Exposing the Powerhouse
by Stéphane Comeault
For the first time in 125 years, the western face of the Powerhouse building at the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site will be unearthed, exposing the large, underground water intake system that supplies water to this iconic building. For almost fifty years, the Powerhouse generated hydroelectricity at the Canal for the world's first electrically operated lock.
This three-storey, federally designated heritage building originally housed twin water-activated turbines to drive generators which produced electricity for operating the lock machinery and site lighting. A large intake pipe, called a penstock, carried water from the upper end of the canal to the Powerhouse. Just outside the west wall of the building, the penstock branched into two, five-foot diameter pipes—one for each turbine.
Today, the Powerhouse, one of the main reasons the Canal was designated a national historic site in 1987, is experiencing serious water infiltration issues. This situation must be rectified to preserve the structural integrity of the building. A two phase project began in March 2019.
Phase one of the project consists of removing the existing infrastructure to thoroughly investigate and understand the water infiltration issues. This will be the first time since the mid-1890s that the bottom of the western wall of the Powerhouse is seeing daylight.
Phase two will focus on developing engineering solutions to fix the infiltration issues, reinstating the Powerhouse to its original intent and function, and determining the best way to move visitor traffic around the historic core of the site.
The end goal is to restore this century-old building to its original glory complete with new, interactive and modern exhibits and displays to build awareness and understanding of its fascinating story and importance to Canada's history.
Note, an undertaking of this magnitude will span multiple visitor seasons and will require certain restrictions to visitor access. For updates and behind-the-scenes photos of work being done, visit the Sault Ste. Marie Canal's infrastructure webpage, as well as the site's Facebook and Twitter pages.