Power on the Kootenay: The Fred Elwell Collection

Don Ohs Collection : Bonnington Falls power house construction C.P. Rail 3543 train 1906
Don Ohs Collection
Don Ohs Collection : Bonnington Falls construction 1906: Aug, 28th 1906
Don Ohs Collection

By 1900, Lorne Campbell, the general manager of WKP&L, was looking at Upper Bonnington Falls as a location for another power plant. Campbell wanted to increase capacity as the Boundary region with its rich copper mines and smelters were hungry for power. However, the City of Nelson was looking at a site for a dam to replace the Cottonwood Falls dam near Nelson. The city had deeded land and water rights on the south shore of the Kootenay River.

Various legal fights between the City and WKP&L, including Lorne Campbell filing a mineral claim on the City’s proposed site resulted in both projects being delayed until 1905. As well, in 1905 WKP&L was purchased by the CPR. By 1915, WKP&L was made a subsidiary of the CPR owned Consolidated Mining & Smelting Co. (later known as Cominco).

The Upper Bonnington dam was an ambitious project. It would be the largest concrete structure to be built in BC at the time. It would initially house two turbines. A third unit and a fourth unit were installed in 1916. Two more turbines were installed in an extension in 1940. The current plant produces 59 MW.

Don Ohs Collection : Bonnington Falls power house construction 1906: Kootenay River Lower Bonnington Falls in winter
Don Ohs Collection

WKP&L would build transmission lines to the boundary region by the end of 1907. Lower Bonnington was torn down in 1923 and rebuilt in concrete with a greater capacity in 1925. Three 20,000 horsepower turbines were installed. The plant is capable of producing 41 MW. WKP&L would build lines into the Okanagan as far north as Kelowna and as far west as the Copper Mountain mine in Princeton by 1924.