The Island Falls Development

This report, written by Marvin Huffaker, was published in the "Actimist" in Winnipeg in 1933. It describes a visit to Island Falls via the lakes-and-portages route in the early nineteen-thirties.

The development of the mine at Flin Flon necessitated a large, dependable supply of power. In order to decide on the source of this power it required a great deal of investigation and research. Economy, dependability and further expansion were the factors which entered into this problem. Water and fuel were the two sources considered, with transportation, maintenance and operation costs eliminating fuel, if a water source could be found near enough so that transmission line costs would not be prohibitive. A number of sites were investigated with the result that Island Falls was found to be the closest which allowed for further expansion and at the same time was economical and dependable. This site is located on the Churchill River, fourteen miles west of the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border and fifty-eight miles Northwest of Flin Flon. It is this isolated community which we are now going to visit.

Just as dawn begins to break, we leave the Flin Flon warehouse, sitting on boxes, luggage or what-have-you atop a flat car drawn by an electric locomotive. Lew McDonald gives the signal, Buck Buchanan signals for a clear track as we go down the yard and around Flin Flon lake cutting through the smelter fumes driven by a soft south breeze. The train goes on, we breath deep of the morning air as we round curve after curve winding our way through the spruce, birch and poplar, avoiding muskeg swamps and rock hogbacks for eight miles.

Here we meet Bill Cooper with his team and wagon waiting to take us across a six mile portage to Mari Lake. He has everything as comfortable as possible but smiles as one by one his passengers request to run or walk to break the monotonous jolting on the wagon.

At the end of an hour and a half we reach the South end of Mari Lake just as Slim McIntyre and his Indian navigator, Magloire Noteweyes, start the engine on the waiting boat. We thank Bill for a pleasant ride and wave farewell as Magloire heads North on Mari Lake. This is a very pretty lake with its long narrow bays and numerous small islands. The impression is always one of apprehension, fearful that Magloire has headed up a blind bay but he always finds an outlet. We reach the Narrows just in time to see Pete [Wasylenko] making his patrol between his home at Mile 13 and Mite 25 on the transmission line and continue our journey on to the North end of the Lake. Leaving the boathouse, we cross three small portages and two lakes to the South end of Barrier Lake.

Here another large boat is waiting to take us nineteen miles across bays, through narrows, past numerous pretty islands, and over shoals causing us to again marvel at the skilled navigation of Magloire until he lands us safely in the boathouse at Camp 6. We make the two mile portage from Camp 6 to shallow Muddy Lake and marvel again at the ease with which Slim and Magloire carry the heavy loads to the halfway and then on again. We continue on through the L shaped Lake, across a mile portage to the South end of Sandy Bay. We cross this three mile bay to the swift water of the Churchill as it emerges through the new channel from the spillway dam South of the power house. We make a safe landing from the canoes and begin to feel that we will appreciate very much the warm supper which Mrs. Purdy had waiting for us at the Island Falls dining room. We make a small ascent from the top of which we get our first glimpse of the power house just as the sun is sinking in the west.

After a good night’s sleep we arise refreshed and after eating breakfast begin an inspection of the development. It consists of a main concrete dam across the river about three-quarters of a mile from Camp, a concrete block power house whose substructure is part of the dam, a concrete spillway dam about one mile Southwest of the power house and nine small earth dams at various points in the forebay shoreline. The main dam supports the water head of fifty-six feet and backs the water up the river for thirty miles forming a lake of approximately fifty square miles in area.

The power units consist of three vertical propeller type water turbines of 14,000 h.p. each and two of 1300 h.p. each, the larger ones operating under a head of fifty-six feet while the two small ones operate under forty feet. To these prime movers are coupled the alternating current generators, the large ones delivering 12,000 KVA each to three banks of transformers which steps the generated voltage up from 6600 volts to 110,000 volts for transmission to the mine at Flin Flon. The two small turbines are coupled to alternating current generators which deliver 1000 KVA each to an auxiliary bank of transformers which steps the voltage from 550 up to 6600 volts. There are two transmission lines going away from the power house in the Southeasterly direction on a single set of three hundred and fifty-five steel towers which average six and one tenth tower spans per mile. The conductors are insulated from the towers by strings of eight disc type insulators at each suspension and strain point.

From the power house we go to the spillway dam where the surplus water from the Churchill River flows through a new channel to Sandy Bay. This dam is 800 feet long and during the summer season discharges 40,000 cubic feet per second or 240,000 gallons every second. The amount of water spilling over this dam is regulated by stop logs so as to hold the elevation of the forebay at the desired point as the flow in the river varies.

From the dam we return to camp which was originally laid out to accommodate a population of forty-five including men, women and children. Everything possible is maintained for the convenience of the employees. Our route passes gardens, pigpen, stable and chicken house, entering camp from the South end of the main street from which the baseball diamond, tennis court, picture show, recreation hall, skating rink, kitchen, dormitory, store, refrigeration plant, laundry and staff cottages radiate. Community activities are encouraged and as a result there seems to be no leisure time which is not enjoyed.

A few sets of tennis, a talking picture show and a dance puts us in excellent condition for a good night’s rest.