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Eight examples of Alberta’s engineering expertise around the world

Have Skills, Will Travel

Mar 1, 2013

Engineers have been quite literally responsible for building this province and its most important landmarks, from elegant buildings like the new Children’s Hospital in Calgary to every manner of energy infrastructure in the oil sands. But their expertise often takes them outside the province’s borders, where they contribute to and collaborate on some of the world’s most interesting – and sometimes vexing – engineering projects. Here are just a few of their finer achievements.

Where: Väröbacka, Sweden
Who: Ready Engineering


Retrofitting an old nuclear reactor is a touchy job at the best of times, particularly in a country that depends critically on the power it produces, but Ready Engineering was up to the task. The Spruce Grove firm devoted more than 22,000 hours of labour to make sure everything went smoothly with the replacement of Unit 2’s safety system and an assortment of other control systems, assisting with everything from early stages of demolition to operational acceptance testing and breaker closing. The company won a 2012 Showcase Award from the Consulting Engineers of Alberta for its work.

Where: Chile
Who: Magna IV


The Escondida Ore Access project is a US$544-million optimization of BHP Billiton’s Escondida copper mine in Chile. Escondida is the world’s largest copper mine, and the project will relocate the mine’s primary crusher and conveying system, allowing access to more high-grade ore. Production is expected to increase by 50 per cent, reaching 1.3 million tonnes of copper per year by 2015. Edmonton-based Magna IV Engineering participated in the design for the installation of the new conveyor systems.

Where: Siberia
Who: EBA Engineering Consultants


There’s cold, and then there’s Siberia. That’s what people with EBA Engineering Consultants had to contend with when they built a floating ice platform on Lake El’gygytgyn in the winter of 2008 and “spring” of 2009. The lake, which was created by a meteoroid strike that happened around 3.6 million years ago and is covered in ice nine months of the year, offers scientists a unique opportunity to study climate change. It wasn’t easy, as they had to contend with high winds, snow storms and dense snowpack in order to build the 7.5-kilometre road out to the centre of the lake and erect the stable drilling platform needed to extract the samples.

Where: Arizona
Who: Stantec


You might not think that people living in Arizona would have to contend with damaging floods – the region is, after all, a desert – but those who live adjacent to the Gila River watershed have dealt with several in recent years. The El Rio Watercourse Master Plan project is an attempt to limit those incidents while harnessing the river’s potential to deliver water to a state that’s desperately in need of it. And while the engineering work was first-rate, so too was the consultation process that involved local residents and plenty of public participation. As such, it’s widely viewed as a model for other rivers in the U.S.

Where: Turkmenistan, Poland, Russia, China, Iran, Kazakhstan, Brazil
Who: Thermo Design


Thermo Design, an Edmonton-based company that specializes in selling into former Soviet markets, has built so-called “turnkey” plants for a variety of countries in that part of the world. The plants, which do everything from treating oil to sweetening natural gas and processing other hydrocarbons, are designed, built, shop-tested and transported to the site by Thermo Design, where they are performance-tested and the people who will work with them trained accordingly. Some of its plants, which are located in exotic places like Krasnovodsk, Turkmenistan, Tarnow, Poland and Yakutsk, Russia, have been in operation for more than 20 years.

What: ASDIC (The First Sonar)
Where: Alberta
Who: Robert Boyle

Following a series of devastating attacks by German submarines on Allied ships during the First World War, Robert Boyle was called upon by the British Royal Navy’s Board of Invention and Research to use his expertise in acoustics to find a way to detect submarines underwater. At the time, he was the head of the University of Alberta’s physics department. Working with his team of researchers, Boyle spearheaded an effort to produce an “ultrasonic quartz transducer” that could be fitted to a ship, which is widely recognized as the first use of sonar in warfare. Unfortunately, Boyle did not patent the transducer, publish any research papers or continue his work with the technology after the war, so he received little credit for the accomplishment at the time.

Canadian Historical Projects

Where: P.E.I.
Who: Stantec


It’s not quite the eighth wonder of the world, but the Confederation Bridge that connects Prince Edward Island to New Brunswick was named one of the top 10 North American infrastructure projects of the last 75 years by the International Right of Way Association. The bridge, which consists of three separate parts that amount to 12.9 kilometres of deck in total, opened to drivers in the spring of 1997 at a cost of $1 billion. Stantec engineers incorporated a variety of safety measures in its design, from curves that keep drivers alert to bridge deck material that minimizes vehicle spray in wet weather and barrier walls that both minimize distractions and serve as a windbreak.

Where: N.W.T.
Who: Associated Engineering


The Deh Cho Bridge, which officially opened last November, is a truly Canadian engineering achievement. It stretches over one full kilometer and will give northerners access to a safe and reliable road that will allow them to cross the Mackenzie River no matter the season or the weather. That wasn’t the case with the Merv Hardie ferry, which operated in the summer, and the Mackenzie River ice crossing, which prevailed during the winter. Both were prone to costly – and often lengthy – disruptions that took place during the winter freeze-up and the spring breakup. For the next 75 years, at the very least, northerners won’t have to worry about that.

What: High Level Bridge
Where: Lethbridge
Who: CP Rail

The High Level Bridge officially opened in November of 1909 in Lethbridge as a diversion to the Crowsnest Pass route to Fort Macleod and was heralded as “one of the wonders of the world” at the time. At 5,327 feet long and 314 feet high, it remains the longest-highest viaduct in the world and eliminated the need for 20 other wooden bridges that were used before it. The completion of the bridge, which crosses the Oldman River and the Indian Battle Park, was declared a “National Historic Event” by the federal government in 2005. This impressive structure cost $1,334,525 to build and is remarkably still in use today.

What: Ghost Dam
Where: Cochrane
Who: TransAlta (then Calgary Power)

The construction of the Ghost plant near Cochrane back in 1929 more than doubled the amount of power that TransAlta, then Calgary Power Ltd., was able to generate at the time. When it first came on-stream it generated 28 megawatts of power, while the company now churns out more than 8,000 megawatts. The water in the Ghost Reservoir is mainly used for generating electricity during peak demand times, introducing hydro power within minutes when called upon. It’s one of four TransAlta hydro plants located on the Bow Mainstream System. The Ghost plant is named after a native legend about a wild, white horse that ran through the foothills and could never be caught.

What: Strathcona Water Treatment Plant
Where: Strathcona County
Who: William Muir Edwards

William Muir Edwards, the first professor of mathematics and engineering at the University of Alberta, was behind a historic redesign of Strathcona’s water treatment plant in the early 1900s. That effort is credited with eliminating the cause of the 1911 typhoid epidemic in the region. The Ottawa, Ontario, native went on to be named a Dominion Land Surveyor in 1913 and then an Alberta Land Surveyor shortly thereafter. He died of influenza in 1918 while working as a volunteer nurse at an emergency hospital during the Spanish flu pandemic, which claimed the lives of about 25 million people across the globe.

What: Brooks Aqueduct
Where: Brooks
Who: CP Rail

The Canadian Pacific Railway’s irrigation division took engineering design and concrete technology to new levels with the construction of the Brooks Aqueduct in 1914. It was one of the two major projects, along with the Bassano Dam, needed to create what is known today as the Eastern Irrigation District. Construction began in 1912 and was completed two years later, with irrigation water running through it by 1915. The structure extends across a 3.2 kilometre valley at a maximum height of 18 metres and had a capacity of 70 cubic metres per second. Though it was only in use until 1979, the Brooks Aqueduct still stands as a monument to the region’s pioneers and was declared a National Historic Site in 1983.


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