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Boulevard Lake Dam a labour of love for company that rebuilt it

Pat Murphy, the president of PDR Contracting and Concrete Walls, says he wanted to leave a legacy project that Thunder Bay residents and visitors could enjoy for decades to come.

THUNDER BAY – Pat Murphy says he planned to open the pedestrian walkway atop the Boulevard Lake Dam at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

One eager onlooker had other ideas.

“I've been waiting a year-and-a-half for this,” the woman said, convincing Murphy opening it an hour earlier than planned wouldn't make much of a difference.

Murphy, the president of PDR Contracting and Concrete Walls,was just as eager to show off the finished project, a year-and-a-half in the making, a labour of love and a legacy project for both his company and the Thunder Bay community that will get to enjoy the end result for decades to come.

“Out of all of the projects we've done, this was probably the most satisfying,” said Murphy, a local firm who outbid several out-of-town competitors to win the right to refurbish and repair the 100-year-old dam, a project originally slated to cost $7.2 million.

The price grew slightly, to $8.5 million, when all was said and done, but still fell well short of the original $12 million estimate when the oft-delayed project was first put to tender.

“We've all worked on hydro projects in the past, but this was unique. We all wanted to put our own stamp on a project like this,” Murphy said.

The dam itself presented the company with plenty of challenges.

Originally a more simple retrofit, when they began peeling away the dam's layers, they realized they were facing a number of issues that were outside the scope of what was initially planned.

It wasn't too surprising, given the age of the Current River structure, whose creation paved the way for the formation of Boulevard Lake, a popular Thunder Bay destination and home of the Thunder Bay Canoe Club.

“The dam was in a lot worse shape that the city or the consultants realized it was,” Murphy said.

The main structure needed a lot more work than originally believed, but Murphy said that means the city and its people are getting a far superior dam.

“We had to do a whole redesign of the coffer dam,” Murphy said.

The company also incorporated the dam's past into its present and future, he added.

“You can see the old gateways in the deck,” Murphy said. “They're from 1898. We turned some of the steel into a pergola.”

The walkway includes stainless steel railings, a wider top deck for easier snow removal and the removal of obstructions blocking the view.

Wood and rocks re-purposed from the tear-down have turned into benches which populate the walk-way for pedestrians to sit and take in the view or enjoy a short rest on their walk around the lake.

“There's a lot of history up there," Murphy said.

Current River Coun. Andrew Foulds said he's thrilled with the final result.

"Well, simply put -- awesome," Foulds said recently, giving media a sneak peak at the finished project. "This is a project I've been working on for probably 13 years. I live very close to here and the last two years I've witnessed, almost on a daily basis, the changes and the improvements ... It's almost euphoric."

Murphy said the project is a shining example of the work that can be done by Northwestern Ontario companies and he's hoping it leads to other successful project bids in other parts of Ontario. The sky's the limit, he said.

“Honestly, it was a résumé builder, to show what can be done in Thunder Bay, that we do have the skill sets to do this in Northwestern Ontario,” Murphy said.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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