Construction of Island Falls Dam


The Churchill River Power Company established a dam on the Churchill River at Island Falls, near Sandy Bay, to supply power to the Hudson's Bay Mining and Smelting mine in Flin Flon, Manitoba. The mine began receiving power from the dam in 1930. The company claims that in 1928 it held public hearings concerning the project, and that there was not a community established at that location until after the dam was constructed and Aboriginal inhabitants moved closer to the project for work. The Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation states that they had established a reserve on that location before the dam project started, but once the company expressed interest in the land the federal government took the reserve lands from the band. The project employed many Cree workers. The working conditions for these employees were usually very poor, and they were often paid in rations rather than money. Between 1930-35, Etienne MacDonald (1984), Moise Bear (1984) and Mathew Nateweyes (1984) confirmed that the Cree workers were being paid in groceries at a rate equivalent to thirty cents an hour. In addition, overtime hours, which were frequent, were not remunerated. In 1935, workers on the dam successfully organized to raise their pay to 35 cents an hour (in cash) and reduce work hours to an eight hour day.

The herbicides used were very powerful. They made the workers tired and sleepy, yet they were unable to sleep because of the itching. The herbicide killed both trees and animals. Women were therefore asked not to pick berries from the powerline area. The water quality was also affected, as garbage and sewage were often dumped in the river. Some residents recall the high number of infant and child related sickness and death during this period.

Sandy Bay was only two miles away from the dam, it did not receive power from it at first. It was only in 1958 that the people of Sandy Bay got a powerline.