Kelsey Generating Station

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For a high level overview of this and other hydro projects see Hydroelectric Development in Northern Manitoba.


The Kelsey Generating Station (GS) was the first hydroelectric generating station developed on the Nelson River. The requirements for the project were driven by the confirmation in early 1956 by the mining company Vale (International Nickel Company of Canada or INCO) that a world class nickel source was available in the Mystery Lake - Moak Lake area. In August of that year, Vale informed the Manitoba Hydro Electric Board that over 100 MW of power would be needed to service a new nickel mining and smelting operation and associated town site that Vale was planning to develop in what is now the Thompson area. Given the remoteness of the site and abundance of hydroelectric potential in the region, locally-generated hydroelectric power was the logical energy source.

After reaching an agreement with Vale to deliver power by the summer of 1960, the Manitoba Hydro Electric Board initiated survey work on the site in 1956 and moved quickly to complete the project.


The Kelsey GS is located at the site of the former Grand Rapids (Photo 1) on the Upper Nelson River just upstream of the confluence with the Grass River. It is approximately 685 km north of the City of Winnipeg and 90 km (56 mi) northeast of the City of Thompson. The station is not located closely to any other Manitoba Hydro generating station.

Photo 1: Grand Rapids on the Upper Nelson River during Construction of Kelsey - 1957

Project Components

Principal Works

The station spans a total of 0.9 mi (1.4 km) across the Nelson River and consists of a close-coupled intake/powerhouse with seven generating units (and two 0.675 MW house units), concrete wing walls, main dam, dyke structures and a nine bay gated spillway (called a sluiceway back then).

Photo 2: Kelsey Powerhouse with the Transformers and the Switchyard on the Top

Map 1: General Arrangement Map

Figure 1: General Arrangement Drawing

The Kelsey powerhouse was sized for seven turbine generators (called units) with only five units installed to meet the initial expected demand, with room to expand capacity as load increased and was anticipated to go as large as 10 units as indicated by the space to the east of the powerhouse as shown in Map 1.

Project Data

  • Cost:
  • Turbine generator units:
    • Type: 7 vertical shaft fixed blade propeller turbines
    • Capacity: 292 MW (63rd Annual Report, March 2014)
    • Energy:
  • Powerhouse:
    • Length: 664.4 ft (202.5 m)
    • Waterfall drop (head): 56.1 ft (17.1 m)
    • Discharge capacity: 81,683 ft3/s (2,313 m3/s)
  • Main dam:
    • Length: 950 ft (290 m)
    • Maximum height: 120 ft (37.0 m) (from river bottom)
  • Spillway:
    • Number of bays: 9
    • Length: (9 bays) 468 ft (142.65 m)
    • Discharge capacity: 322,458 ft3/s (9,131 m3/s)
  • Reservoir/forebay elevation:
    • Full supply level (FSL): 605 ft (184.404 m)
    • Flooded area: 64 mi2 (165.8 km2)

Supporting Infrastructure

To provide year-round access to the project, a 13.5 mi (22 km) rail spur line called the Kelsey Spur was built in the winter of 1957 and is connected to the Hudson Bay Railway line at Mile 256, also known as Pit Siding and is owned by Manitoba Hydro. With no permanent roads in the region, the Hudson Bay Line was the only form of year-round ground transportation. The Kelsey Spur line is accessible from the north via the Town of Gillam or the south via the City of Thompson and is typically not used or cleared during the winter.

Transmission Components

Generation Outlet Transmission

To deliver power to the City of Thompson, two double circuit 58 mi (93 km) 138 kV transmission lines (KT1 and KT2) were built between 1958 and 1960 as shown in Map 1.

Related Transmission

Over the years the transmission components into and out of the Kelsey GS, initially dedicated to Vale and the City of Thompson, have been expanded, broadening the station’s role in Manitoba Hydro’s power system. A second switching station located to the southwest of the generating station was added in 1972 as part of the enhancements. The following transmission lines have been added as part of these enhancements:

  • A 79 mi (127 km) 138 kV line from the Kelsey GS to the site of the Radisson Converter Station (KN36) was completed in 1967. This line was built to provide construction power for development of the Kettle GS, the Radisson Converter Station, and to supply additional power to the rapidly expanding Town of Gillam. Afterwards, it enabled the Kelsey GS to provide backup or start-up power for the Lower Nelson River generating stations.
  • A 61 mi (98 km) 230 kV line from the Kelsey GS to the City of Thompson (K24B) and a 79 mi (127 km) 230 kV line from the Kelsey GS to the Radisson Converter Station (R26K) were operational in 1972 and 1973 respectively, and are operating at 138 kV. These high voltage lines increased the capacity and reliability of electrical service to Vale’s mining and smelting operations and to the City of Thompson by providing greater access to Lower Nelson River generation. They also integrate the Kelsey GS more fully into MH’s power system as a primary and backup power source.
  • A 24 mi (38 km) 230 kV line from the Kelsey GS to Split Lake (KS37) and operating at 138 kV was completed in 1993. This line was built to improve reliability and increase the amount of power available to the community of Split Lake.
  • A 225 mi (362 km) 138 kV line from the Kelsey GS to the North Central Line communities (KH38) of Oxford House, God’s Lake Narrows, God’s River, Red Sucker Lake, Wasagamack, and Garden Hill was completed in 1997.


