Ross Lake water levels behind Ross Dam.

The current height of Ross Dam is 540 feet/165m. Originally called Ruby Dam, it was constructed in stages beginning in 1937. J.D. Ross, the superintendent of Seattle City Light (also credited as the “Father of City Light”), died unexpectedly in 1939 during the construction of the first stage of the dam, which was subsequently renamed in his honour. The original plans for Ross Dam were for four stages, with a completed height of 665 feet/203m creating a reservoir that would flood across the border into Canada.

Ross Dam Stage 1 Construction

Flooding across the international boundary required approval from the International Joint Commission (IJC), the Canada-US body responsible for dealing with water issues along the border between the two countries. The IJC hearing at which Seattle City Light presented its case was held during the fall of 1941. Canada was already two years into fighting World War II at this time and the US joined the war a short time later with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. For both countries, sufficient electricity for the war effort was a concern at both the local and national levels. The ruling from the IJC approving flooding to an elevation of 1725 feet/526m above sea level, the full height proposed by Seattle City Light, was handed down in January of 1942.

Despite IJC approval and concern for the war effort, Seattle City Light didn’t begin producing electricity from Ross Dam until after the end of WWII. Stage three of the dam was completed in 1949 and the first generators came online in 1952. Full pool for stage three would reach an elevation of 1602.5 feet/488.4m above sea level and flood 635 acres/257 hectares of land in British Columbia. An agreement providing compensation for the impacts on this land was reached in 1954.

A compensation agreement for the land that would be impacted by the fourth and final stage of Ross Dam wasn’t signed until 1967. This sparked the protest movement that eventually ended with the signing of the treaty in 1984 which holds the height of Ross Dam at the stage three level until at least 2065.

The stepped “concrete waffle” facing on the front of the dam was to be covered with a smooth surface joining the stages together at completion. As the fourth stage of the dam (“High Ross Dam”) was not built, the face of Ross Dam retains its unfinished dimples. Slight variations in the colour of the concrete delineate the different stages of the dam.

Photos: AJ Fedoruk and Seattle City Archives