Heritage week highlights Rossland’s energy history

The Rossland Heritage Commission invites everyone to explore the city's energy past with Heritage week starting Monday.

A photo of the No. 1 generating plant at Lower Bonnington Falls in 1899. The plant was an important asset of the West Kootenay Power Company.

Next week is Heritage week, a chance to look back on the places that represent the history of Rossland. This year the theme is energy in B.C: a powerful past and sustainable future.

Jackey Drysdale, chair of the Rossland Heritage Commission, explained that there is a deep history to be studied in Rossland on that subject.

The current company hydro company, ForticBC, was formed from Utilicorp, which had been West Kootenay Power.

West Kootenay Power had its beginning in service to the Rossland mines.

The Rossland Museum will be open three days next week to show case some of this history. The West Kootenay Power display is an important part of the museum.

“Heritage is buildings and sites, and the museum is our repository of our history,” she said.

Heritage week is always the third week in February in B.C. Heritage Day is a national holiday and falls on the third Monday of February.

Drysdale said that West Kootenay Power was the fourth business incorporated in B.C. and ranks as Canada’s oldest integrated utility according to the Rossland Centennial Photo Album 1897-1997.

“It brings home that the history and heritage of Rossland are not just that of a small town, the mining industry and the community of Rossland are just attached so strongly to the province’s development,” she said. “So it’s just a pleasure for me to go back in history.”

Heritage is defined by what you see today in its place, which is how it is separated from history.

“Of course heritage has history attached to it, but it’s just those visual reminders of the past,” she explained.

Drysdale’s gave a more in depth history:

West Kootenay Power was created in 1897 by Rossland financial interests. The company built a generating plant at the Lower Bonnington site on the Kootenay River and a transmission line to carry the power to the Rossland mines – which were by then a proven source of rich gold and copper deposits.

The transmission line carried 20,000 volts of electricity and went from the dam site, over mountainous terrain, to the brick substation in Upper Rossland – the longest high voltage line in the Western World at that time and a recognized engineering marvel.

Rossland was “electrified” as well as the Rossland mines and shortly thereafter, more transmission lines were constructed to serve other mines, smelter sites and communities in the West Kootenays.

The service area of West Kootenay Power has increased over the years to now include the Creston Area, the Boundary Area and parts of the Okanagan. In the 1990s West Kootenay Power was sold by Cominco to the American Company, Utilicorp who more recently sold their holdings to Fortis.

The history of West Kootenay Power is chronicled in an interesting and informative book commissioned by that company and published in 1997 to celebrate both its and Rossland’s Centennial.  The author is Jeremy Mouat who also wrote a book on Rossland’s early mining times, “Roaring Days”.

To celebrate Heritage Week in BC and this year’s theme of Energy in BC, the Rossland Museum will be open on Monday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons from 1 to 5 p.m.  Come and reacquaint yourself with the history of West Kootenay Power, its formation, growth and the role it has played in the development of the West Kootenays.