There is only one rule when it comes to visiting abandoned places: don't tell anybody where you went. This rule isn't well known by people outside of the urbex community, but it's universal within it. The less people that visit an abandoned location, the more natural the state of decay, and the less chance of it being burnt down by thrill seekers.
Due to the status of this building, however, I feel safe to break that rule.
La Colle Falls Hydroelectric Dam is about 45 minutes east of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. I feel comfortable telling you this because this dam is a well-known, century-old, multi-million-dollar failure. The purpose of the dam was to use the roaring North Saskatchewan River to power the then young city of Prince Albert and lead it into the 20th Century. The city was expected to expand astronomically in the next few years, but due to the dam failing, the city nearly fell into bankruptcy.
In 1909 Saskatchewan was booming, and it would continue booming throughout the Great War and the 1920s. Prince Albert was no different. As a young city with money to spend and a need to grow, the La Colle Falls Hydroelectric Dam was proposed. One of the engineers that helped with the Niagara Falls project was hired, and he employed local, unexperienced men to complete the project. Almost overnight the cost of the dam ballooned to over $3 million, which is close to $70 million of today's money.
Four years later, in 1913, the partially built dam was scrapped and it took until 1965 for the debt to finally be paid off. Today, the dam sits in its original location, rotting away.
The dam is only accessible on foot or with ATVs. The highway several kilometers before the entrance to the footpath is not maintained, and signs throughout the area repeatedly warn drivers of this. Once you walk past the graffiti covered concrete pillars that lead down a hill, the road turns to gravel and then to mud.
I travelled up to Prince Albert with my friend Bee. She doesn't often go urbexing, so she was a little out of her element. She wore shorts, so plants with thorns scratched up her legs during our time at the dam. Once, due to the decaying state of the path, she even slipped and fell into a mud puddle. With high-spirits, we carried on, but our shoes were muddied and ruined.
For those travelling this road, remember to bring a walking stick and some shoes you can live without. Also bring bug spray, as there are plenty mosquitoes there.
When I first learned about the dam, I expected it to be a forgotten location, isolated in the forest and away from all civilization. Instead, when we got there, we found three other vehicles parked, and later encounter two other sets of people. I was surprised to learn this dam is actually a very popular site, even though there are signs posted warning visitors about the dangers of the structure.
The sign says "Warning - Danger
Persons entering this area or proceeding beyond this point do so at their own risk.
The City of Prince Albert"
We came to the edge of the concrete structure and found a sign warning us about proceeding forward. The sign was riddled with bullet-holes and fake blood. It was foreboding, but nothing I haven't seen before. Bee, however, was pretty creeped out.
The path curved around a bend, and then led to a metal platform that stretched the length of the structure. Visitors could walk the rusted platform and see the dam from a distance. At the end of the platform the fence stopped, but a small dirt footpath continued down to the river.
Once Bee and I arrived at the footpath, we began inching towards the dam. After rustling through weeds and plants up to our shoulders, we arrived at the building. Here, previous urbexers had placed logs to climb on top of the structure. Bee volunteered to stay at the bottom, so I climbed up logs instead.
The first part of the dam I saw was a concrete base, which stretched to a larger outcropping about one hundred yards away. This concrete base was riddled with holes, around two feet long by two feet wide. Some of these holes dropped down about four feet down into the structure. Inside these holes were drift wood, beer bottles, cans, moss and garbage. Some of these had metal prongs jutting out of the concrete, the bones and teeth of the structure never complete.
As I continued down the base I arrived at towering wall covered in decades of graffiti. Some of this graffiti included swastikas, frogs wearing crowns, aliens and clowns. Surprisingly, I didn't see anything phallical.
This part of the building ends at what may have once been a window. The concrete base drops about five feet down, with another ledge right above my head. A this point the base had narrowed to a ledge only about a foot wide. Had Bee not been waiting for me, I would have attempted to climb either down or up and around the window.
I circled back to Bee and climbed the logs off the concrete base. From the base I could see a wing-like structure stretching over the water, but it was not accessible from this angle. As we walked back, I found the path towards it. Bee said she would wait for me the sign we passed by earlier so I followed the dirt path around the dam.
When I got out of the woods, I was at the edge of the river. I jumped down a small drop onto the shore and approached the dam's wing. Wooden logs had been placed up to the wing, but they were narrow and less secure than the previous ones.
The wing's concrete ran out over the river and slanted up like a pyramid. Somebody had placed wooden sticks into the building for people to climb, but I didn't feel they were strong enough to support my weight. Besides, if one broke I could potentially fall into the river below. Instead, I just walked along the wing of the building.
After a few minutes I finished taking pictures, very slowly climbed down the logs to the shore and rustled back through the brush to where Bee was waiting. I told her about what I saw, and then we proceeded back up the muddy road to the car.
The dam has sat in ruin for over a century, and some people have requested making it into a historical site. Others want to make it into a tourist destination, instead of a graffiti filled ruin, while yet others propose turning it into a spa. For now, though, it's a testament to a architectural failure in Prince Albert's early history.
For many of us in Saskatchewan, summer means it's time for an Alberta road trip. Although the endless stretches of prairie have their appeal, there is nothing quite like seeing the mountains rising over the horizon.
One challenge that comes with taking a summer road trip is the heat. Much like on this side of the border, it isn't uncommon for summer temperatures to get to the extreme. I know a few people who have had car problems in the heat, and my family is one of them. Nothing ruins a trip more than an unexpected visit to the mechanic.
Thankfully, Alberta has a myriad of places to go swimming, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding or fishing. This not only gives your vehicle time to cool off, but also gives you a chance to escape the heat as well.
Last week Ford Canada flew my sister Krystal and I out to Prince Edward Island to take part in their Cross-Canada #FordEcoSport Tour. We were only the fifth of fifteen groups that will take part in the tour, so be sure to follow the hashtag to see what everybody is getting up to as well.
Our section of the tour was probably one of the longest in the program, as we had to drive from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island to Saint John, New Brunswick, then to Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec and ending in Quebec City. The whole distance is about 1,020 kilometres, which is about 10 hours of driving, assuming we didn't stop to see anything along the way.
Just over a year ago I wrote an article about the glockenspiel that once stood in downtown Regina. I had fond memories of the glockenspiel as a child and was sad when they took it down to renovate the park. I was even more sad when they didn't put it back up, and I was angry when I discovered it was sitting in a junkyard (sorry, outdoor "storage facility") for the past ten years. That article got a lot of attention, from both the public, the city and the press. Today, efforts are being made to restore the bell back to its original location.
I'm telling you this because preserving heritage – may it be a 25-year-old bell, or a fourth century building – is important. Without heritage, we lose who we are. Often, the desire to move society forward steps over the heritage and causes it to get lost. As impressive as tall glass buildings might be, nothing is better than a smoky red brick structure.
Saskatchewan is beginning to realize how important this is – and thankfully it's happening now and not in a few decades after everything is gone. But, our neighbours have been on the heritage preservation band train for several years now, especially in Alberta.