The Story of Island Falls

This article, written by Harry Olson, is from the September 1955 (Vol. 14 No. 3) issue of the Northern Lights magazine published by Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting Co. Ltd. It was later reproduced in the publication 25th ANNIVERSARY ISLAND FALLS in 1956. Mr. Olson became Superintendent after the retirement of Mr. R.W. Davis in 1959.

Forebay and plant with the wing dam on the right.
Power plant, from downriver.
Power site from the south. The community boat house is in the lower left.
Six units are in operation.
Aerial view of campsite and plant.
Tail-race at main dam.
Auxiliary dam "A."
Cleanliness is the word.
Control room.
The last survivor from original camp buildings.
Housing accommodation has received special attention.
Spacious lawns add to the beauty of these company-owned employees houses.
Fully modern and electrically heated.
The commissary (store) and dining hall fill the needs of married and single.
The campsite is park-like in its beauty.
Cofferdam construction, 1928.
Staff house for single men is well appointed.
The commissary is well stocked and efficiently staffed for self-service.
These old-timers have each more than a quarter of a century's service. l. to r.: Supt. Rees W. Davis, Pelle Hagberg, Harry Olson, Bill Jonasson.
It took three sturdy men to hang on to this live sturgeon, weight approximately 60 lbs.
Imposing cruiser built by one employee during last winter.

Some weird contraptions were used in the early days to solve the transportation problem. 1929.

LOGICALLY this article should begin with a discussion of that natural resource which has contributed in no small measure to the industrial growth of the north-central section of the Dominion, namely, the Churchill River.

The Churchill was named for John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough and third governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, in the latter part of the 17th century, some fifty years after a Danish expedition had abandoned the now-famous seaport of Churchill as a worthless, cold, disease ridden country.

No other attempts were made to explore the interior until the river basin became a part of the grant to the Hudson's Bay Company and began to play its part in furnishing furs to civilized people as it had furnished necessities of food and dress for untold centuries to uncivilized natives. This was the only contribution of the region to the economic life of the country for some two hundred and fifty years, until 1926, when the power site at Island Falls was discovered by engineers seeking a cheap power source to make possible the development of the great ore-body at Flin Flon.

The Churchill River is some 1,325 miles long, having its origin in the headwaters of the Beaver River in east-central Alberta. The whole river system is little more than a series of inter-connected lakes with occasional well-defined channels where swift water is encountered. From Churchill Lake to Hudson Bay there is a drop of 1,381 feet in a distance of 1,000 miles, 443 feet of this being above the power plant.

The basin which forms the watershed immediately above Island Falls comprises about 80,000 square miles, and there are three major storage reservoirs. The largest of these is Reindeer Lake in the north, with an area of 2,300 square miles. The flow from Reindeer Lake is now regulated by a concrete control dam at the south end of Marchand Lake, where an attendant is permanently employed.

Island Falls is located at north latitude 55 32', and, contrary to expectations, the climate is pleasant throughout the year. Six units are in operation. Although the yearly range of temperature is greatfrom 52 below to some 90 above zero, sudden changes are seldom experienced.

The development of the Island Falls power-site, situated on the Churchill River in Saskatchewan, 14 miles west of the Manitoba Saskatchewan boundary, was undertaken and completed by the Churchill River Power Company, Limited, a subsidiary of Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company, Ltd.; the purpose of the plant being to furnish power for development and operation of the Flin Flon mine, located 59 miles southeast on the provincial boundary.

Preliminary surveys and plans fixing the main features of the project were completed by the early summer of 1928. Transportation to the site then became the main consideration, since about 500 tons of freight had to be moved over lakes and portages to the plant location. The route from Cranberry Portage to Flin Flon, and thence to Island Falls, a total distance of 110 miles, was made up of 90 miles of lakes and 20 miles of portages. The magnitude of this feat can be appreciated when considering that these 1,000,000 pounds of freight had to be man-handled at least twenty times in that distance during the open-water season before the railway to Flin Flon was constructed. Nine large barges and thirteen wharves were in use between Island Falls and Flin Flon, and by October 20th the freight was delivered at the site.

