Mattawa Museum wants your memories of Otto Holden Dam

·3 min read

The Mattawa Museum is planning an exhibit about the Otto Holden Dam. This will be the first exhibit of the museum’s season, set to open on May 18 – International Museum Day. However, if everything is not in place at that time, the show will open further into the year.

Curator Judy Toupin said the project is well underway, but more photographs from residents would add to the exhibit. Do you have any photos of the dam the museum could use? If so, Toupin wants to hear from you.

“It’s a very large part of our community and history,” Toupin said of the dam, but the museum has few items pertaining to the dam in its archive. “Thousands of people worked up there, and if they didn’t work at the dam, they were in support services around the dam.”

For instance, the dam project “had its own fire department, but all of those guys were local,” she said. “My dad drove a gravel truck, and I had an aunt who worked in the canteen.”

She’s looking for photographs that documents the building of the dam and how life was at the camp during the construction. The Otto Holden Dam, named after Dr. Otto Holden, who was with Ontario Hydro at the time of construction, went into service in 1952, producing 243-megawatts from the flowing waters of the Ottawa River.

Just over 3,000 acres of land were cleared to build the generating station, and over 50 kilometers of Canadian Pacific Railway line were relocated. Over 2.7 million tonnes of rock and soil were excavated, and the dam itself was formed from 300,000 cubic meters of concrete.

The dam is owned and operated by Ontario Power Generation (OPG), which refers to the Otto Holden Dam as a “hydroelectric workhorse.” The dam celebrated its 70th year of service last June.

See: Mattawa's Otto Holden dam celebrates 70th birthday

“A small colony” of 23 houses was built in Mattawa to accommodate staff, and a 4.8-kilometre highway was built to connect the colony to the station, OPG noted. Many of those houses still stand today.

The OPG has been helpful to the museum as Toupin has prepared this exhibit. It has provided archival footage and provided funds for the cause. “We would like to thank OPG for their support with archival footage and funds to help offset exhibit costs,” Toupin said.

“A lot of us in town would have a relative that worked in some capacity up there,” and Toupin would like to see those photographs, especially those detailing life in the work village by the dam. “I want the personal character of our community reflected in the audio-visual portion of the exhibit.”

“It’s going to be beautiful.”

You can contact Toupin via email at

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,