There is a lot of natural beauty to be seen in and around Castlegar, British Columbia, but there are many man-made marvels as well. And one of them is the Hugh Keenleyside Dam.

Located on the mighty Columbia River, 10 kilometres upstream from downtown, the Hugh Keenleyside Dam is 171 feet (52m) high and has a crest length of 2,800 feet (853m), made of earth and concrete. It was completed in 1968 as part of the Columbia River Treaty and controls a drainage area of a whopping 14,100 square miles, or 3.5 million hectares. The entire Arrow Lakes system extending 232 km north to Revelstoke is the dam’s storage reservoir and it should be said there is excellent boating and fishing in the area. (See our story about the largest Kokanee salmon on earth caught in Arrow Lakes.)

The best part of the Hugh Keenleyside Dam is you can do a free tour there. From the city’s downtown core, it’s an easy trip up Arrow Lakes Drive to Keenleyside Road that leads directly out onto the deck of the dam. There’s also a lookout off Broadwater Road on the other side of the river that provides visitors an excellent view of the dam’s super structure as well as informational signage about its history.

The Hugh Keenleyside Dam was one of the most controversial projects to have ever taken place in southern British Columbia. The valley extending to Revelstoke boasted excellent agricultural land as well as farms and villages and with the dam’s construction, about 2,000 people were displaced. It was originally known as the High Arrow Dam but was renamed in 1969 after Hugh Llewellyn Keenleyside, the co-chairman of BC Hydro, which owns the dam.

Visitors will also learn about the Columbia, the second largest North American river to drain into the Pacific (the Yukon River is the largest). It collects runoff from a basin slightly larger than the country of France and there are over 60 dams in its watershed, making it one of the most dammed rivers on earth. Eleven of those dams are within easy driving distance of Castlegar and it makes a fascinating day trip to visit some, or all, of them and learn about how the dams of the Columbia provide nearly half of British Columbia’s electricity. They’ve also completely reshaped the Kootenay region because catastrophic flooding, such as the one in 1948 when people died during a chaotic evacuation, no longer happens and communities have expanded into former flood plains. (For example, the Selkirk College campus in Castlegar would not exist were it not for the flood control provided by the dams.)

Here is a list of the dams on the Canadian side of the Columbia River that can be easily accessed by car from Castlegar. They are listed by proximity to the city.

Dams Near Castlegar

Arrow Lakes Generating Station
Located: just below Keenleyside Dam
Built: 2002
Owner: Columbia Power
Generating capacity: 185 MW (including Keenleyside Dam)
Size: 73m high (13m above ground, 60m below)
Description: Used to supplement Keenleyside dam with water overflow.

Hugh Keenleyside Dam
Located: 10km north of Castlegar
Built: 1968
Owner: BC Hydro
Generating capacity: 185 MW (including Arrow Lakes Generating Station)
Size: 52m high, 853m long
Description: One of the most controversial dams ever created (see story above).

Brilliant Dam
Located: 8km east of Castlegar
Built: 1944, expansion added in 2007
Owner: Columbia Power
Generating capacity: 260 MW
Size: 42.6m high
Description: Constructed during WWII by mostly Doukhobor labourers, which allowed them to avoid conscription.

South Slocan Generating Station
Located: 24km east of Castlegar
Built: 1928
Owner: Fortis BC
Generating capacity: 57 MW
Description: A complex near the dam was constructed to house workers and it contained a recreation hall that hosted infamous parties and dances. It was later used for operations control.

Lower Bonnington Dam
Located: 26km east of Castlegar
Built: 1897, rebuilt in 1924
Owner: FortisBC
Generating capacity: 23 MW
Size: 18.2m high, 36.5m long
Description: The dam was built to supply energy requirements of the Rossland mines.

Bonnington Falls Dam
Located: 25km east of Castlegar
Built: 1906, rebuilt in 1995
Owner: City of Nelson
Generating capacity: 16 MW
Size: 18.2m high, 36.5m long
Description: Bonnington Falls was named by Sir Charles Ross, one of the founding members of West Kootenay Power, after water features on his estate in Scotland.

Upper Bonnington Generating Station
Located: 27km east of Castlegar
Built: 1907
Owner: FortisBC
Generating capacity: 53 MW
Size: 15m high
Description: It was created to support the lumber and mining in Greenwood and Grand Forks at the time.

Corra Linn Dam
Located: 28km east of Castlegar
Built: 1932
Owner: FortisBC
Generating capacity: 45 MW
Size: 16m high
Description: The dam was created to supply energy to Teck Cominco, and first water reservoir to prevent flooding downstream.

Kootenay Canal Generating Station
Located: 26km east of Castlegar
Built: 1976
Owner: BC Hydro
Generating capacity: 583 MW
Size: 195 m long, 10m high
Description: Kootenay Canal and Seven Mile together supply 10% of BC Hydro’s electricity requirements.

Seven Mile Dam
Located: 55km south of Castlegar
Built: 1979
Owner: BC Hydro
Generating capacity: 805 MW
Size: 65m high, 350m long
Description: It’s located between two other generating stations so the fluctuation of its reservoir is limited.

Waneta Dam
Located: 45km south of Castlegar
Built: 1954, expanded in 2015
Owner: Teck Cominco, BC hydro, Fortis BC and Columbia Power
Generating capacity: 785 MW
Size: 76m high
Description: Used to fuel Teck’s energy use.