Walled-Up Waters

A vivid account of what Quebec is doing to conserve its stock of white coal

HARVEY B. CAMPBELL January 1 1930

Walled-Up Waters

A vivid account of what Quebec is doing to conserve its stock of white coal

HARVEY B. CAMPBELL January 1 1930

AN EMPTY church half surrounded with marsh, a presbytery slowly crumbling into dust, a few houses set on stilts, a cemetery which offers a new bed for bodies buried long ago in another place, and a story of trying times a few years back—that is all that is left of the parish of St. Cyriac in the County of Chicoutimi, Quebec.

The settlement was moved five years ago—as much of it as could be moved. The dead were reverently lifted from their place in the churchyard; such buildings as were of use elsewhere were taken bodily away; a new location was found for all the citizens. And then the place was flooded by order of a friendly provincial government concerned for the welfare of its people.

Not because of epidemic, but to make of Lake Kenogami, on whose shores the settlement was located, a government reservoir.

Today, as one looks out over the bay where once the village stood, and across to the church where now no altar fires burn, it seems the last word in loneliness. But turn the eyes to the left and see open water that stretches for miles and miles, move about through the neighboring towns and observe what a regulated flow of water from Lake Kenogami has meant to the North Country, and then the whole thing seems a benefaction.

If ghosts walk in St. Cyriac, they should be ashamed of themselves.

Government Control

LAKE KENOGAMI is a long narrow stretch of water that parallels the Saguenay River. It lies 500 feet above sea level, and empties itself into the Saguenay through two streams, the River Au Sable and the Chicoutimi River. Left to itself, all the emptying would be done in a few summer months, and the rest of the year only a very small volume of water would flow down to Chicoutimi, and none at all would go down the Au Sable to Jonquière-Kenogami. With the result, in the past, that industry was at a standstill in both those young cities, and that during the winter months the unemployment problem became so serious as to cause the Provincial Government some concern.

The Chicoutimi Pulp Company, for its own good, sought to overcome the low water difficulty by damming the outlet of the lake, and they got from the government permission to build a wooden crib that would raise the level of Lake Kenogami about five feet. That only partially met the situation, for it did not give enough control of the water to keep the paper mill at Kenogami running all winter long.

The mill which Sir William Price had erected at Kenogami had a capacity of more than 500 tons of newsprint per day, and gave employment to more than 1,000 men for nine months of the year. But for the other three months the plant was shut down. The shut-down was hard both on the population and on the industry.

The experiment with the wooden dam at Portage des Roches made clear what ought to be done, and in 1916 the Government was asked to take over the control of the lake. Shortly afterward, the Quebec Streams Commission received from the Provincial Parliament authority to build such dams and other works as were necessary to raise the level of the lake to a height that would maintain a steady supply of water on both the Chicoutimi and the Au Sable all the year round.

The first lift was of ten feet. Later a further thirteen feet was added to the depth of the lake. And at that point trouble developed. The earthwork at the western end of the lake showed signs of weakness, and it would never do to shut the water in at one end with imposing cement dams and let it slip away to Lake St. John through a channel of its own at the other.

So Mr. Lefebvre, Chief Engineer of the Streams Commission went to work. A transmission line was run from Kenogami to the head of the lake, twenty-one miles away, and heavy sluicing monitors were installed. To the local citizens it looked like child’s play, this washing sand from the hills into the hollows. But the pumps that were doing the washing gave a nozzle pressure of eighty pounds to the square inch, and they were kept playing from September to May, until they had washed down enough sand to widen the embankment at the head of the lake by 1,800 feet and to raise an earth wall fifty feet above the stream bed.

The regulating of the flow from Lake Kenogami steadied industry, and gave the Saguenay country such advantages as turned the eyes of industrialists and financiers in both Canada and the United States toward the north.

The work done by the Quebec Streams Commission at Lake Kenogami is only one of the many jobs that have been undertaken by that body.

