The Little Saskatchewan, A River Interrupted

From its source in Riding Mountain National Park the Little Saskatchewan River soon enters a deep valley and twists and turns its way though Elphinstone, into the man-made lake at Minnedosa, past the scenic site of the old siding at Riverdale, over another dam at Rapid City, and into Lake Wahtopanah. Up until that point it swings back and forth across its deep valley, flowing strongly in springtime, down to a trickle in the fall. For the last twenty kilometres it becomes (especially in springtime) another river, as it descends to the Assiniboine in a series of rapids.

In a way it is two rivers. The river that was, and the river today. Lake Wahtopanah, is just the most recent of our efforts to bend the river towards our needs.

It was never a transportation route like the Assiniboine, but the advent of settlement, spurred intensive logging in Riding Mountain and the river was ideal for transporting logs. First to a sawmill established by the Hudson’s Bay Company at Elphinstone, next to Rapid City, and soon all the way to Brandon.


Dams back up a reliable supply of water for the dry seasons. By 1910, a dam was constructed just south of Rivers to ensure a dependable supply of water for railway steam engines.

The other reason for building a dam is to provide consistent water power for gristmills and sawmills. Accessible and more reliable steam power was soon available for those uses, but rivers were then harnessed to supply the next revolution in energy – electricity. The first effort in Manitoba to harness waterpower to produce electricity happened right here, on the Little Saskatchewan, between Rivers and Brandon.

Generally called the “Ten Mile Dam”, the Brandon Electric Light Company built it in 1900. The success of the Brandon Power Station may have prompted a similar effort at Minnedosa, where in 1911 a second hydro project was constructed on the river.
The dams were left in place after other sources of power became more efficient, to become swimming and camping sites.


The paths of these two dams crossed in 1948 when the Minnedosa dam was breached, flooding the downtown and causing such a torrent that it destroyed the Ten Mile Dam, far downstream, as well.  Because the Minnedosa dam had proven so beneficial as a recreational site, it was repaired. The Ten Mile Dam was left to disintegrate.

As of 2019 the concrete foundation of the powerhouse remains on the east side of the river.
But a pattern was set.

The dams that had been built for practical purposes had proven useful as recreational sites, and for controlling flood water. That led to the next series of dam building in rural Manitoba, with the Lake Wahtopanah and Rivers Provincial Parks being the most notable example in the area.

Today, once the water spills over the dam at Rivers, the river has reverted to its old self between here and Brandon. It has become a favorite for paddling enthusiasts, providing western Manitoba’s best stretches of whitewater and scenic, river valleys.