As you drive down the Crowsnest Highway, Highway 3, very near the BC border and if you are looking in the right direction you may notice a large brick structure sitting by a lake. This is what’s left of the East Kootenay power plant which operated here from the 1920s to the late 1960s. A magnet for people like us, we take some time to explore this fascinating site.
Located near the town of Sentinel, the power plant sits on the east side of Crowsnest Lake. Today, only the main structure remains but in the past there was a large smoke stack along with various out buildings. A peek inside shows nothing is left in the way of machinery and the cavernous room is completely empty save for some steel support beams.
As is the case with abandoned buildings vandals have taken their toll, and many windows are smashed. Overall however, the building is in reasonable shape from what I can see (disclaimer – I am not a structural engineer).
What appears to be the remains a rail siding leads to the nearby CPR line.
Whether this plant received coal by train or if was simply trucked from nearby mines (and which mine for that matter) in unclear. Either way, it was supposed to only use a couple hundred tons per day, or perhaps 3-4 rail cars of the era. Not much really. Water was pulled from the lake to feed the boilers. The plant was opened in 1927 and shut down in 1969.
I’ve heard of plans to save the historic structure, but nothing has happened yet. And who knows if these are only rumours anyway. It is however an important part of history of the Crowsnest Pass and should be saved if possible. On our visit the site was owned by a development firm who gave us permission to enter.
At one time there were other buildings here, but since our last visit in the 1990s, they have been torn down.
In one picture you can see the Crowsnest Radio Tower located above the lake just west of the power plant. We hiked up there, along a road that takes you up the back side of the ridge, and the view from the top are amazing. The power plant is clearly seen below and there are good views of surrounding peaks and lakes and lots of other scenic bits to see. It’s a nice view!
This author has seen a dive report, with pictures, showing an old sunken car (1920s) at the bottom of the lake near the power plant. I have heard the story of one that crashed through the ice on a winter’s day and perhaps this is it.
I am also aware of the rumours that say one or more derailed freight cars are said to be submerged nearby. What looks to be a single old boxcar has been found by divers recently (I’ve seen the photos) and if it’s a rail car and it sure looks like one (although the deep water was murky), its presence should not come as a complete surprise. The tracks are right beside the lake and it’s conceivable that some cars derailed and fell into the water at some point.
The legend goes on (as they often do) and it further states that the boxcar was filled with illicit booze (sheesh). The divers that found the car remains, lying on a steep underwater slope beside the tracks, report finding no evidence of that liquor. Oddly, they were later seen staggering about. Of course the booze part is pure folklore. As is the case with legends, some of the story may indeed be true but others parts are often embellished bunk.
Near the plant is the CPR southern mainline. This is a conduit for coal heading east from the Elk River Valley and also hosts trains headed for the US near Yahk BC. Near the power plant you can see where the railway did a minor realignment.
Looming over the plant in the north is Mt Tecumseh / Phillipps Peak, a single mountain with two high points each with a unique name. And in the south Sentry Mountain is seen.
Not far down the rail line, to the west, is the famous cave that has a river emerging from it. To visit it requires walking down the rail line, something I would not recommend as at times the tracks occupy a narrow ledge leaving you no where to go, except perhaps for a swim in the lake, should a train pass. You can see the cave from the highway as well. I’ve been there once, in the fall when the river is a trickle, and there is lots of cave art inside, some recent graffiti, some ancient pictographs.
To see the cave spoken earlier, refer to this report…
Crowsnest Lake cave.
To see a nearby coal mine we visted, check out this link…
Tent Mountain Mine.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: August 2012
Location: Crowsnest Pass, AB.