Methals dam gets a facelift

Wendy Elliott
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There’s White Rock, Hell’s Gate, Lumsden, Hollow Bridge, Forks and Methals - no wonder they call the Black River system the hardest working river in Nova Scotia.

One of these six hydroelectric dams just got a facelift. Upgrading at the Methals Power Station in Kings County began in late April and just concluded.

Modernization of the plant, which was built in 1948, was carried out by contractors for Nova Scotia Power (NSP). The upgrades are designed to increase the safety and reliability of the system. In accordance with Canadian Dam Safety Association regulations, the work also increases the lifespan of the facility.

Paul Currie, who managed this project on the Wolfville-area hydro system, said work began when migratory fish had completed their up stream travels to spawn.

“There are a million little gaspereaux,” Tim Curry, Eastern Valley hydro superintendent, said. NSP is mandated by the province to aid the sustainability of fish life and avoid catastrophes.

In 1995, there was a major fish kill when Lumsden Pond was drained for a 30-year upgrade. Curry recalls that summer ruefully.

“We picked up dead fish for two days,” he recalled.

This time, he arranged for dams lined up with Methals to shut down in May, which meant Curry had to juggle water held in all of the widely-spaced nine lakes connected to the system.

“It’s all about gravity and height,” he said.

He said careful monitoring was required all summer to make sure the water, funneled between two gorges or land formations, continued to run through the system to keep the hydro turbines turning.

A temporary dam was required at Methals, said Curry, to allow for the upgrade. Over 1,300 yards of concrete were poured during the refit.

According to Currie, the large pipe or penstock was replaced, along with the intake structure coming out of the head pond. The head pond has a depth of about 50 feet.

The new gate structure came from Ontario.

Curry said that cottagers on any of the affected lakes were informed by letter about the project.

“I only had one phone call,” about changing water levels, he said, “and when I explained, they understood.”

Decades ago, the province handed up 50-year licenses for facilities like Methals, but provincial hydro manager Paul Warren says that since the 1990s, safety is a greater concern for plants as old as Methals.

The new gatehouse is automated and fully loaded with safety features. It is linked by computer to the NSP headquarters in Ragged Lake, near Halifax.

The plant is in a picturesque, but isolated location, about eight kilometers inland from Lumsden. Decades ago, the old wooden gatehouse, like others in the system, was staffed on a daily basis.

Methals runs on 1,200 cubic feet of water running through a 12-foot diameter pipe into the turbine every second, which can’t compare to Wreck Cove in Cape Breton. But Curry says the original builders of the system, Roy A. Jodrey and Charlie Wright, planned amazingly well.

They started the Gaspereau River Light and Power Company at Stivers Falls, near what is now the White Rock Community Centre. The lights first came on in Gaspereau in 1920.

View a video and additional photos from the dam at

Organizations: Nova Scotia Power, Methals Power Station, Canadian Dam Safety Association Gaspereau River Light and Power Company White Rock Community Centre

Geographic location: White Rock, Black River, Nova Scotia Kings Wolfville Eastern Valley Ontario Ragged Lake Halifax Cape Breton Gaspereau

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