Power on the Kootenay: The Fred Elwell Collection

A brief history of the West Kootenay Power & Light Company

Don Ohs Collection : Bonnington Falls power plant construction 1906: Nov. 23rd 1906
Don Ohs Collection

West Kootenay Power and Light Company Ltd. (WKP&L) was founded in 1897 in Rossland. The three founders were involved with the Centre Star Mine. Oliver Durant and Patrick Largey were Americans. Durant was the General Manager of the mine while Largey was the president. They were joined by C R Hosmer, an investor in the mine. Hosmer was the manager of the CPR telegraph system and the town of Hosmer in the East Kootenay is named after him. He was well connected and sat on the boards of some of Canada's most prestigious companies.

The two Americans would not last long in the company. Largey was murdered at a bank he owned in Butte, Montana in January 1898. Durant would serve as WKP&L's first president from 1897-1898. When the Centre Star mine was sold to Toronto interests in September 1898, Durant who was suffering poor health decided to retire to a mansion in Spokane and by 1900 had sold all his interests in WKP&L.

WKP&L looked to harness electricity at the falls on Sheep Creek not far from Rossland. This vision would change during a meeting and drinks at the Centre Star mine office. Sir Charles Ross, a Scotsman, and William Doull from a wealthy family in Nova Scotia had formed a similarly named company Kootenay Power & Light but were looking at electrical generation on the Kootenay River. Bonnington Falls was named by Sir Charles Ross after a waterfall, Bonnington Linn, on the River Clyde on his Scottish estate. The two groups formed an alliance.

Don Ohs Collection : Bonnington Falls power house construction Dick Kerr Generator 1906.
Don Ohs Collection

Ross had studied mechanical engineering at Cambridge and would oversee the construction of the power plant at Lower Bonnington Falls and the transmission line to Rossland. Ross grew bored of day to day management and in January 1898 hired Lorne Campbell of Canadian Electric to oversee the completion of the project. Lorne Campbell would leave Canadian Electric and became general manager of WKP&L in May 1898, a position he would hold until his death in 1947. WKP&L would bring power to Rossland by mid-July 1898. The transmission line would be a first for North America, a long distance line of 32 miles. The power house at Lower Bonnington had two generators and a third would be added in 1899.

Ross would be president of WKP&L from 1898 to 1903. However, he was rarely in the area. He was negotiating deals in China and Russia, and was in South Africa fighting in the second Boer war in 1900. He designed a rifle and built a factory in Connecticut, eventually relocating to Quebec City after he was awarded a contract by the government of Canada in 1902. The Ross Rifle Mark III was issued to Canadian troops during WW1. The rifle was not designed for the dirty conditions of trench warfare. It was largely abandoned in favour of the British Lee Enfield though Allied snipers preferred the Ross.