St. Andrew's Lock and Dam

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  • St. Andrew's Lock and Dam, Photo Credit: Alan Pollard
  • Upstream view - October 2007 Photo Credit: Provincial Government
  • Downstream view with construction activity in the Floodway Channel in the background - October 2007, Photo Credit: Provincial Government
  • Overhead view - October 2007, Photo Credit: Provincial Government
  • Upstream view of the locks on the west side - October 2007, Photo Credit: Provincial Government
  • Locks - August 2019, Photo Credit: Alan Pollard
  • Curtain Dam Close up - August 2019, Photo Credit: Alan Pollard

  • Completed in 1910, this engineering system is comprised of three elements; a dam, a lock, and a bridge. The design employed a Camere style dam and, at 240 metres long, it is the largest dam of this type ever built. It is also considered to be the only one still in existence in the world. It continues to operate to this day, regulating the water level of the Red River. It also allows river traffic to operate between Winnipeg and points downstream, while providing a link for road traffic across the river.

    Quick Facts

    • Dam constructed 1907-10.
    • Bridge constructed 1912-13.
    • Modifications in 1949 to increase loading capacity.
    • Frame and curtain replacement in 1967. (1)
    • Metallized in 1999 (2)


    Lockport, Manitoba

    {{#display_map:Lockport, MB |height=400|width=400|type=satellite|zoom=35}}


    Prior to it's construction, there wasn't a singular mode of transportation between areas downstream of Selkirk (including all of Lake Winnipeg) and areas upstream of St. Andrew's. At the time, there were no rail lines connecting Winnipeg with areas North of it. The elevation drop of the Red River (approximately 13 feet between between Middle Church and Lister Rapids) also prevented freighter ships from navigating through the area currently known as Lockport.

    Immediately after the opening of the locks and dam, freighter ships as large as the "Winnitoba", which could carry 2,000 passengers and thirty-five carloads of freight, could provide a viable link. These passenger and freighter ships ensured economically sustainable development of fisheries, farming land, and mineral resources. (3)

    With the competition of rail lines and road transportation, the use of the locks for river travel waned considerably by the middle of the 20th Century. However, the dam continues to provide a key role in flood mitigation as a control structure.

    Images were photographed and digitized by Alan Pollard, P. Eng. (SM) FEC with the assistance of the R.M. of St. Clement in 2019

    Typical shipping vessels

  • Selkirk Ferry Crossing - c. 1916. Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • Winnitoban at the Official Opening - c. 1910, Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • York Boat passing through - c. 1910. Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • Winnitoba Downstream at St. Andrews Dam - postcard. Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • SS Majestic passing through the locks. Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • SS Keenora at Lockport - c. 1941, Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • Unidentified Ship, Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • Unidentified Ship, Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • Unidentified Ship, Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • How

    The St. Andrew's Dam is a unique “Camere” style dam using moveable curtains consisting of horizontal sections of wood hinged together, which are raised or lowered to control water flows. Invented by French engineer M. Camere, this type of dam was popular in western Europe in the late nineteenth century.

    The structure consists of:

    • Seven 15 m high concrete piers
    • Steel trusses approximately 40 m long that span between the piers
    • A 6 m high by 11 m wide concrete sill or fixed dam that joins the bottom of the piers.
    • 15 steel frames per span which are hung from the trusses, and
    • 89 wood curtains

    The design consists of a repeating series of two movable components. The first is a steel frame that is stored horizontally when the dam is not restricting flow. These frames are hung from the upper structure and are rotated down from an axis that is transverse to the flow of the river and located at the top end of the frame.

    Attached to these frames are curtains, 4 m long and 2.1 m wide and consisting of 50 individually sized Douglas Fir laths held together with brass hinges and pins. During the navigation season the curtains are individually rolled up to increase flow, or rolled down to restrict flow, depending on daily water flow rates in the river.

    Construction Photos

  • Construction - date unknown, Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • Construction Activities c. 1908, Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • Construction Activities c. 1908, Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • Construction Activities c. 1908 (hi resolution), Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • Lock c. 1910, Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • Official Opening, Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives/L.B. Foote
  • Looking downstream at St. Andrews Dam - c. 1910. Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • Downstream area before bridge was added date unknown, Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • Opening of the Bascule Lift Span c. 1914, Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • Downstream area c. 1926. Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • Bascule Bridge span raised for SS Keenora c. 1939. Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives
  • Fun Facts

    • The Canadian government constructed the dam and lock as part of a proposed river steamboat navigation system extending from Winnipeg to Edmonton.
    • The total cost of construction was $3.5 million by 1913.
    • It was opened by the Honorable Wilfred Laurier, the Prime Minister of Canada, from the deck of the Winnitoba, which was built in Winnipeg.
    • During construction, organizations prearranged excursions to see the work in progress. A special trail for visitors was created from Winnipeg and Back. The cost was 45 cents return, allowing them two hours to inspect the project.

    Also See

    Camere dam, curtain dam (US) (it was invented by Camere and introduced in 1876-1880 at Port Villez on the lower Seine. In it wooden curtains that can be rolled up from the bottom were substituted for the needles in the Poiree weir) Camerewehr, Rolladenwehr, Jalousiewehr, Rollvorhangwehr

    Key Players

    Mr. A.R. Dufresne - Construction Engineer. Mr. A. St. Laurent and H.E .Vautelet, Design Engineers

    Summary Article for Engineers Geoscientists Centennial Anniversary in 2020

    The Lockport Dam and Bridge goes by many names but it is known officially as the St. Andrew’s Caméré Curtain Dam. Completed in 1910, this engineering marvel is comprised of three elements: a dam, a lock, and a bridge. The design employs a caméré-style dam and is the only structure of its kind in North America and one of only four in the world. At 240 metres long, it is also the largest dam of this type ever built. In 1990, it was designated as a national historical site due to the uniqueness of its engineering design. It continues to operate to this day, regulating the water level of the Red River, and enabling circumnavigation of an historically challenging reach of the river via the only lock on the Canadian prairies. It allows river traffic to operate between Winnipeg and points downstream, while the incorporated bridge provides a link for road traffic over the river.