The Quebec Streams Commission

TWENTY years ago the Quebec Government had little or no data on the lakes and rivers of the province and felt the need of a thorough investigation of the provincial waterways before venturing to sell valuable power sites or other concessions that belonged to the people.

So, in 1910, the government appointed the Quebec Streams Commission with instructions to make such examination of the water-courses of the province as seemed necessary, to devise regulations “respecting the flow, the drawing-off, the disposal, the distribution, the storage, and generally respecting the preservation and management of running waters in the Province of Quebec;” and “to encourage and facilitate the utilization of water-powers.”

One of the Commission’s first tasks was to measure the flow of the principal streams, and gather data with regard to rainfall and seasonal changes along each stream. That work is now done, for the most part, by the Dominion Water-Power Branch, but the Quebec Streams Commission has continued both to assist the Dominion Branch and to make detailed investigations of its own, especially at water-power sites.

Every important water-power site in the province has been thoroughly investigated; so thoroughly that the provincial Department of Forests and Lands, which handles all sales, has on file full information about volume of flow, amount of power available, the cost of producing that power, and blue-prints covering suggested plans of development. All that work has been done by the Streams Commission.

The biggest task the Commission had to undertake, however, was that of constructing such works as were necessary to make the most of the available resources of the province. And six major undertakings have been completed which stand as a lasting monument to the vision of the Commissioners and the sound business sense of the government which gave them their instructions.

The Gouin Dam

THE Gouin Dam on the St. Maurice River is a particularly striking example. It has not, and never will have, more than a small part of the political significance that attaches to the Assouan Dam in Egypt. Yet it creates a reservoir with more than twice the capacity of that on the Nile.

The Quebec Streams Commission, in undertaking the construction of the Gouin Dam, was following—as it did again at Lake Kenogami—the lead of private enterprise. In 1910, the Shawinigan Water and Power Company began to investigate the storage capacity of a chain of lakes along the river Manouan which is tributary to the St. Maurice. They built three wooden dams at the outlet of three of the lakes, and by so doing increased the flow of the St. Maurice River from 6,000 to 8,000 second-feet at low water.

From their point of view, that alone was an accomplishment. But the true importance of the experiment was in the proof it offered to all concerned that there was no sense in letting the spring floods carry off all the surplus water of the province; but rather, that a system of storage dams, carefully placed, would allow an even flow of water to be maintained all the year round on many important streams.

In 1912, the Shawinigan people applied for permission to build five dams which would allow them to store in five large lakes sufficient water to give an all the year round flow considerably above the low water minimum at that time.

The Streams Commission investigated the whole project, and recommended that the province should itself undertake the task rather than grant it to private interests. The result was that they built not five small dams but one large one, 240 miles up the St. Maurice River, which created a reservoir of more than 160,000,000,000 cubic feet, or 5,725 square mile feet.

The area of the reservoir is 304 square miles when full, and it is 1,325 feet above mean sea level. The dam itself, which was named after the late Sir Lomer Gouin, is 1,646 feet long and is ninety-six feet from the bottom to the top.

The Gouin Dam raised the minimum flow of the St. Maurice from 8,000 second-feet, to which the old cribs had raised it, to 16,000 second-feet where it has been maintained for seven years. About $2,-500,000 were spent in the development of the project, but the benefits to industry and the province at large have been simply immeasurable.

Five large corporations profit directly by the development. At La Tuque, the Brown Corporation; at Grand’Mère, the Laurentides Mill, which is the largest paper mill in the world; and at Shawinigan, the Northern Aluminum Company, the Belgo Pulp and Paper Company, and the Shawinigan Power Company—these all benefit from the storage behind the Gouin Dam.

The St. Francis

THE St. Francis River, which drains the Eastern Counties, was brought under control with the construction of a reservoir with a storage capacity of twelve billion cubic feet. To the city of Sherbrooke, to Richmohd, Windsor Mills, East Angus and Drummondville, that meant prosperity. Not only in the larger communities, but throughout the whole length of the valley, power was both cheap and reliable. The silk industry of the province, many cotton mills, and the various units of the Brompton Paper Company, are all on the St. Francis.

