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LOOK BACK: The men who built the first Stamp Falls fish ladder

Delve into Alberni Valley history with the Alberni Valley Museum online
The crew that built the first fish ladder at Stamp Falls, circa 1925: back row, from left are Jack Plaunt, Johnny Manuel, Ernie Gingello, Jack Gorman. Front row, from left, are Walker Greene, ‘Colonel’ Hunt (government engineer), Tom Maher, Jim Wilkinson and Joe Drinkwater (foreman). This photo is one of 24,000 in the Alberni Valley Museum’s online digital archives. There are several photos of the fish ladder crew in the archives. (PHOTO PN06001 COURTESY ALBERNI VALLEY MUSEUM)

The original fish ladder at Stamp River Provincial Park was constructed in 1927—by hand.

The fish ladder gives salmon returning to their spawning grounds a fighting chance to get around Stamp Falls.

Government engineer Colonel Hunt hired Alberni Valley pioneer Joe Drinkwater as foreman for the project.

Author Kaye Dukowski’s Alberni Valley Pioneers: Drinkwaters and Connecting Families has a writeup about the building of the Stamp Falls fish ladder from Drinkwater’s perspective. He created an aerial tramway, and sand from across the river was carried to the building site in a half-barrel attached to the tramway. Concrete was mixed by hand using shovels, and poured into forms Drinkwater constructed.

The work was finished in time for the 1927 coho run, at a cost of $10,000.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) constructed the existing fish ladder in 1955, placing it next to the original ladder. There is a fish counter on site during the salmon run, and a video camera is set up for part of the run so people can watch the salmon on screen. An interpretive sign shows visitors how the fish use the ladder to bypass the falls. Not all of them get the point at first, however: salmon can often be seen trying to jump up the falls.

Stamp Falls is now part of a provincial park, and is an amalgamation of Stamp Falls and Money’s Pool Provincial Park. Stamp River Provincial Park was established on Dec. 20, 1940 and comprises 327 hectares. There are a number of vantage points to watch the annual salmon migration through the fish ladder, starting in late August and running into December. Up to half a million fish pass through the cement ladder on their way to spawn in the upper Stamp River as well as Great Central Lake.

Since salmon are a staple of the black bear population on Vancouver Island, watch out for bears in the provincial park.

This photo is one of nearly 24,000 in the Alberni Valley Museum’s collection. See more online at Many of the history books cited in the Look Back series are available for purchase at the AV Museum. Call 25o-720-2863 for more information.

Susie Quinn

About the Author: Susie Quinn

A journalist since 1987, I proudly serve as the Alberni Valley News editor.
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