Lots of interest from council in creating La Colle Falls historic site

The Community Services Department and Prince Albert Historical Society will start outlining a plan to create a recreation development or historic site at La Colle Falls hydroelectric dam and the nearby city-owned property.

Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick was responsible for bringing the motion forward during Tuesday’s city council meeting. He said there’s no guarantee the City will develop the property, but argued it’s worth looking into considering the site’s historical significance.

“There are so many stories about La Colle Falls and so much history,” Ogrodnick said during the meeting. “I think it’s something that has the potential to become a tourist attraction site within our economic region.”

The R.M. of Garden River has already created plans for a recreation area in a nearby area. They tried to purchase the property in May 2019, and lease it on August 2019. But were turned down by city council, most recently on April 20

Ogrodnick was one of the most vocal councillors to oppose leasing the property at that last meeting. He argued that the La Colle Falls project was one of the most historic developments in Prince Albert history. He said it wasn’t right to sell or lease that property, and he stuck by those arguments again on Tuesday.

“It’s not saying that we’re going to invest right away in developing this, but this is part of our history,” he said.

There were some minor concerns about a potential development, but council voted unanimously in favour of asking for a development report. Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp said she’d like to know what the City was liable for, should they create a recreation area, but added she was still interested in seeing what the Historical Society could create.

Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards also spoke in favour of the project. He said creating plans for future tourist attraction or historical site was long overdue.

“I think there are a lot of people who don’t know enough about what occurred and what brought up this event,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s important to Prince Albert, and I think it’s time that we had a report come forward.”

The RM of Garden River wanted to use the city-owned land to build road access to their own property, where they hoped to develop a day park.

The 20-acre city-owned parcel has an assessment value of around $200, according to the RM, a total so low the City doesn’t pay property taxes on it. Garden River reeve Ryan Scragg said that’s because the property sits on a flood plain, and it’s dense brush makes it unsuitable for cattle.

“We didn’t see that it had any resale value, so we thought we might as well approach the City and see if they were interested in just leasing the land in perpetuity, or us purchasing it for a low, fair price,” Scragg said during an interview last August.

“We’re looking at doing something with it that I think will benefit not just the RM of Garden River, but anybody in the region who has an interest in doing some sort of day park type activities. It’s a really cool untouched area that has a lot of historical significance.”

The Prince Albert Board of Trade hired Charles H. Mitchell to begin working on the La Colle Falls hydroelectric dam in 1906. Construction started in1912, but the City of Prince Albert struggled to raise money, and by 1913 construction costs ballooned to more than $2-million. That was $1,136,000 more than the original estimate.

An Anglo-Dutch company offered to pay off the City’s debts and finish the project in return for a 40-year lease in 1914. However, negotiations ended after the First World War started and the project was never completed.

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