The La Colle Falls dam story is a century-old tale of hopeful ambition and plunging debt.
It is a piece of Prince Albert’s history that wasn’t forgotten but isn’t spoken of much either.
Today, a small display that focuses on the uncompleted La Colle Falls dam can be viewed at Prince Albert’s Historical Museum.
To help provide an abundance of cheap, clean electricity, the dam was a hydroelectric project that was developed by the City with the hopes to help transform Prince Albert into a larger and prosperous industrial centre.
Construction for the half-finished dam that is located approximately 26 miles east of Prince Albert began in 1910 after the City hired an engineer to prepare plans and estimates for its construction. Three years later in 1913, the project was brought to a sudden halt.
Michelle Taylor, museum curator for the Prince Albert Historical Society, said the initial assessment that was done on the North Saskatchewan River alleged that it would have a strong enough current and a fast enough current to warrant having a dam on it.
But as work progressed, they later discovered after a fuller analysis that the river was not conclusive to having a dam on it, it was not strong enough, and it did not have a fast enough flow.
As a result, the amount of debt the City had sustained ended up being much higher than originally anticipated and the bank refused to further the city’s loan. In 2014, the outbreak of the First World War also helped to ensure that the project would never be completed.
“Original costs for the dam were estimated at one million, however by 2013, that cost had risen to almost $3 million and the dam was only half completed,” said Taylor.
“There was no spillway as planned and there is only a lock and half a dam. That is the way it is today,” she added.
It took approximately 53 years for the City to pay off the La Colle Falls debt. The debt was not fully discharged until 1966.
Taylor said that it is an interesting story to explain to visitors when they pass through the museum. She said since the City had spent so many years trying to pay back the La Colle Falls debt, it could help explain why Prince Albert’s infrastructure is so old and why the city still has some of the issues that it should have gone through or dealt with 50 years ago.
Hydraulic Archaeologist Paul Van Pul is very interested in the story behind Prince Albert’s La Colle Falls dam site and he still hopes to some day write a book on it. He said his first visit to the site was in August 2008.
“It is a fascinating story,” said Van Pul. “I don’t remember how I first found about it, but I drove out there with my wife to go have a look at it and it’s, should I say, magnificent.”
Since 2008, Van Pul has made presentations numerous times on the subject of La Colle Falls and he hopes that someday the concrete structure that remains to this day might be recognized as a heritage site.
“I think there is a lot of possibility to still do something with it; however, that is not my department I can only talk about the history of it,” he said.
“I hope if we can do the historical research, we could write up a report or a book on it and it could be used by the City of Prince Albert and used as a attraction or provincial heritage site… because once it’s a historical site, there could be money to clean it up and have some interpretive walk away around it.”
To read past stories related to La Colle Falls click here.
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