The W.A.C. Bennett Dam

So I’ve been talking smack about the Bennett Dam.  But have I ever been there.  Well the answer is yes, last summer (August 2010) after going to the annual Sims-Wickum family reunion in Prince George.  (Technically its the Wickum family reunion, a proud Norwegian Canadian family, but the Sims part of the clan kind of took over and last summer we even had a Sims family reunion the day after, at the same place.)  Anyway on the way back from Prince, I took the Pine Pass and made a detour to Hudson’s Hope and the Bennett Dam.  On the way I was going to stop at the MacLeod Lake General Store and raise a ruckus when they didn’t have everything, like their sign states.  I also stopped at Moberly Lake and gassed up, thereby having to register myself in their system to get all the tax breaks.  On the bright side the girl thought I was already registered.  I guess I look familiar.

So, the Bennett Dam.  The first thing that struck me was that even before entering the area of the dam, I was stopped by security, who asked me what I was doing, took my name and my license plate.  (9-11 changed everything?)  Once through security, however, its onto your typical Canadian tourist experience: admission costs, exhibits, tours.  Except no camera or anything else on you.  (Lockers are provided)  I guess they don’t want anyone to blow up a dam providing 1/3 of BC’s power and the tour guide told us if we even left our camera on floor the entire facility would have to be evacuated, while they investigated it.  The tour consists of a guided bus ride into the powerhouse of the dam, and then a walking tour of the power house.  On the way down to the dam the guide asked where everyone was from and I said Tsay Keh Dene, which made her ask if it was my first time to the dam, and comment that the elders had visited earlier in the Spring.  Once the tour inside is done, you’ve seen the mandatory turbines shut off for maintenance, etc, etc its back up to the tourist center and this is where the crazy part begins.  They won’t let you bring anything into the power house, but you can drive across the dam.  Anyway I did and got some great pictures from the viewing site on the other side of the dam.  I also heard some other tourists talking about how fast the reservoir (Williston Lake) filled up, and the husband assured his wife it was from 1968 to 1982.  I didn’t have the hear to correct him, but it was more like 1968-69.  Anyway onto the pictures:

This is the Bennett Dam.  The bluish stuff to the right is the Gordon Shrum powerhouse, which provides power to 1/3 of B.C. as of August 2010.  Note that the Bennett Dam is an earthen dam, made of aggregate (gravel).

This is a better view of the Gordon Shrum powerhouse (the man drank forestry pesticides and herbicides to prove they were safe to the media).   The cliffs are dark because of the coal that is abundant and apparently high grade in the area (it was never mined extensively because the area is too remote to make it profitable).  Above the cliffs you can see the main powers lines that head south to the lower mainland.  (In Edmonton you can see similar lines near the southwest Anthony Henday.)  In the center of the picture you can see the entrance to the Gordon Shrum power house.  You can drive two lanes into it.

Here’s a picture of a truck driving across the dam (the white thing in the center of the picture.)  The lines along the top of the dam are power poles, much like the ones bringing electricity to your house right now.

2 Responses to The W.A.C. Bennett Dam

  1. Heather Sims says:

    Good job Dan. So, the resevoir only took a year to fill? Is that what I am understanding from you comments? You should find out some more and write about it.

    • dubhdanaidh says:

      Yuppers. The dam was closed in 1968 prior to the Spring run-off and the reservoir filled up quicker than even the government and BC Hydro (apparently) thought. This is actually the topic of my dissertation, which will combine (for the first time) the official government records, with local and oral histories on the effects of Williston Lake.

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