The Battle for the Boundary
After securing power for Rossland as well as smelter operations in Trail, Lorne Campbell aggressively looked to expand WKPL to new locations in BC. With miner owners in the Boundary country - at the time known as Yale - complaining about the inconsistent power supply, Campbell set his sights on providing power there. In particular, he hoped to supply power to the mines in Greenwood, Granby, Grand Forks, and Phoenix.
The only issue was that a power company, known as Cascade Power & Light, already existed in that area, running a hydroelectric plant on the Kettle River. Cascade Power, fearing their ability to remain profitable if facing competition, urged the BC legislature not to allow WKPL to run operations in the Boundary. The legislature sided with Cascade and decided not to allow their competitors to run operations. This posed a problem for Campbell, who not only feared for the long term sustainability of WKPL if they did not keep expanding but further had already started erecting power poles in the region! As such, Campbell became determined not to let Cascade win and started searching for alternative options.
Consulting with a lawyer, Campbell discovered that if he bought the charter of a small neighbouring power company, South Kootenay Power & Light, he would be able to operate in the Boundary under that branch of the business. In 1906, this is what he did, completing the power lines and commencing business with the mines in the Boundary. As Cascade feared, they were out-competed, and in April 1907, they sold their assets to the West Kootenay Power & Light Company. Although unfortunate for Cascade Power, this win was also what cemented WKPL as a successful and sustainable power provider.
The Rope Drive Compressor
The compressor on display on the lower museum grounds has had a dynamic history, first supplying compressed air to drills in the Rossland mines, and later finding work in the Cominco operations in Trail several decades later. Rope drive compressors were used for mining purposes both before and after the Rossland mines became connected to electricity, as the method of compressed air energy was the most efficient way to power the pneumatic run drills of hard-rock mining.
Energy in Rossland
The famous mining history of Rossland would not be possible without the equally impressive history of electricity, in particular hydroelectricity.
Electric lights in the City of Rossland first turned on in January 1895. The power was supplied by the Rossland Water & Light Company, which was using a small steam-powered generator to supply local businesses with light. However, this was not nearly enough power to connect the mines of Rossland, which were growing rapidly.
The West Kootenay Power & Light Company
The power needs of the Rossland mines was the catalyst for the formation of the West Kootenay Power & Light Company (WKPL), which incorporated May 8th, 1897 with the plans to build a dam and supply hydroelectric power to the mines in Rossland. The company built their first dam that year at the Lower Bonnington falls on the Kootenay River, and were supplying power to the mines by 1898. The first general manager of West Kootenay Light was Lorne Campbell, a man with a long term vision of utilizing the full energy potential of the Kootenay River. As Rossland was the first and main customer, head offices were set up in Rossland on Columbia Avenue.
Bonnington to Rossland - An Engineering Feat
In order to provide the mines with electricity, WKPL built a 60-foot rock filled wooden dam along with a 120-foot concrete wing dam on the Kootenay River. However, the true challenge was not simply building the dam but further finding a way to connect it to Rossland, which was very far away geographically considering power technology of the time. WKPL workers manually laid 51.5 kilometers (32 miles) of 20 Kilovolt power lines from the Bonnington plant to Rossland, which made history as the longest high voltage line to be built in North America. Providing three-phase AC power, the line took just a year and a day to complete, and on July 15th 1898 Campbell reported that 500 lights were working in Rossland.
West Kootenay Power and The Consolidated Mining and Smelting Co.
As WKPL began to establish itself, so too did the Consolidated Mining & Smelting Company (CM&S) a company which would later be renamed Cominco and more recently Teck (Teck Trail Operations in Trail, BC). Walter H. Aldridge, the manager of the Canadian Smelter Works in Trail, formed the Consolidated Mining & Smelting Company in 1906, partnering with the mines in Rossland as well as the Rossland Water & Light Company, and the Moyie Mine. CM&S was in need of a consistent power provider in order to grow their electrolytic lead operations based in Trail. As such, a partnership was formed with WKPL, a natural choice as the company previously worked with the Trail smelter, the Rossland mines, and the Rossland power company. Anticipating their growing energy needs due to expanding operations, as well as the expectations of wartime zinc contracts, CM&S bought WKPL as a wholly-owned subsidiary in 1916 to ensure a dedicated power provider. Having a seemingly bottomless supply of energy - as WKPL was always more than willing to expand their operations - allowed CM&S to grow into the impressively widespread company they became by the middle of the century.
However, this partnership between the two companies, and especially between the managers Campbell and Aldridge, did not start out that smoothly. In fact, before CM&S bought WKPL, the hydro company had threatened multiple times to sever ties with the smelting company due to outstanding and unpaid bills! Luckily, as both companies grew, these issues were resolved, as CM&S found itself in an ever-increasing place of financial security.