A third and fourth undertaking concerned the River Ste. Anne de Beaupré which was dammed in two places, and the Mitis River which was walled-up at Mitis Falls where the plant of the Lower St. Lawrence Power Company is located.

A further consequence of the successful handling of the St. Maurice was that private companies all over the province were encouraged to undertake controlling works at strategic points along rivers which supplied them with power, so that many hydro-electric developments with a capacity ranging from a few hundreds to twenty or thirty thousand horsepower were built. The Shipshaw River, for instance, has four control units, two of which also provide power. One of these controls is nearly 100 miles back in the bush, and the system is so efficient that for a nine-months period recently past, the variation in “head” at the Chute aux Galets powerhouse was only eight inches.

The Gatineau

RECENTLY the Quebec Streams Commission has been “doing its stuff” along the Gatineau.

It is not at all difficult to picture what has been done there, at least for anyone who has ever been in Ottawa. Think of a stretch of river sixty-two miles long, extending back from Hull where the Gatineau River enters the Ottawa. Now, beginning just a mile or so back from the Ottawa, and within sight of the Memorial Tower, think of a dam sixty-seven feet high that backs the water up for a mile and a half; then vision another dam, ninety-three feet high, that makes a lake twenty-four miles long behind it; then another dam, 140 feet high, with a reservoir twenty-six miles long; and beyond that again, a fourth one, ninety feet high, with a smooth stretch of water pushing back into the beyond for another thirty miles. That is the “Reservoir Baskatong,” the product of two years work along the Gatineau by the Quebec Streams Commission.

The development has cost more than three million dollars. What has it accomplished?

First of all, it has increased the flow of the Gatineau from 2,800 foot-seconds to 10,000 foot-seconds. The figures don’t mean anything to the layman, but interpreted in terms of cheap power, steady employment and industrial development, they mean a great deal to the section of country that borders on Ottawa and Hull.

For another thing, nearly 200,000 horsepower of electric energy is already available for industrial use with more to come. The Gatineau development is different from that on the St. Maurice. Power can’t be developed at the Gouin Dam because for part of the year the gates are closed, and no water at all is available at the dam itself during that period for the development of power. But on the Gatineau, every lift is, or may become, a power development.

The Farmer’s Plant—that’s the first step up—is already producing 26,000 horsepower; the Chelsea Plant, still within sound of the Carillon on Parliament Hill, is producing 170,000 horsepower; while the Paugan Dam, the third step, and the highest of the four, has a potential 272,000 horsepower. The last dam, with a ninety-foot head, will be able to produce 150,000 horsepower. A total of nearly 600,000 horsepower in all.

An Unemployment Insurance

THE Government has undertaken these engineering projects to develop the natural resources of the province and as insurance against unemployment. In 1923, extremely low water compelled a shut-down in many plants throughout the province. The loss to industry was very heavy, and in many districts the people suffered greatly through enforced idleness. But along the St. Maurice there were no factory shut-downs. Along the St. Francis Valley it was simply “business as usual.” Dry seasons come and go, and bring their problems with them; but when the plans have been worked out which the Quebec Streams Commission has laid down, the dry season will not affect either industry or employment in the Province of Quebec.

Approximately twelve million dollars have been spent to date, and the revenue for some years will do little more than meet the interest charges. That revenue is steadily increasing, however, as new industries come in and the areas affected develop. In the meantime, the government reaps huge returns in other forms, and feels that its policy with regard to waterpower is largely responsible for the province’s prosperity.

For sixteen years the engineering work of the Commission has been under the supervision of O. O. Lefebvre, who is a member of both the Engineering Institute of Canada and of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Mr. Lefebvre is one of those geniuses who can carry books of logarithms in his head. Yet his thoughts must be “such stuff as dreams are made of,” for when he stands on barren hill-tops he sees cities springing into being in the valleys beneath his feet. And back once more at his drawing-board, he makes those dreams come true.