The Historic Riondel Waterline Trail
A Really Good Question: What is 95 kilometres long and made of metal? Obvious Answer: The wire wrapped around the 5 km long wood stave pipeline between Tam O’Shanter Creek and Bluebell Bay at Riondel. What made the “Far Side” tick more than 100 years ago?
The sun was shining on sleepy Riondel when the off-season population of the town increased nearly 10 percent with the arrival of KMCers from the ‘far side’. The group barely avoided an early morning session of Turbo Jam in the Seniors Room while enroute to the Historical Society’s museum in the Community Centre. A few introductions were followed by a 10 minute local history rant and a brief overview of the impending excursion; Riondel’s historic waterline trail.
The Bluebell lead-silver mine had been resurrected by the Canadian Metal Company in 1905 and in order to develop the mine, a water pipeline was built to generate 475 HP to operate the mill and pumps. This pipeline operated intermittently for more than 20 years before the mine closed during the Depression. Most of the wood staves have long since decayed, leaving a roll of rusty wire. The main objective of the KMC tour was to visit some of the more interesting aspects of the pipeline which included: the intake at the old dam on Tam O’Shanter Creek, wooden cribbing, rock walls, circular flanges which were rock bolted to the canyon walls and held the suspended pipeline, the remains of an old cedar log cabin called the “Tam O’Shanter Hotel” and a junction box where the main pipeline met with a secondary line from Indian Creek. This junction box was the subject of some controversy when the KMC last visited the site in April, 2010.
The pipeline was a prime example of an early engineering feat, infrastructure requirements and the industrious labour force of days gone by. This 2.5mile trail and wood stave pipeline, located between Tam O’Shanter Creek and the Bluebell lead-silver mine, was built in 1905 by mineworkers under the direction Count Edouard Riondel, President of the French-owned Canadian Metal Company. This gravity feed water system had a head of 700 feet and generated 475 horsepower at the mine site to operate the equipment. After a brief outdoor, arm-waving orientation near the reclaimed open pit or “glory-hole”, the group drove north of Riondel to a convenient access route.
TH 3.5kms on South Tam O’Shanter FSR.
Here, a well maintained path through private land (past an unusual garden with 43 bathtubs) and crown land, ascended about 600 feet to the main trail at 2,450 feet elevation.
The first point of interest was a large water tank where both the main pipeline (from Tam O’Shanter Creek) and a smaller secondary pipeline (from Indian Creek) converged. The secondary line provided a vacuum to draw water along the main line by a principle developed by Italian physicist Giovanni Venturi in the late 1700s. Only David C. was skeptical of the “Venturi Effect”.
Rather than dwell on the subject, the group wandered north along the trail where exposures of long sections of coiled wire supported by rock walls are all that remains of the pipeline.
After a brief lunch stop, the hikers descended into the Tam O’Shanter watershed where the trail snakes along south side of the canyon. Several points of interest on this section of the trail included: wooden cribbing and rock walls to support the waterline, large circular metal flanges that were cabled and rock bolted to the canyon wall where the pipeline was suspended, wooden cribbing at the dam/pipeline intake on the creek, and the remains of a cabin. Workers who were stationed at this cabin maintained the water flow through the pipeline and detonated charges of dynamite as a signal for the other miners at Plaid Lake (six kilometres upstream) to open the floodgates at a water storage dam. There is little doubt that the 15 hikers in attendance at the Tam O’Shanter dam marked a record-setting gathering during the pipeline’s 105-year history.
After hiking along the pipeline and nearby wagon road, the group reassembled at Bluebell Bay for more rantings. They stood on the spot where a photo was taken of the miners coming off shift in July, 1914 which was featured on the cover of a local history book, Bluebell Memories. A short walk up a narrow trail led to a concrete foundation where the former mining engineer’s residence once stood. Here, clusters of bluebells were observed where a wedding was held in 1938. Other places to visit are the Fowler homestead at Bluebell Bay and also the mine workings, orchard and wharf area at Galena Bay.
Terry has been known to offer free wine tasting and a bath tub garden tour after the hike. By 5pm, only the coordinator was left to contemplate the “Venturi Effect” and its longterm affect on David C. With so much to comprehend, everyone was assured of a good night’s sleep.