    The dam and lock were to be a cornerstone project in creating an inland water transportation system stretching westward to Edmonton, eastward to Thunder Bay, and northward to Hudson Bay. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, steamship transport was an important mode of transportation. During the 1890s, more than 30 steamships provided freight and passenger service to the lower reaches of the Red River and Lake Winnipeg, including a connection via Grand Rapids to steamship service on the Saskatchewan River.

    The natural course of the Red River is blocked by series of five rapids which start just north of Middle Church and continue downstream to the St. Andrew’s Rapids. The rapids were an impediment to navigation with its fall of some 15 feet within a 10-mile distance. Accordingly, towards the end of the 19th century, surveys determined the best method of overcoming these obstacles. A dam at St. Andrews was determined to be the ideal solution. The reason for selecting this site was that it contained a long bend in the river which gave the engineers sufficient room in which to build the lock. The location was also the site of a natural fault in the rock strata, high enough to give easy access to the bedrock for construction of the foundations.

    Several factors weighed on the decision about the type of dam to construct. The structure had to allow for free passage of ice during the spring melt. It had to be removable on short notice, perhaps in a matter of hours, if necessary. Short-term fluctuations in river level caused by atmospheric and wind pressure on Lake Winnipeg, 27 miles to the north, had to be considered too. A caméré dam, with a removable curtain forming a weir, met all the criteria.

    The project was constructed in two phases, the first being the construction of the lock and dam between 1900 and 1910 by the federal Department of Public Works. The dam is 788 feet (240 m) long and is supported by seven piers, 50 feet (15 m) high and 131 feet (40 m) apart. A working deck is located below the road deck where a series of removable wood and metal curtains are lowered and operated. Each curtain is made of 50 Douglas Fir ‘laths’ fastened to a cast-iron plate at the bottom. The curtains maintain the river at a navigable depth during the summer months and are rolled up and removed each fall to enable the spring flood waters and ice to pass unimpeded. After the spring run-off has passed, the curtains are lowered, usually in the middle of May, and they rest on a concrete sill at the river bottom. The dam maintains a relatively stable water level at Winnipeg of about 734 feet above sea level.

    The adjacent lock section is 215 feet long, 45 feet wide, and 22 feet deep. Water in the lock can be raised or lowered in approximately 10 minutes. Its gates are 13 feet high and are connected by bronze pins and hinges. Completed in early 1910, the first steamer to pass through the locks was the Victoria, on 2 May 1910. The official inauguration did not occur, however, until 14 July 1910 when a large number of federal, provincial, and municipal dignitaries, including Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, traversed the locks aboard the Winnitoba. An example of the envisioned potential that the project would unleash can be seen in the size of some of the newly constructed ships, the largest being the Winnitoba with a capacity of 2,000 passengers and 35 carloads of freight.

    In its first year of operation, 1,600 vessels passed through the lock and no tolls were charged for the passage. Several professional journals devoted space to detailed technical descriptions of the project. The prestigious American publication Engineering News even included an eight-page feature on the dam in its October 1910 edition.

    The second phase of construction entailed the addition of a vehicular bridge between 1912 and 1913. This brought the total project cost to $3.5 million, or about $93 million in today’s money. The bridge is 270 m long and consists of seven truss spans with the upper cords supporting a road deck and the lower cords supporting a working deck for the dam. To allow for the passage of ships with high masts through the locks, the bridge works over the lock section included a bascule-type hinged apparatus, which raised the road section to allow vessels to pass beneath. A few years later, a fish ladder was added on the east side to enable spawning fish to swim upstream.

    By the time the dam and lock were finished, the extension of railway networks throughout Manitoba led to a steady decline in the importance of waterways for the movement of freight and passengers. By the middle of the 20th century, under intense competition from railways and road transportation, use of the locks for economic activity had waned. However, the dam continues to mitigate floods on the Red River. And it was still used by pleasure craft. During the 1990s, between 1,000 to 1,500 boats smaller than 40 feet in length passed through the locks in an average summer season, with an additional 300 to 500 boats larger than 40 feet.

    In 1984, the lock gates needed to be replaced. A search found forests near Seattle where suitable Douglas Fir trees, estimated to be 350 years old, could be used to make “dense select structural” timber. In total, 108 of these special timbers—28 feet long, 33 inches wide, and 15 inches deep—were used to reconstruct the gates. Between 1994 and 1999, a full reconstruction of the water control structure was undertaken, at a cost of $20 million.

    What else is there to see

    The area is a nice destination for a Sunday afternoon drive from Winnipeg to enjoy one of the many restaurants in the area.

  • Footlong hotdog from Skinners Restaurant, August 2019. Photo Credit: Alan Pollard
  • References


    Compiled by

    Alan Pollard, P.Eng. (SM), FEC
    Ryan Bernier, P. Eng.
    Last posting by Glen Cook, P. Eng. (SM), FEC