The dam is named after engineer Ernest Albert Cleveland who envisioned the need for the proper maintenance of a pristine and efficient water supply as well as sustainable use of water resources. He served as the first chief commissioner of the Greater Vancouver Water District from 1926 until his death in 1952.
The dam is prominently featured in the Smallville episode "Leech," where Clark Kent loses his powers via a lightning strike while attempting to save a classmate from jumping from the dam, as well as in the episode "Dichotic" in the second season. It is also featured in the second season episode of the series Supernatural, titled "Simon Said". A Cadillac goes over the dam into the Capilano River in the film The 6th Day. The dam is also a central location in the film Bad Girls from Valley High. The dam and reservoir were also used in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The Amazon TV series The Man in the High Castle features the dam in several scenes during the first season of the show as a meeting location near Canon City, within the neutral zone.