Historic Sites of Manitoba: Sundance Town Site (Northern Manitoba)
When Manitoba Hydro began building its Henday Converter Station and Limestone Generating Station, it developed two sites to accommodate construction workers. For single people, there was a construction camp. The other was Sundance. It was intended for married couples, including families with children. In 1975, Hydro placed a $1.4 million order with a Winnipeg firm for 50 prefabricated houses to be put at Sundance.
Sundance was a fully equipped town and, between 1975 and 1976, it acquired a grocery store, liquor store, bank, post office, gas station, theatre, chapel, bowling alley, curling rink, recreation centre, and hockey rink. There was no hospital or high school, so people had to drive the 30 miles to Gillam for these services. In the spring of 1976, the Frontier School Division advertised for five teachers to work at the six-classroom Sundance School (later renamed Mary Porter School in honour of long-time principal of the school), the enrollment of which was expected to be up to 125 children from kindergarten to grade 8. It was anticipated that the resident population of the construction camp and Sundance would eventually be at least 2,000 people, and Sundance alone had a population of more than 500 people.
Unfortunately, Sundance had a short lifespan. In 1978, Manitoba Hydro decided to postpone construction of Limestone Generating Station and Sundance was closed. By 1984, its population had dwindled to less than 50 people. Then, in 1985, Limestone got the “green light,” and Sundance boomed again. By the fall of 1986, there were 572 people (including 200 children) living at Sundance. Families rented three-bedroom homes from Hydro, heated by electricity and served by running water and sewer. Residents added decks, gazebos, tool sheds, and other amenities. The site was carved from the forest and most houses had mature spruce and birch trees around them. The streets were given names like Beaver Avenue, Caribou Drive, and Tamarac Bay.
Sundance was built in anticipation of further development downstream of Limestone on the lower Nelson River: Conawapa and Gillam Island generating stations. Perhaps if they had gone ahead, Sundance might still exist today. However, plans for them have been shelved pending need for the electricity. The town began to close in the early 1990s. The school closed in the spring of 1992. Trailers at the construction camp were removed and some ended up in southern Manitoba. Sundance was removed gradually over a period of years in the mid- to late-1990s, and what residents did not move elsewhere relocated to Gillam. The shopping centre was moved to Gillam to become a church. The water treatment plant was sold to Carman. The recreation centre was one of the last buildings to be removed, in the fall of 1999. The total cost to build and operate Sundance for about 20 years was estimated to be $20.3M.
By the time of a 2017 site visit, most of the buildings were gone although water and sewer lines were not removed at the request of a local Indigenous band that might use the site for its future expansion. The roads and building sites were slowly growing in with natural vegetation. Sundance’s sewage lagoon was still present and was gradually turning into a wetland.
Photos & Coordinates
“Cost of hydro project climbs $400 million,” Winnipeg Free Press, 3 November 1978, page 8.
We thank Bruce Owen and Keven Van Camp for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 19 April 2020