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Harnessing the Missouri: Canyon Ferry Dam celebrates anniversary

Canyon Ferry Dam
Posted at 3:34 PM, Sep 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-13 17:34:49-04

CANYON FERRY — Seventy-two years ago, the first bucket of concrete was poured during the construction of the current Canyon Ferry Dam.

The concrete gravity dam stands at 1,000 feet across at the crest and 225 feet tall, and contains 414,400 cubic yards of concrete.

Completed in 1954, the dam was built through federal funding from the Flood Control Act of 1944. The U.S. legislation authorized the construction of numerous dams and modifications to previously existing dams. The project has successfully controlled flooding throughout the Missouri River basin, provided water for irrigation and communities, and generated power. However, the legislation has been criticized due to the hundreds of thousands of acres that have been flooded on tribal lands as a result of creating the reservoirs.

The area around Canyon Ferry was first settled in 1846 after the establishment of a fur trading post. Then the discovery of gold and other precious metals in 1862 brought more people to the area.

The first dam was built by Samuel Hauser's Missouri River Power Company in the late 1890s, it generated electricity for Helena and much of central Montana. The building of the dam also created Lake Sewell.

First Canyon Ferry Dam

Construction of the present Canyon Ferry Dam began in 1949. The old Canyon Ferry Dam and power plant were dismantled prior to the completion of the new, with some remnants being submerged under the rising Canyon Ferry Lake. The village of Canton, which was located just north of Townsend, was abandoned and subsequently flooded by the second Canyon Ferry Dam.

Canyon Ferry Power Plant, with an installed capacity of 50,000 kilowatts, supplies power needs for residential and commercial use in the surrounding area. Its annual power generation over a 10-year period has averaged 383,700,000 kilowatt-hours.

The reservoir, with 33,500 surface acres of water and 96 shoreline miles, offers excellent fishing opportunities for rainbow trout, perch, ling, and walleye. Concrete boat ramps, campgrounds, day-use areas, shelters, swimming, and three marinas are also available for the public to enjoy.

Pictures for this story were gathered from HelenaHistory.org. Visit their site for more pictures and the history of Helena and the surrounding area.