Historic Pinawa Generating Station Recognized as Engineering Milestone
June 8, 2008 – Today, the Pinawa Hydroelectric Power Project was recognized by the IEEE (formerly the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) as an IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing. When the groundbreaking station was completed in 1906, it became Manitoba’s only year-round hydroelectric plant, and one of the first to be developed in such a cold climate anywhere in the world. In a ceremony at the Manitoba Electrical Museum, a bronze plaque commemorating this achievement was unveiled by Dr. Ferial El-Hawary, president of IEEE Canada.
“It will become recognized world-wide as a milestone,” said Lindsay Ingram (Hydro-X), vice chair of IEEE Winnipeg Life Members Chapter. Lindsay, who was MC of the ceremony, spent nearly a year facilitating the nomination and approval process for the award. Also speaking at the ceremony were Dr. El-Hawary; Glenn Schneider (Division Manager, Public Affairs); Len Bateman, past chairman and chief executive officer; and Viviane Thomson, vice chair of Friends of Old Pinawa.
In the early 1900s, as Winnipeg’s population rapidly neared 100,000 residents, this pioneering hydroelectric project was developed to meet the city’s growing energy requirements. “It supplied electricity to the streetcar system,” said Lindsay. At the time, the Winnipeg Electric Railway Company had about 35 streetcars in operation, along with some streetlights and a few domestic and business customers. The major load growth was electric streetcar transportation, and the company decided to generate a supply of low-cost hydroelectric power from the Winnipeg River.
The first challenge was to build the station in such a harsh and remote location. “They depended on horses and basic construction methods,” said Lindsay. Other than steam operated derricks, shovels, and drills, the station was built with manpower and 36 teams of horses. Corduroy roads made of logs, the remnants of which can still be seen at the site, were laid down for 16 miles to transport materials into the area. After three years of work, the station was successfully built and delivered its first power on June 9, 1906.
The next task was to operate the plant year-round in Manitoba’s cold climate. Because the ice could become very thick, boat crews worked throughout the winter to keep water channels clear in front of the dam. As well, frazil ice deep in the water created blockages that had to be blown periodically with dynamite. Despite the challenges, the dam successfully supplied Winnipeg year-round with 14 megawatts (MW) of electricity, and was eventually re-rated to 22 MW. After 45 years of service, the Pinawa Generating Station was shut down to allow the new Seven Sisters Generating Station to use the water more effectively.
The remains of the station are now part of a Provincial Heritage Site, where a duplicate plaque will be placed.
The IEEE (formerly the) began the Milestones program in 1983 to honour technological innovation and excellence in electrical, electronic, and computer engineering. To be approved for this award, a project must be at least twenty-five years old, must have involved a unique solution to an engineering problem, and must have had a regional impact. There are currently more than 100 Milestones around the world, over ten of which are in Canada. This will be Manitoba’s second Milestone; in 2005, the Nelson River HVDC transmission system was also recognized.