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Historic Sites of Manitoba: Assiniboine River Needle Dam (Assiniboine River, RM of Portage la Prairie)

This wooden structure in the Assiniboine River in the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie, south of Portage la Prairie, is a former needle dam commissioned in late 1909 by the Public Parks Board of the City of Portage la Prairie. With completion contractually due by 20 February 1910, construction began in late 1909 by the contracting firm of Lauren B. Merriam and H. J. Symington (operating as Merriam & Symington), based on designs from the Toronto engineering firm of Smith, Kerry, and Chace. Intended to redirect water into nearby Crescent Lake, the design was found to be faulty almost immediately after it was built. River water seeped under the dam and eroded the soil so the dam would not hold water. By March 1911, the metal parts of the needle dam were being removed, leaving the remaining wooden parts in place.

In the aftermath of the failure, a lawsuit was filed with the Court of King’s Bench at Portage la Prairie. Plaintiffs Merriam & Symington claimed insufficient payment and breach of contract against the Parks Board. The engineering firm was also made a third party to the proceedings. The case was heard by Justice Hugh A. Robson in May 1911 who determined that the contract had not been completed in full, dismissing costs in favour of the Board. That ruling was subsequently appealed to the Manitoba Court of Appeal where it was heard in February 1912 by a panel of Albert E. Richards, William E. Perdue, and John D. Cameron. A judgment was issued in March 1912 rejecting the appeal in favour of Board.

Remains of the dam were removed in March 2019 because they were believed to be contributing to riverbank erosion.

Assiniboine River Needle Dam

Assiniboine River Needle Dam (c1910)
Source: Archives of Manitoba - Portage la Prairie No. 22 (N19931)

Remains of Assiniboine River Needle Dam

Remains of Assiniboine River Needle Dam (2017)
Source: Richard Gray

Remains of Assiniboine River Needle Dam

Remains of Assiniboine River Needle Dam (2017)
Source: Richard Gray

Site Location (lat/long): N49.93675, W98.31011
denoted by symbol on the map above

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Abandoned Manitoba


Portage la Prairie: 1870-1970 by Anne M. Collier, 1970, pages 279-284.

“Portage dam project favored,” Manitoba Free Press, 14 May 1909, page 13.

“City of Portage la Prairie [Tenders for works for improvement to Crescent Lake],” Manitoba Free Press, 18 September 1909, page 2.

“Portage la Prairie news,” Manitoba Free Press, 14 December 1909, page 10.

“Portage budget [Parks Board case],” Manitoba Free Press, 12 November 1910, page 13.

“Buys fast Portage horse [Removing steel work],” Manitoba Free Press, 6 March 1911, page 8.

“Legal intelligence,” Manitoba Free Press, 18 April 1911, page 14.

“Appeal entered in Portage dam case,” Manitoba Free Press, 3 November 1911, page 3.

“Portage action in Court of Appeal,” Manitoba Free Press, 20 February 1912, page 14.

“Caveat set aside by Judge Robson,” Manitoba Free Press, 21 February 1912, page 5.

Regional Civil files - Portage la Prairie (ATG 0062A), 90/10 Merriam & Symington vs. Public Parks Board, GR2423, Archives of Manitoba.

Court of Queen’s Bench judgment roll pockets - Portage la Prairie (ATG 0057), 501 - Merriam & Symington vs. Public Parks Board, GR2467, Archives of Manitoba.

Manitoba Court of Appeal indexes and files (ATG 0168), 104/11 Merriam vs. Parks Board, GR0727, Archives of Manitoba.

Manitoba Court of Appeal indexes and files (ATG 0168), 111/11 Merriam vs. Parks Board, GR0727, Archives of Manitoba.

Legal Judicial History collection, A1805 - Merriam vs. Public Parks Board, Archives of Manitoba.

This page was prepared by Richard Gray, Nathan Kramer, and Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 24 March 2019

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