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OPG’s Ear Falls GS celebrates 90 years of clean power

Ear Falls Generating Station (GS) recently turned 90 years old, but at one point, its very existence was threatened.

A photo showing Ear Falls Generating Station
Ear Falls Generating Station

In August 1997, a fire completely destroyed the station’s powerhouse. Remarkably, a site inspection afterward found the station’s four generating units, including the original Unit 1 that went into service on January 1930, survived the blaze with little damage.

The units were placed back into service following reconstruction of the powerhouse in 1998, which saw the station modernized with the installation of new electrical systems and controls.

Located on the English River about 200 kilometres northeast of Kenora, the 17-megawatt (MW) station has a long and storied history in northwestern Ontario.

Ontario Hydro, OPG’s predecessor, began construction on the Lac Seul Dam, which regulates and conserves water on the English River, in the summer of 1928 and finished in time for the 1929 spring freshet.

Shortly after, construction of Ear Falls GS began in May 1929 with the goal to supply power to mining operations in Red Lake and Woman Lake. The plant and a transmission line connecting directly to a gold mine at Red Lake more than 60 km away were completed in December 1929, and the station went into service in the beginning of 1930.

OPG's Ear Falls and Lac Seul Generating Stations in northwest Ontario.
OPG's Ear Falls and Lac Seul Generating Stations in northwest Ontario.

Red Lake’s gold rush during this time and the rapid development of mines necessitated further expansion at Ear Falls GS, and a second unit came into service in 1937. A work colony was also established that same year at Ear Falls, complete with housing, schools, hospitals, and stores, to support Ontario Hydro staff working at the station and at other hydro plants in the isolated region.

Over time, the station underwent further expansions to serve the growing demand for electricity across the province, with Unit 3 coming online in 1940 followed by Unit 4 in 1948.

Today, the rebuilt Ear Falls GS continues to produce clean, reliable electricity for the province, with a relatively new neighbour by its side. Sitting just next to it, and sharing the English River, is OPG’s Lac Seul GS, a 12 MW hydro station that was constructed in 2009 in partnership with Lac Seul First Nation.