1946-47 was one of the most severe winters experienced in recent times. Highways and railroads were both blocked several times for a week at a time. The P.F.R.A. staff was working on the diversion tunnel and surveying for the dam. They lived in Cardston until January 1947 when they moved into surplus buildings which had been moved from the Lethbridge airport to the dam site.
In 1948 the St. Mary's Dam was started and finished in 1951. The irrigation tunnel was built between 1950 and 1951 as well as the main canal and syphon across Pinepound Coulee to the Jensen Dam. There was a flash flood in 1951 which partially washed out the newly constructed Pinepound Coulee Syphon. This was repaired immediately.
While the dam was being constructed there were between 450 - 500 people employed on the site.
During construction of the diversion tunnel there were two fatal accidents and one during construction of the irrigation tunnel.
The St. Mary's Dam and reservoir is the major storage reservoir for the St. Maiy's irrigation project. The main controls for the headworks section of the project are located at the St. Mary's Dam.
The St. Mary project stretches from the Waterton Dam at Hillspring (which was built between 1958-1964) to Medicine Hat and now supplies water to irrigate approximately 500,000 acres of land.
Since the construction of the Waterton and St.,Mary's Dam we have had three major floods, 1953, 1964 and 1975. These irrigation dams helped control the river flow at that time.
Spring Coulee and Its Big Dam the Lethbridge Herald - Dec. 11, 1947
A foundation for much of Southern Alberta's future development is being laid about four miles northwest of the hamlet of Spring Coulee - the dry land farming centre which has come into the limelight with construction of the St. Mary River dam.
It was only a short distance from the community, located about 25 air-miles Southwest of Lethbridge that engineers found, what they considered the best spot for damming up the St. Mary River, and the key structure for the vast St. Mary-Milk Rivers irrigation project now is being built there.
The construction project has greatly increased the rail way traffic into Spring Coulee, the job requiring much heavy machinery and enormous quantities of structural steel and cement a well as provisions for the large number of men who will be employed on the project for the next few years.
Between 30 and 40 men are to be stationed at the permanent maintenance camp during operating seasons and about 15 during the winter months after the dam is completed and is in operation.
While comparatively little land in the Spring Coulee area will be brought under irrigation, through the huge water development program, farmers of the area have been doing well by themselves with mixed farming or large-scale wheat growing. In recent years many of the farmers have turned to raising commercial mustard seed as an alternative crop.
Elevators at Spring Coulee generally handle the production from 12,000 acres of wheat and their average shipment run about 235,000 bushels. In the bumper crop year of 1942 Spring Coulee shipped 250,000 bushels of wheat.
Wheat production of the area is actually greater. Elevators at nearby Bradshaw and Raley also ship wheat from the area. These two points also ship some of the cattle, sheep and horses marketed by the district.
Settlement of the area began in earnest in about 1903, about half the farmers coming from the United States and the other from Ontario and Saskatchewan. Before the settlers poured into the district, it was linked to Stirling by a narrow gauge railway that ended in Spring Coulee - but this was changed into standard track after the C.P.R. took over the old A.R. & 1.
While Spring Coulee itself has a population of only about 70, its several business establishments cater to about 500 people living on farms in the district. some 60 children are enrolled in the 11 grades taught by three teachers in the community.
One of the outstanding features of the area is its artesian wells. Despite the fact some of them are more than 200 feet deep, they give forth a strong flow of water.
FLASHBACK.- A look back at Cardston and district in the year 1948 - June 9
St. Mary's River Dam Site - St. Mary's River water began pouring through the diversion tunnel of the St. Mary dam here at noon today, the opening of the dyke releasing water into the channel leading to the portal of the tunnel was slated for 11 o'clock but it was delayed by a broken cable.
Marks milestone - Workmen soon had this repaired and the huge dragline was started eating into the dyke as scores seated or standing on the side of the St. Mary valley watched the operation that spelled another milestone in the $20,000,000 St. Mary-Milk River water development.
Everything proceeded smoothly once the dragline really went into action. W.L. Foss, PFRA construction engineer for the big water storage job, was in general charge of operations and was a mighty happy man when water from the river started to flow through the dyke and into the portal of the concrete-lined tunnel - a structure 20 feet in diameter and 2,119 feet long from portal to portal.
Dramatic Moment - While it was pretty much routine for the engineers and workmen on the job it was a dramatic moment for others on the scene as the murky river water - the whole stream eventually will be diverted through the tunnel to allow for construction of the huge storage dam - began to trickle through the slowly deepening aperture in the dyke. The trickle grew into a stream and the stream into a mounting tide as the opening was enlarged.
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