Power on the Kootenay: The Fred Elwell Collection

Don Ohs Collection : Bonnington Falls power house construction 1906.
Don Ohs Collection

In 1947, with the war over and after WKP&L general manager Lorne Campbell passed away, Cominco purchased all the plants except for Plant #1 Lower Bonnington. The plan was to separate Cominco’s power from that of the “public” utility. However, the post war baby boom saw electric appliances sales surge and a growing demand for electricity in homes. As well in certain areas, notably the Okanagan valley, cities and towns were growing rapidly. There were also many small communities that wanted to be hooked up to the grid.

Cominco would build another dam, the Waneta Dam on the Pend d’Oreille River south of Trail, BC. The building contract was awarded to an American firm. It was completed with two turbines in place in 1953. Two additional turbines were added one in 1963 and the other in 1966. The operation of the dam and the transmission lines was left to WKP&L. The dam produces 450 MW.

The dam is currently being upgraded with the construction of a second powerhouse immediately downstream from the dam by a partnership of FortisBC, the Columbia Basin Trust, and the Columbia Power Corporation when completed its two Francis turbines will produce 335 MW.

Don Ohs Collection : Bonnington Falls Construction 1906: Power House
Don Ohs Collection

In 1952, Cominco wanted to bring reliable electricity to Kimberley and its Sullivan Mine. WKP&L did what many thought was impossible. Rather than run transmission lines around Kootenay Lake they would run lines over the lake a two mile span. Thereafter, WKP&L was able to also run a line to Riondel and the Cominco owned Bluebell Mine.

In 1982, Cominco would sell the power plants back to WKP&L. In 1986, WKP&L was sold by Cominco to Kansas City based Utilicorp United. Many Kootenay residents opposed the sale to an American company. The deal however would pass all the regulatory hurdles and was approved in 1987. The company now called Aquila Networks Canada had acquired a sizable chunk of Alberta’s transmission grid by the time it was sold to Newfoundland based Fortis Inc. in 2003. The company has branded its WKP&L operations as FortisBC.

Cominco would eventually merge with Teck Resources in 2001. Teck still owns the Waneta Dam which is operated by FortisBC.

Don Ohs Collection : Bonnington Falls powerhouse construction 1906: Four men standing inside by the Rotor
Don Ohs Collection