be developed, nor do they seem to be wearing safe footwear. The equipment in use seems rudimentary.

Other interesting pictures in the collection are of the turbines, rotors, and generators. The immense size of these is highlighted when a man or men are standing around them. The two turbines that were initially installed are vertical Francis Turbines built by I.P. Morris and capable of 8,000 Horsepower. The generators were built by Canadian General Electric and are capable of producing 6700 kVA or about 4800 kW. They are 3 phase generators and produce AC current at 60Hz.

Don Ohs Collection : Bonnington Falls powerhouse construction 1906: The Crew!! The men that made it all possible, 1906
Don Ohs Collection

Other photos beyond the building of the powerhouse include family pictures, pictures of locomotives, automobiles, and a stern wheeler.