Cleveland Dam

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Cleveland Dam
A spillway of the Cleveland Dam following significant rainfall
LocationNorth Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Construction began1951
Opening date1954
Dam and spillways
ImpoundsCapilano River
Height (foundation)91 metres (299 ft)

The Cleveland Dam is a 91-metre high (299 ft)[1] concrete dam at the head of the Capilano River in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada that holds back Capilano Lake, also known as Capilano reservoir. Part of the Capilano River Regional Park, it is not used for generating hydroelectricity, but rather for storing a portion of the Lower Mainland's drinking water.[2] Construction was started in 1951 and completed in 1954.

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 Cleveland Dam had several failures of the drum gate, causing water to be uncontrollably released to Capilano River running through Capilano River Regional Park. Unlike the BC Hydro dams in British Columbia, Cleveland Dam operated by Greater Vancouver Regional District (current Metro Vancouver) does not have a warning alarm system, although the dam is inside a popular park close to a built-up area.[3]

In 1975, a nine-year-old girl was killed by a surge of water released from the dam.[3] The area had no warning signs or alarm at the time. Signs were later added to warn visitors of the potential hazards of the dam.[3]

In 2001, four fishermen were trapped in the river when the water level surged without a warning after the spillway's drum gate inadvertently dropped open.[3] WorkSafeBC issued several orders to reduce the risk to workers and the public, including but not limited to: "spillway gate lockout, access to the riverway by workers where lockout is not required, mancheck systems, emergency rescue and evacuation, public warning signage, and warning alarms".[3] However, some of the orders were ignored and public-facing warning alarms were never installed.[3]

On October 1, 2020, the dam's drum gate opened unexpectedly during maintenance, causing water to gush out onto Capilano River. The torrent of water killed one person and trapped several park goers within Capilano River Regional Park.[4] While many managed to escape by themselves, four people had to be rescued and at least one person is still missing.[5] The Capilano River's water level rapidly increased by 3.58 metres (11.7 ft), pushing 413 cubic metres (109,000 US gal) of water per second at its recorded peak.[4] These flow rates normally only occur in the rain season.

The anglers at the river edge had no warning except the sound of rushing water as the dam has no public alarm system to warn of a water surge. The popular recreation site had many people scrambling to get out of the way while others in safe areas witnessed their rush to escape.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

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.[7]


See also[edit]

Coordinates: 49°21′37″N 123°06′39″W / 49.36041°N 123.11075°W / 49.36041; -123.11075

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Singh, Neil; Douglas, Ryan; Ahlfield, Steve (8 December 2005). "The case of Cleveland Dam". Water Power & Dam Construction.
  2. ^ "Water Quality Report 2012" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-03-27. Retrieved 2014-03-27.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Woodward, Jon (2020-10-06). "Order to improve safety at Cleveland Dam apparently ignored, despite several other failures". CTV News. Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  4. ^ a b "Witness to fatal torrent released from B.C. dam recounts moment 'all hell broke loose'". CBC News. 2020-10-01. Retrieved 2020-10-02.
  5. ^ Little, Simon (2020-10-01). "Crews search for missing person after dam opened during maintenance, flooding Capilano River". Global News. Retrieved 2020-10-02.
  6. ^ Luymes, Glenda (3 October 2020). "Search continues Saturday; one man still unaccounted for after Capilano dam releases surge of water". Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 2020-10-04.
  7. ^ "Shoot: The Man in the High Castle Films Luke Kleintank & Alexa Davalos at North Vancouver's Cleveland Dam". Retrieved 31 July 2016.