Manitoba Hydro closes Great Falls Dam walkway to swimmers after recent drowning at abandoned quarry

Manitoba Hydro says the gate that leads to an abandoned quarry at Great Falls Dam will be locked in the coming days to keep swimmers away after a drowning death last weekend.

Security will also be added until a decision is made on how to keep the public safe at the unsupervised quarry, which has become popular with swimmers in recent years, said Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen.

“Unfortunately in the interim, until we can meet and discuss this with the local RM, we will be locking that gate over the next few days,” Owen said.

However, he still expects people will find a way to breach the walkway that leads to the water.

“We can lock the gate and if security is not there, there’s still going to be people trying to climb that fence,” Owen said.

“We have to figure out how to keep people safe and how to protect the area. Does it mean conservation officers do sweeps of the area? Does it mean bylaw officers do sweeps, or RCMP? We just don’t know.”

A 21 year-old man from the rural municipality of St. Anne drowned last Sunday at the abandoned quarry, which is on Crown land just over 100 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, in the RM of Alexander.

RCMP said the man was with a group of friends. He jumped off the rocks into the quarry and was struggling to swim before he went under and did not come up. He was pulled from the water, but couldn’t be resuscitated.

Swimmers can access the spot through a walkway along Manitoba Hydro’s Great Falls generating station. 

Owen said up to 200 swimmers have been spotted on some weekends. He said after the drowning last weekend, staff collected 28 bags of garbage left along the shore, including bottles and clothing.

Swimmers return to ‘amazing place’

There are warning signs at the site about the dangers of swimming, but that didn’t keep many sunbathers away this week.

“It is very beautiful here,” said Tyler Sawchuk, who was swimming with friends Tuesday afternoon. “The water is so clear, there’s fish swimming around — it’s just an amazing place.”

Swimmers at the quarry on Tuesday. Safety concerns have been raised about the unsupervised swimming spot at Manitoba Hydro’s Great Falls Dam after the drowning death of a 21 year-old man. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Malea Penner said as a lifeguard, she knows her limits as a swimmer.

“People just need to know their limits. Parents need to watch out for their kids,” she said.

“Obviously it’s super tragic what happened, but I’m not sure there’s specific things the province could do to help that.”

The mayor for the rural municipality of Alexander said council held a meeting Tuesday after safety concerns were raised by community members.

“First of all my heart goes out to the family of the person who drowned,” said Mayor Jack Brisco.

He said council wants to work with Manitoba Hydro on how to manage the site together, and he’s glad to hear the gate will be locked for now.

Despite several warning signs posted by Manitoba Hydro, many swimmers flock to the unsupervised quarry near Great Falls Dam every summer. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The municipality has sent a letter to Manitoba Hydro requesting a meeting to figure out how the quarry should be used.

“[We’ll] hopefully get together with them and come up with a solution, whether it’s closing it or making it more safe,” Brisco said. “Whatever happens, we want to be part of the solution.”

Ideally, he would like the site to remain open for swimmers.

“I believe people have been using that lake for 40 or 50 years,” he said.

“The place is beautiful, and as long as we can figure out what we can do in a safe manner, that can be good for everyone.”

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