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Cottonwood Creek Dam


Cottonwood Creek Dam
Completed: 1896
Operator: Nelson Electric Light Company, City of Nelson
Type: Run of the River


Built in 1895-6 by the Nelson Electric Light Company, this was the first operating hydroelectric development in British Columbia when it began supplying electricity on February 1, 1896. The original plant consisted of a plank flume 500 feet long. The upper half was 16 inches in diameter, the lower half 14 inches. There were 2 36 inch Pelton waterwheels that drove the two 35 kilowatt direct current generators that produced current at 110 volts.

The dam had a head of 185 feet and upgraded to four generators a year and a half after beginning operations.

The City of Nelson purchased the Nelson Electric Light Company after going through numerous court cases on conflict of interest charges (the current mayor and three aldermen were either directors or shareholders in the company). The city held a purchase-bylaw vote that was defeated by nine votes and then passed after a recount declared victory by two votes in June 1898. The courts eventually decided in favour of the City and the purchase went through in March 1899.

Cottonwood Creek Dam survived the political differences only to succumb to Mother Nature's forces with erratic water levels and freezing temperatures eventually leading to the need for a larger, more dependable site, was found downstream of Nelson on the Kootenay River in 1907.

After the City's Bonnington Falls plant went into operation the Cottonwood Falls Plant was leased to Mr. A. Gordon French who conducted zinc ore reduction experiments there. The generator and wheel were sold to the Canadian Marble Works at Marblehead in 1909 and were later sold to a group at Mirror Lake who used them for their local hydro plant. The remnants of the buildings, dam and works were destroyed during construction of the highway interchange in the early 1970s.

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