The Seebe Dam, called the Kananaskis Plant by its owner, is just over a century old and is located along the scenic Bow River west of Calgary, where the mountains meet the plains. We’re in the area for a hike and take some time to study this interesting old structure before heading down the trail. It’s big, it’s humongous, it’s amazing piece of retro engineering and as such we can’t pass it by. We must explore!
This was one of two dams we’d visit this trip and the second will be documented in separate article sometime soon. The skies were nice and blue this day and the waters an amazing teal. What a great day for photography.
The dam was built in 1913 where the Bow and Kananaskis Rivers meet, at the location of Kananaskis Falls, now underwater, at a place later named Seebe, and is used to generate electricity. The current operator is Trans Alta Utilities. In the past, it belonged to Calgary Power. The facility does not require water be stored in a traditional style massive-scale reservoir (there is a small one however) and for the most part the natural flow of the river itself is enough to power all the generating equipment. As such, this means the structure’s impact on the surrounding countryside is greatly lessened – no huge man-made lakes taking up real estate for example.
The facility generally only produces power when demand requires it. At other times, it’s on standby but it able to come up to speed very quickly. Water is directed into an canal then an intake channel and is run through the turbines and exits back into the Bow River via a tunnel cut into the the bedrock perhaps a half a click downstream. The generating plant is on the south side of the river and is naturally off limits. The water level in the small holding reservoir is controlled by large wood planks placed in slots in the spillway. A simple solution.
This structure was inundated by the spring 2013 floods and outside a buildup of debris on the upstream face (being cleaned up), it appears to have suffered little. I guess that speaks highly of those who built it.
Just down stream from the dam is what we’ll call the spindly bridge. It’s a rather precariously placed structure that once supported the road that crews used to access the dam workings. The current alignment is to the west. The drop down from the deck to the river far below in a deep rock canyon is considerable. Today it’s used simply to support one small pipe. What that pipe carries is anyone’s guess. The bridge was built in a Pratt style, which may not look that substantial, but it’s quite a strong arrangement overall. This arrangement is probably one of the most common through-truss styles seen from the old days. It worked well for roads and in a more substantial form, railways.
From what we’ve been able to glean, the bridge was constructed in the 1920s. It’s not known if there was another such crossing here before or not, or perhaps another somewhere in the area. It would certainly be needed, I would think.
Anglers can often be seen in area. Cliff diving is also popular in here. Personally I think those who do that are some crazy folks. Every now and then, as happened this year, people die while participating in this activity.
Recall we mentioned another dam in the immediate area. It’s overall smaller in size but similar in appearance and is located a few kilometres downstream. This is the Horseshoe Dam which will be the subject of its own report (our hiking trail went right past it). I believe it and Seebe dam are operated as one unit.
At one time there was a small worker’s village nearby on the other side of the river. This was the town of Seebe, abandoned and torn down not that long ago (and I think where it was is on private property). It held the distinction of being the site of the very last one room school in the province.
During World War Two a POW internment camp was located nearby.
Over the years various movies were filmed in the area near the dams including Brokeback Mountain, Legends of the Fall, the River of No Return with the always amazing Marilyn Monroe, and others.
All the places seen in this report are publicly accessible.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: August, 2014.
Location: Seebe, AB.