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Thursday, 19 August 2010

Lockport's 100th, part one: A history of the St. Andrews Lock and Dam

This is a three part series to commemorate 100 years of the St. Andrews Lock and Dam at Lockport, Manitoba !

Part One: A Brief History of St. Andrews Lock and Dam



In the late 19th century Manitoba's economy relied on the lumber, fuel wood and fish supplied from the Interlake region but a series of rapids along the Red River prevented the direct passage of large vessels to Winnipeg. As steamships became larger a permanent solution was needed to save starving commercial development. In 1880, the idea to dam the St. Andrew’s Rapids on the Red River was born.



Winnipeg contractors Kelly Brothers began construction on Oct. 9, 1900. The first few years of construction were difficult as the Red’s powerful current often carried away sections of the temporary dam, washing out the worksite. Floods, unusually cold winters and disease also took a toll. In 1905 the government appointed a new firm, Quinlan & Robertson of Montréal, to complete the dam.

Even with excavation underway, the design for the structure had not yet been finalized.

The type of dams typically built in North America and Britain would not work at this site so the federal government sent architect H. E. Vantelet of Montréal to Europe to find a solution. After two months he settled on a type of dam he saw along the Seine River in France: a Caméré curtain dam, (named for the man who invented it). Vantelet modified the design to fit the Manitoba site and make provisions for an accompanying lock, canal and a last minute addition of a vehicle roadway.

In April 1907 the final drawings were in place for a truly one of a kind structure.



In September 1908 the Free Press wrote: “Construction is now approaching completion and the time is not far distant when Lake Winnipeg vessels will discharge their cargoes of fish, lumber, or cordwood at the docks of Winnipeg.”



The first vessel to pass through the lock was the government steamer Victoria at 2:45 p.m. on May 2, 1910. The official opening took place on July 14, 1910 when the Winnitoba sailed from Winnipeg with guests of honour Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier and his Public Works Minister William Pugsley, the man many credited for getting the often-stalled project finally on track and completed. Other dignitaries ranging from the President of Winnipeg’s Board of Trade to the U.S. Consul General.



While the Winnitoba was in the lock, Laurier made a short speech and Pugsely declared the St. Andrews Lock and Dam open. This speech will be re-enacted at the Opening Ceremony of the festival on Saturday, August 21 at 11:30 am on the Lock property across from Skinners on River Road !

St. Andrews Lock and Dam Facts

- It is the only lock on the prairies and is 11m deep, 62m long and 13.7m wide.
- The lock fills by gravity so it takes about 20 minutes to ‘lock through’.
- Each curtain is made up of 50 Douglas fir laths, each 4m long and 2m wide.
- It is a National Historic Site and a Canadian Civil Engineering Historic Site.


Also see:
Part Two - The Creation of Lockport
Part Three - Laurier's Words

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