The History
of the Swan River Valley
Manitoba, Canada

Manitoba Hydro

In 1952 a new district of Swan River was added to Manitoba Power Commission and Laurence Madill was appointed District Supervisor. A temporary office was set up above the old Swan Bakery for combined construction and operating staff.

1952 Program
In preparation for the day when the Commission would take over the lines in the valley, it localized large numbers of men there. At the height of the construction some 200 men were working on the Commission’s million dollar project to serve the customers in this northern and fertile section of the province.

Continuing good weather at fall enabled crews to speed ahead with construction. A 66,000 volt transmission line was constructed from Dauphin. The existing 33,000 volt line between Dauphin and Sifton was converted to 66,000 volts and the 6,900 volts. The remainder of the line between Pine River and Swan River was newly constructed. The main obstacle in the building of this line was the great amount of brush clearing that was required. Bulldozers were brought into play and short work was made of the brush.

Meanwhile, a crew was busy building a new substation where the voltage would be stepped down to 6,900 volts. Other crews were rehabilitating existing town distribution systems. Still others were engaged in extending new transmission lines to serve customers in the surrounding farm areas. Some 490 farm customers are expected to have their first taste of electrical living before Christmas this year—a timely and welcome Christmas present.
1953 Program

An equally energetic program is scheduled for 1953. Over 630 new farms will be added to the system and an additional 66,000 volt line will be constructed from Robin. This line will serve as an alternative circuit in the eventuality that service is interrupted on the original line. To ensure continuity of service, an oil circuit breaker is to be installed at Swan River to provide an alternative tie with the new line when completed. Already poling operations on the Robin line have begun although it will not be completed until sometime in 1953.

It is interesting to note that the bulk of the poles used in the new farm areas in the north were taken out of the Duck Mountain Forest Reserve and treated at a wood preserving plant at Pine River.


The supervisor of the newly formed district of Swan River is Laurence Madill. Laurence and his wife, Elizabeth with their one year old son, Donald, have taken up residence at Swan River after a four year stay at Shoal Lake.

Laurence’s home town is Russell. He attended school there and after graduation worked as a theater projectionist. In 1944, he started on his career with the Manitoba Power Commission. When he reported for work George Chamberlain, crew was then rebuilding sections of the Neepawa distribution system. Laurence was spared the initial back-breaking work of digging holes that is usually assigned a new man for he was sent climbing from the very first. He assures us, however, that he has since made up for this commission.

In 1947, he was sent to relieve at Neepawa. Lloyd Playfair had been transferred to the Winnipeg office and Laurence was to act as Supervisor until a new appointment had been made. He stayed there 11 months before being assigned to the district of Shoal Lake where he remained until he moved to Swan River.
While at Shoal Lake, he was chaplain of the Chamber of Commerce. Elizabeth was a member of the Rebecca Lodge and secretary of the Red Cross. Always active supporters of community projects, the Madills undoubtedly will fit right into activities in Swan River.

After hours, Laurence spends his time puttering about his workshop. Some very professional-like bookcases and lamps have made their appearance as a result of this puttering. Much to her hubby’s delight, Elizabeth lists her pet hobby as cooking.

The best wishes of the entire staff are extended to the Madills in their new location. Swan River is a progressive town and we wager that before long, the Madills will be as fiercely proud of the Swan River Valley as are the residents.

During the summer and fall Manitoba Power Commission rebuilt the distribution systems of Swan River, five other towns, two farm areas, and new interconnecting town lines as well as a new sub-station.

By November 3rd, 1952 the new sub station was energized and on November 4th hydro-electric power came to Swan River, Minitonas, Bowsman, Durban, Kenville and Benito. Most of Swan River Municipality and two hundred and fifty farms were connected by Christmas.

In 1953, nine hundred lines were build and energized plus the farms in the districts of Birch River, Benito and Minitonas. In 1954, Mafeking and two hundred farms were added, and in 1955 Bellsite and Novra. That was the virtual end of the farm electrification program. Many farms were added over several years – ones that had not signed up when the areas were converted.

In the early 60s Manitoba Power Commission changed to Manitoba Hydro. In the middle of the 70s small one man districts were no longer viable so were amalgamated into larger centers to more effectively look after heavier types of material, etc. Mechanical diggers were issued to larger areas and eventually bucket trucks. Districts of Benito, Minitonas, Kenville, Durban, Bowsman and Birch River became part of Swan River work area.

The district remained basically the same till 1982 at the time of Laurence’s retirement.

During these years many fine workers were on the staff. Countless fond memories were shared and numerous friendships were developed.

Submitted by: Mrs. Laurence Madill

Old Swan River Substation

Laurence Madill

Manitoba's Swan River Valley is an area rich in history. This material was a part of the 1998 Pioneer Centennial History Book project. If you would like the history of your area available online, have your historic group contact the Key Rock Group for information on electronic publication.