Principal Works

The basic project sequence was that the rail spur and the camp areas were constructed first, followed by the opening up of rock quarries, impervious borrow areas, and granular borrow areas to allow for the construction of the cofferdams. These temporary structures were necessary to facilitate the construction of the sluiceway structure, intake channel and exit channels. A temporary bridge was built across the river channel to facilitate construction on the west side of the river. This facilitated the construction of the main river cofferdam (1958–1959) upstream of the powerhouse with a timber crib rock fill cofferdam on the downstream side (Figure 1; Photo 3), which facilitated the construction of the powerhouse and associated concrete structures in the dry.

Photo 3: Kelsey Generating Station construction - Placement of Rail Launching Platform - September 1957

Most of the rock and impervious construction materials came from the surrounding areas as shown in Figure 2A-1. However, sand was brought in from Pit Siding which was an area previously used for railroad ballast on the Hudson Bay Railway, and a small amount of crushed gravel was brought in from the City of Thompson early in the project.

The first unit went into service in 1960 (Photo 4) with the first five units into service by 1961. A sixth unit was installed in 1969 and a seventh unit in 1972. All units were re-turbined between 2006 and 2013, which increased their operating capacities.

Photo 4: Kelsey Generating Station In-service Date - 1960

Construction Infrastructure

A construction camp, associated work areas and waste water treatment facility were established near the site as shown in Figure 1. Construction power was provided by an onsite diesel generator.


Workforce: The station has approximately 30 to 35 staff comprised of the following: operating staff, maintenance staff (electrical, mechanical, utility), support staff (administration, stores) and supervisory staff. The workforce arrive at Kelsey from various locations within the province. The workforce is split in two shifts who work an eight days on/six days off schedule, allowing the station to be fully staffed every day between 0700 and 1800. After hours, the System Control Centre located in the City of Winnipeg monitors alarms within the station and call out operating staff to investigate any anomalies.

Accommodation: The workers stay on site in either the 38-person staff house that was originally built in 1964 and replaced in 1991, or the 13 person mobitel (temporary trailers) that was installed in 1997.

Airstrip: A 2,590 ft (790 m) long by 75 ft (22.9 m) wide gravel surface airstrip was constructed in 1967. It was extended to 3,800 ft (1,158 m) in 2010/11.

Public Safety: The Kelsey GS has a portage around the site and the following public safety features:

  • a water release siren is used before adjusting discharge to warn the public in the area;
  • life rings are provided at the spillway; and
  • warning signs are provided (in English and Cree) at sites to warn the public of: dangerous swift moving waters, steep drop off, overhead power lines, stay off Ice, falling ice, slippery rocks, and rapidly changing water conditions.

Water Regime: The Kelsey GS (Photos 5 and 6) is typically operated as a run-of-river generating station with the forebay normally maintained just below the full supply level of 605 ft (184.4 m). For more details on the Kelsey GS operations, including periods when the forebay is drawn down and when the generating station is cycled (see Water Regime, Section

Licence: Manitoba Hydro operates the Kelsey GS in accordance with Province of Manitoba’s Water Power Act Licence. For further information see the Manitoba Government Water Power Licensing website at:

Photo 5: General View of Powerhouse Intake

Photo 6: General Downstream View of Sluiceway

Construction Photo Gallery

  • Kelsey: Downstream wood crib cofferdam unit 5 area
  • Kelsey: Unit 6 or 7 intake
  • Kelsey: Adding units
  • Kelsey: Intake area unit 6 or 7
  • Kelsey: Intake gate
  • Kelsey: 1969 - 6 units
  • Kelsey: Initial excavations 1958
  • Kelsey: Rail launching pad 1957
  • Kelsey: Upstream sluiceway piers
  • Kelsey: Grand Rapids, upper Nelson River
  • Kelsey: Sluiceway during diversion
  • Kelsey: Sluiceway with bridge over original channel in background
  • Kelsey: Surveying on launch rail bed 1957
  • Kelsey: Timber crib for cofferdams
  • Kelsey: Tailrace view, units 1 & 2 operating
  • Kelsey: Cantilever beam over original river channel 1957
  • Kelsey: Dock construction 1957
  • Kelsey: Tailrace cofferdam 1958
  • Kelsey: Aerial view of construction site 1958 looking SW
  • Kelsey: Initial cantiliever bridge access over Grand Rapids
  • Kelsey: Ice flows diversion through sluiceway 1959
  • Kelsey: Tailrace timber crib ready for launching 1958
  • Kelsey: Timber crib placement powerhouse area
  • Kelsey: Unit 7 construction
  • Kelsey: Sluiceway diversion construction site aerial view
  • Kelsey: Powerhouse construction
  • Kelsey: Sluiceway excavation looking west 1958
  • Kelsey: Rail spur 1957
  • Kelsey: Rail spur Hudson Bay Rail line
  • Kelsey GS 030.jpg
  • Kelsey: Pit Siding
  • Kelsey: Commissioning, D.M. Stephens, J.R. Rettie, and others
  • Kelsey: Drop from switchyard transformer
  • Kelsey: Drop from switchyard transformer
  • Kelsey: East bulkhead
  • Kelsey: January 1960


Manitoba Hydro & the Province of Manitoba, December 2015, Regional Cumulative Effects Assessment Phase II: Part II Hydroelectric Development Project Description in the Region of Interest. Retrieved April 1 2016 from,