As winter approached in 1928 the problem of transportation and housing faced the engineers in charge of the Island Falls project. Material, construction machinery and supplies had to be carried 72 miles from the railway, now extended to Flin Flon to Island Falls. The total weight of material necessary to complete the plant was 35,000 tons. This enormous amount of freight was moved over the frozen lakes and portages by trains of six heavy freighting sleighs drawn by 100 h.p. Linn tractors. There were twelve tractors and 150 sleighs in service. Two crews, serviced by a caboose on each train, worked shifts both day and night. Each train hauled an average of 78 tons (maximum was 124 tons) and made the return trip in 38 hours. Camp and construction buildings consisted of various offices, staff cottages, a commissary, a kitchen with dining-hall, provision ware house, cold storage, hospital, and bunk housesall of sufficient capacity to provide comfortable accommodation for an organization of 800 people. Also constructed were cement sheds, warehouses, garages, a carpenter shop, two sawmills, machine shop, electric supply shop, rock-crushing plant, concrete mixing plant and a boiler-house. Wherever possible, local material was used in the construction of all these buildings.

Work at Island Falls began in September, 1928, and the preliminary work occupied that winter. The actual construction of the power plant started in May, 1929, and was far enough advanced to deliver some power to Flin Flon about thirteen months later.

Power requirements for the major construction job were met by the installation of two 1,250 h.p. hydro-electric units at Spruce Falls, which transmitted the power 13 miles south-west to Island Falls. The plant was dismantled during 1931, and in 1933 the two small units were permanently installed as house units in the power-house at Island Falls.

The power-house substructure, containing the intake gates, penstocks, scroll cases, wheel pits, and draft tubes, is an integral part of the main dam and acts as a foundation for the cement block masonry of the superstructure.

The original construction called for a concrete dam with maximum height of 48 feet and an over-all lengthincluding the wing bulkhead of 1,235 feet, with power house superstructure 200 feet long, 125 feet wide, and a maximum height of 140 feet. This building houses the first three main units, the two house units, machine shop, control room, and all equipment for the control of power and operation of the plant. The generators began delivering some power on June 8th, 1930. Provision was made for extension of the plant for the ultimate installation of three more units, as and when power demands made this necessary.

The construction of the transmission line to Flin Flon was engineered to be completed by the time the plant at Island Falls was ready to deliver power, and passed high voltage tests two days prior to being put into service. The line consists of 356 double-circuit galvanized steel towers on which are strung two circuits of three 266,800 circular mil. steel-core aluminum cables. These are suspended on insulators designed for the normal transmission volt age of 110,000 volts, and are made up of eight 10-inch discs to the string except at Flin Flon, where fumes from the smelter have necessitated the addition of extra discs. A sectionalizing tower at Mile 13 also provided a tap for a power line to Sherridon during the operation of the mine at that point. The line was extended from there to Snow Lake when the mine there began operations, and the entire line to Mile 13 was taken over by them when the Sherritt-Gordon interests were moved to Lynn Lake. A single circuit telephone line on poles parallels the transmission line from Island Falls to Flin Flon, which is 58.9 miles long.

A mile southwest of the main dam and power-house is a concrete spillway dam for the purpose of bypassing the surplus flow of the river not necessary for power. In the 893 feet of this dam are 46 openings controlled by stop-logs. In the main dam are 16 stop-log openings and four sluice gates. Special machines were designed and built for placing and removing stop-logs, which are 16 feet in length and one foot square. The combined discharge capacity of the two dams is 185,000 cubic feet per second, which is equal to three times the highest river flow on record.

The forebay was filled during July, 1930, which completely submerged the three low falls, from which Island Falls gets its name. Two of these falls were on the south and one on the north side of the large island just above the power-site rapids.

The concrete spillway dam was completed, and on August 23rd stop-logs were raised to allow the surplus water to cut a new channel through swamp, muskeg and clay to Sandy Bay, re-entering the old river channel two miles down stream, and thus forming an island on which the town site is located.

The generators were all designed, built, and installed by the Canadian General Electric Company, Limited. Each is of the vertical type directly connected to the turbine by a shaft 30 feet long. The first three main generators are each rated at 12,000 KV-A, 6,600 volts, 163.6 R.P.M., and are driven by turbines rated 14,000 h.p. at 56 foot head.

