With each crushing blow from the bucket of an excavator, an era of the BC Hydro power generation in Campbell River is coming to an end as the wooden penstocks are torn apart.

“We have a new tunnel system basically 100 meters below here that feeds an underground powerhouse that went operational in November of last year so now it’s time to remove the old facility,” said BC Hydro spokesperson Stephen Watson.

The three wood-stave penstocks are 12 feet or 3.6 metres in diameter and run 1.1 km from the John Hart Dam to the generating station. They’re made of fir and have been a fixture on the landscape just outside Elk Falls Park since the first one was built in 1947. The other two followed over the next six years as demand for power increased.

“It’s nostalgic,” added Watson. “It’s kind of sad they’re coming out with all the work that went into these penstocks but aechnology with what it is today, we can make something much better, much more improved and the environment will be much better off, I mean eventually this will be a forest.”

The entire system is now underground including one large tunnel that will move the same volume of water. Above ground, about two-thirds of the penstocks have already been removed, but what’s left and the ongoing work is getting a lot of attention.

“You know this is the route to the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge and a lot of people enjoy the falls but there’s a lot of interest in these penstocks, it’s like what are they, when were they built, how were they built?” said Watson.

In fact, Watson could have stood there all day Wednesday answering questions from curious visitors.

“I was curious to find out how old these were and why they were destroying them,” said visitor Marge Adams.

“It’s been here for 71 years and we just learned it was supposed to be here for around 40 but look at how long it’s lasted for and the condition that it’s in. Very interesting,” said visitor Lisa Henn.

There’s been a lot of interest in keeping a section for visitors to see in the future but Watson says the wood is actually in fairly bad shape and contaminated. BC Hydro is hoping to build a replica that would be placed near the walkway to the Elk Falls suspension bridge.

Dean Stoltz