Swift River unveils plans for new power plant at North Bala Falls

Portage part of company’s plan for Bala

MUSKOKA LAKES — The company behind the hydro project at Bala Falls has now released illustrations of its plant — and they include a park and portage.

“This project is really about restoration and modernization,” said Frank Belerique, vice-president of Swift River Energy Ltd., in a media release. “There was already a power plant here from 1924 to 1972. Our new power plant is being built on the same site.”

The old power plant was a concrete industrial structure. The new power plant is designed to be transparent, with muted brick exteriors and large windows that allow visitors to see clean electricity being generated, according to the company.

“We really tried to incorporate local architecture into the design,” said Belerique.

Under the guidance of a design committee made up of members from the public, the new building incorporates sloped roofs and overhangs often found in Muskoka architecture.

A new observation deck is being created, allowing for unobstructed views of the Moon River and the falls. The facility will also have interactive features, including a digital display showing how much renewable energy the plant is producing for the area. From the viewing deck, the public can see the gates that regulate the water flow. Each viewport is accompanied by an interpretive panel.

Bala is also getting a new park. The designated green space known as Portage Landing is being rehabilitated.

Jane Burgess, an architect who specializes in heritage preservation, was retained to ensure heritage features of Portage Landing are preserved. The traditional public uses are all being restored, such as landing and launching of canoes, picnicking and other recreational uses.

“The rocky shoreline and long, gently-sloping flat rocks traditionally used to launch canoes will remain untouched,” said Burgess.

“My aim was to create something that will enhance the Bala Falls experience and provide an improved pedestrian connection between the two parts of the community,” said Karl Stevens, the project’s lead architect. Stevens, an architect with a master’s degree in urban design from Harvard University, has keen interest in the interface between a building, its site and the community surrounding it.

“I have designed the building as a friendly object, inviting the public to walk all around the building and observe the electricity being produced. Ultimately, the building will become an added attraction for tourists and residents alike,” said Stevens.

“We have to act locally and think globally,” he continued. “Every time you turn on that light, the power is coming from a gas power plant, a nuclear power plant, or it can come from renewable energy … There is nothing more Canadian, more safe, more reliable than hydro power. Ontario has been doing it for decades.”