In 2003 my boss at the time took me sailing up the Indian Arm from Deep Cove. It wasn’t long before I noticed along the edge of the water, this massive, ancient-looking building with giant rusty steampunk pipes (penstocks) rising high along the side of the cliff beside it. It was BC Hydro’s Powerhouse 2, built in 1914. (Powerhouse 1 is just around the corner – built in 1903). I marked this place down as one I must explore.
BC Hydro Buntzen Powerhouse 2. Image from Cove View Accomodations
After moving to Surrey from Vancouver in 2010 I started scanning Google Maps for places nearby to hike. I instantly noticed that Buntzen Lake had some trails and was just north of Coquitlam – across the Port Mann bridge from me. Upon further inspection I realized that Buntzen Lake trails lead out to the Indian Arm and connected with that old Powerhouse I saw back in 2003. (Google Maps shows the names backwards – “2” is listed as “1”).
My photo of Buntzen Lake on New Years Day January 1, 2011. Lake was flooded at this time because of Powerhouse turbine replacement.
Beautiful, Trout or Buntzen
Buntzen Lake used to be named Trout Lake, and was also called Lake Beautiful. It was renamed to Buntzen Lake in 1905 at the opening of the tunnel to Coquitlam Lake. Buntzen Lake is a 4.8 km (3 mi) long lake in Anmore, BC. It is named after the ﬁrst general manager of the B.C. Electric Co, Johannes Buntzen.
In 1903 the Buntzen hydroelectric project was put in service by the Vancouver Power Company to provide the first hydroelectric power to Vancouver. Previously, the city had to depend on a 1,500-kilowatt (kW) steam plant for its power supply. The project involved raising the level of the dam on Coquitlam Lake and excavating a 3.6 km tunnel to carry water from Coquitlam Lake to Buntzen Lake. The tunnel runs under Eagle Mountain, reaching a maximum depth of 1.2 km below the surface, and empties into the north end of Buntzen Lake.
Water from Buntzen Lake flows through penstocks down the steep mountain slope to two power plants located on Indian Arm. Buntzen No. 1 was constructed in 1903 with an initial capacity of 1,500 kW. A second powerhouse, Buntzen No. 2, was completed in 1914 with three pelton wheels delivering a total of 26,700 kW to meet Vancouver’s continually increasing demand for secure electricity. The generating equipment in Buntzen No. 1 was modernized in 1951 to produce 55,000 kW of power. In 1972 one unit at Buntzen No. 2 was shut down but the two remaining units can still produce 17,800 kW. Both plants are monitored and operated by a remote control facility in Burnaby.
My first visit to Buntzen Lake was New Years Day 2011, it was a gorgeous day there as seen in my blog post from that day but we had no time to explore the Powerhouse trails. Nearly a year later, on the eve of 2012, I finally hiked out to these Powerhouses. As usual I brought my camera.
Signage at Buntzen Lake regarding the two Powerhouses.
In 1903 the first hydroelectric power for Vancouver was produced here. Seven generator units were eventually installed here, then the final 3 units were put into a new building (Powerhouse 2) just to the south (the fascinating piece of architecture along Indian Arm). The original power plant was demolished and rebuilt in 1951. The single new turbine and generator was more powerful than the seven old units which it replaced.
A small community used to be located on the hillside above the plant, to house the workers and their families. By 1964 this community was a ghost town.
The trails from Buntzen Lake lead to the Powerhouse Road which leads to the dam where the road is blocked by a gate. You can still walk through and all the way down to Powerhouse 1 but there’s been a lot of break-ins so they have signs everywhere warning you to stay the hell away. I was surprised and disappointed by this. I thought you could hike right up to the Powerhouses since they are advertised in the signage at the lake.
A view of Powerhouse 1 from the water. Image from Flikr. Another closer shot here.
My photo of BC Hydro Buntzen Powerhouse 1 from the opposite side.
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Powerhouse 1 from above (BC hydro photo). You can see the long green penstocks rising up behind it which I photographed at the top as shown below.
Photo of Powerhouse 1 penstocks I took along my hike.
I left Powerhouse 1 quickly and searched the unmarked trails nearby for one leading down to the Powerhouse 2 which had originally caught my eye back in 2003. I soon discovered there are no trails or roads which lead you to this place. It is approachable only by water. The closest I could get was a trail which leads right to the rusty penstocks high above it. I should add that it is worth walking out to this point. There are incredible views as you can see in my photos and the video below.
This old Hydroelectric power station looks from the water like a castle and also has lots of scary warning signs posted everywhere. Water for BC Hydro’s two Lake Buntzen Powerhouses comes through giant penstocks from Buntzen Lake. Some of the water comes originally from Coquitlam Lake through another tunnel. Lake Buntzen Powerhouse 2 was built in 1913 and still contained its original generating equipment until summer 2010 when a new turbine was installed.
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BC Hydro’s photo of Powerhouse 2 from above. The image below I shot along the old rusty penstocks from above. If you look at the aerial photo, there is a little clear patch just where the pipes curve at the top. That is where I was standing.
My photo of the Powerhouse 2 penstocks. There is better footage in my video embedded below.
Photo from UEC
In the end I did not make it all the way down to Powerhouse 2, which was the main goal. Since there were no obvious trails there and it was getting dark I had to turn back and go home. I have since read that you can walk down there if you follow the power lines from Buntzen Lake but there is no trail or road. An easier method would be to kayak from Deep Cove and I plan to do that this summer, so stay tuned!
I should add that it is a wonderful hike along the lake and through the wilderness there with breathtaking views. You cross many little bridges, mountain streams and there’s even a suspension bridge at the north end of the lake.
My video footage from the hike
My photographs from the hike
Other Trails at Buntzen Lake
- I love to jog all the way around the lake which is an amazing workout. There are many other connecting trails which are much longer. A popular one is the Diez Vistas (ten viewpoints) which meanders along the ridge with sensational views of the city and Vancouver Island in the distance, Deep Cove, the snow-covered North Shore mountains, and various views up Indian Arm.
BC Hydro’s “Power Pioneers” website
- This site provides some history about the project.
Urban Exploration Resource – Trespasser Hobbyists
- There is an underground community of people with the dangerous passion for finding their way into buildings for the simple purpose of exploration. Luckily for me some of them made their way into and around the powerhouses. This is discussed here and provides a most fascinating perspective. They include photos from inside the tunnel itself, inside the powerhouses and even documents and letters they found in the building (In the old days workers had to live at the powerhouse). There is also a video of the interior available on YouTube.
The History of The Coquitlam Watershed and River from 1898 – 1914
- This document by Will Koop about the history of the Buntzen Lake project tells the story of shady dealings (industrial and political – like something out of Hell On Wheels or Boardwalk Empire) by the company which became BC Hydro and how they underhandedly took ownership of the lake. It raises the question about who really has the legal water rights to the Coquitlam watershed and, consequently, does the Greater Vancouver Regional District have to pay B.C. Hydro at all for its usage? It also discusses the negative and positive ecological effects that BC Hydro’s predecessor’s work had on the area.