Power demands at Flin Flon increased rapidly with development of the mine, and three separate construction programmes at the Island Falls plant became necessary. In 1936-37 No. 4 unit was installed, and the building extended about 42 feet. In 1938-39 No. 5 was installed in a similar extension. Finally, in 1947-48, No. 6 unit was installed, bringing the plant to completion as it is now with an overall length of 342 feet. Nos. 4, 5 and 6 generators are rated at 18,000 KV-A. 6,600 volts and 150 R.P.M., and their turbines 19,000 h.p. at 56 foot head. This gives an installed capacity of over 100,000 h.p. The turbines were furnished by the Dominion Engineering Works and are of the I.P. Morris propeller type design. Each runner consists of six blades formed integrally with a common hub. The turbines are each controlled by a governor of the actuator type manufactured by the Woodward Governor Company.

The power generated at 6,600 volts is stepped up to 110,000 volts through a bank of transformers for each generator. This is fed to a common bus through oil switches to the two paralleled transmission lines, thence to Flin Flon.

The maximum hourly load recorded to date is 81,900 Kw.; the average of 45,122 Kw., with an average daily generated to date of 1,820,930 Kw-h. The total power generated to the end of 1954 is the some what astronomical total of 9,526,028,700 Kw-h.

The Churchill River dropped to its minimum flow of 9,344 cubic feet per second in December, 1937. It rose to a maximum of 60,117 C-F-S in September, 1932, and has averaged 21,848 C-F-S to date. A recent figure of 16,718 C-F-S was required to produce an average hourly load of 64,400 Kw. at 57.98 foot head.

Increasing from the small beginning of, roughly, twenty men in the early days of operation, there are at this date about one hundred persons on the Churchill River Power Company pay-roll.

Turning now to the development of the town site ("camp," as it is locally called), the log buildings erected for the construction personnel eventually served their purpose and became obsolete, and in 1943 the Company launched a building programme which was completed eleven years later. Thirty-five new dwellings and a staff-house were built. All are fully-modern in every respect, and all heating is done electrically by forced convection thermostatically controlled.

Prior to this, several other buildings had been demolished and replaced with more adequate and permanent structures. One of these is a two-storey cement building with commissary, cold storage, freezing plant, and other space on the ground floor, while the top floor comprises staff kitchen, dining-hall, a cook's suite and guest rooms. At this writing, only one of the original single-unit log cottages remains standing and in use as a reminder of what all the homes were like a quarter century ago. Water for the settlement is supplied from the river by a centrifugal pump located in the power plant, as is also a fire pump for use in such an emergency.

An active Community Club, together with very considerable assistance from the Company, has taken care of all the most popular recreational facilities in all seasons.

As regards communication, besides the telephone circuit to Flin Flon mentioned earlier, the Company operates a carrier current system coupled to the transmission lines for its own business. An automatic telephone exchange located in the Commissary building provides connection between all dwellings and places of business at Island Falls. Any telephone can also be connected through the power-plant control room to the single-circuit line to the Manitoba Telephone System.

Further, the Company maintains a radio transmitter and receivers at the plant. This is for the purpose of contact with points beyond telephone service, and for daily communication with the dam attendant at Whitesands the south end of Marchand Lake, as well as contact with Hudson Bay Air Transport aircraft.

All foreseeable staple supplies for the Commissary and operation of the entire organization are brought in during the winter freighting season on sleighs. The Hudson Bay Air Transport, which is also a subsidiary of the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company, maintains a scheduled four flights weekly to Island Falls from Flin Flon. This provides for transportation of passengers and light freight, including fresh fruits, vegetables, et cetera.

At the south end of the large Community Hall is a two-room school where the children receive instruction in the primary grades. This school is maintained by the Power Company.

A resident Registered Nurse, provided by the Hudson Bay Employees Health Plan, is in charge in cases of minor illnesses or accidents.

The Flin Flon Ministerial Association has made arrangements to hold Church Services by any one of its members twice a month at Island Falls, the represented denominations taking turns.

Horses were used on original construction.
Early construction camp.