Northern Ontario’s newest hydro-electric power source was celebrated Thursday with the opening of the Peter Sutherland Sr. Generating Station which is located on the Abitibi River near New Post Creek, roughly 75 kilometres north of Smooth Rock Falls.
The station is named in honour of a local trapper who once opposed the old Ontario Hydro company over their plans to build more hydro-electric dams on Northern rivers.
The new generation station was actually completed earlier this year, on March 31. Construction for the $300-million project was within budget and the plant was completed ahead of schedule.
It had been under construction for nearly three years and has been one of the largest construction projects in Northeastern Ontario. It is a partnership between Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and Coral Rapids Power (CRP) a company owned by the Taykwa Tagamou Nation (TTN).
Thursday’s opening event brought together dozens of OPG executives, community leaders and members of the TTN First Nation, previously known as the New Post First Nation.
Among them was Jeff Lyash, the president and CEO of OPG, who said he was more than impressed with what he called the remarkable progress of building the new 28 megawatt facility on time and without overspending.
Thursday’s opening ceremony was just as much a celebration of the Indigenous culture as it was a celebration of completing a significant engineering and technological achievement in such a remote area of Northern Ontario.
Drum songs were performed. A smudge ceremony held. There was also the traditional pipe ceremony.
“The reason why we do a pipe ceremony is because when you’re doing something special, when you make changes to the land, you’ve got to honour the ancestors who lived here before us,” said TTN member Charlene Echum.
As the pipe was passed from elders to community leaders to guests and workers, Mike Martelli, the president of Renewable Generation and Power Marketing at OPG remarked he too was impressed with the new facility and congratulated the group on their success.
“A project thirty years in the making, has culminated in a new hydro-electric station capable of powering 25,000 homes and businesses with clean and renewable power,” said Martelli.
The station is powered by New Post Creek, which sits on a height of land above the facility, just east of the Abitibi. Water is collected by a huge earthen dam, in a 170-hectare head pond, and then directed to a pair of penstocks that drives the water down into twin 14MW turbines in the powerhouse beside the river.
The thirty-year timeline mentioned by Martelli refers to a bit of the turbulent history of the area with OPG’s predecessor, Ontario Hydro.
Taykwa Tagamou chief Dwight Sutherland recalled that back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Moose River / James Bay coalition was formed when Ontario Hydro was proposing new dams and hydro station upgrades along the Moose, Abitibi and Mattagami Rivers.
“The coalition came out of all that,” said Chief Sutherland. “Back then Hydro wanted to dam up a lot of these rivers that fed into the Moose River. So as part of that coalition, all that development was stopped,” he said.
Peter Sutherland Sr. was a member of the coalition that gave a voice to the Indigenous people of the area. He was born in 1915 at New Post Creek when it was a Hudson Bay Company operation, and worked much of his life as a trapper in the area. He died in 1998.
Chief Sutherland, who is a grandson of Peter Sutherland Sr., said the opposition from the coalition wasn’t because the First Nations people were against hydro developments. It was because they were living in poverty. But the rivers were a resource that could change that, he said.
“They said the First Nations had to play a part of this development, because our people had signed a treaty with the Crown,” he said.
The people of the TTN are now one-third owners of the new generation station.
“Coming from that state of poverty to creating wealth is a huge step for us,” said Chief Sutherland.
During the construction phase of the plant, from 2015 to the present, roughly 50 of the 200 jobs during the peak period, were done by TTN members. In addition, more than $50-million in subcontracts were awarded to TTN joint venture businesses.
The new station will be operated remotely by OPGs northeastern operations control facility in Timmins. Maintenance work will be performed by technicians posted to the nearby Abitibi Canyon OPG operations.