The Plaid Lake Dam – Local History by Terry Turner
Plaid Lake, located approximately 8.5 kilometres due east of the community of Riondel, is a popular destination for hiking enthusiasts and fishermen between June and October. Road and trail access to the southern tip of the lake from Crawford Bay is via the Crawford Creek Forest Service Road, the Spring Creek logging road and a trail which skirts the western edge of Mount Crawford. Very few hikers venture to the north end of the lake where a rock and earth water storage dam was built in 1926. After 88 years this historical monument will be removed in 2014 by Teck Metals due to liability concerns. The following is a historical overview of the Plaid Lake area and the significance of the dam.
The 1893 Perry’s Mining Map shows Plaid lake was initially named Alexander Lake and was drained by Alexander Creek, now Tam O’Shanter Creek. According to a local historian, the late Edward L Affleck, the name Alexander may have been derived from Lorenzo Alexander, who was a pioneer in the Ainsworth area in 1891. On many early maps, the lake is not named but the major drainage was designated Tam O’Shanter Creek, presumably in reference to the Tam O’Shanter lead-silver mineral claim that was located in 1891, just south of the confluence of this creek and Kootenay lake. In the 1934 Geological Survey of Canada Memoir 173 by C.E. Cairnes, the name Tam O’Shanter Lake first appeared.
According to the Geographical Names Section at the BC Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management, the name Plaid Lake first appeared on maps in 1946. Samuel S. Fowler, is credited with naming Plaid lake in 1927 in association with Tam O’Shanter Creek. Fowler was the mining engineer at the Bluebell Mine at Riondel for the Canadian Metal Company between 1905 and 1924. He was also responsible for naming the community of Riondel after Count Edouard Riondel, President of the Canadian Metal Company, when a post office was established there in 1907.
In 1905, the Canadian Metal Company acquired the Bluebell Mine assets. The company built a 4 kilometre wood stave pipeline from Tam O’Shanter Creek, which provided 475 horsepower to operate the lead-zinc concentrator at Bluebell Bay in Riondel. During the dry autumn and winter months, the mine was forced to close down due to a lack of water power. When the Canadian Metal Company sold the mine to Samuel Fowler and Hank Eastman about 1926, they recognized the importance of Plaid lake as a water storage area and proposed building a dam to solve the water problem. A trail was built up Preacher Creek, a tributary of Crawford Creek, to transport supplies and men to the north end of Plaid Lake where they built a small cabin and the dam. Two men spent the winter at the cabin, regulating the water movement down Tam O’Shanter Creek to the intake of the pipeline, approximately six kilometres downstream, in order to keep the Bluebell Mine operating. The method of communication to the men at the dam to open the ‘floodgate’ was by the detonation of dynamite in the canyon near the Tam O’Shanter Creek pipeline intake.
When metal prices collapsed in 1929, the Bluebell Mine closed and a small crew was sent to the lake remove the dam’s flood gate. According to a former company employee, the late Ted Swendson, the dam was partially dismantled and the cabin door was removed in 1929 when the mine closed down.
In 1972, a project sponsored by “Opportunities for Youth” cut a trail from the north end of Plaid Lake, west over Bluebell Mountain to connect with the 4km. wood stave waterline trail between Riondel and Tam O’Shanter Creek. Fifteen students completed this trail in six weeks under the direction of former Crawford Bay School principal Bill McLay.
Today, the cabin has almost completed disappeared, but the rock dam and hand-built rock channel way is a reminder of the historical significance of Plaid Lake. To my knowledge, there was only one photograph taken of the workers standing on the dam after it was completed which was published in Bluebell Memories in 1997. Now large trees grow on top of the dam! Still unexplained are the remains of a small structure and linear mound, possibly a gravesite, which is located in a meadow near the south end of Plaid Lake.
In the late 1940s, the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada Limited (CM&S), later Cominco and now Teck Metals, acquired the Bluebell Mine. Although CM&S’s name is not associated with the construction of the dam on Plaid Lake, Teck has taken on the task of removing the dam during 2014. This is the result of the BC Government review of old dam sites similar to the 80 year old dam that failed at Oliver in 2010.
Besides the remains of the wood stave pipeline, the Plaid Lake dam represents the last remaining monument or artifact associated with early mining at the Bluebell Mine on the east shore of Kootenay Lake.