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The Origin of Hydroelectric Production in Canada

The commissioning of the first hydropower generating station in the United States by Thomas Edison in 1882 marked the beginning of an era of hydroelectricity in North America. Canada soon joined the movement. Indeed, in 1885, a first hydropower generating station became operational near Montmorency Falls to provide lighting to the city of Québec. Three years later, a hydropower generating station was built in Sherbrooke. In 1897, the Saint-Narcisse generating station provided power to the city of Trois-Rivières. At the time, the 27-kilometer transmission line was the longest in the entire British Empire.

In Montréal, in 1892, the first hydropower generating station was built on the Lachine Canal. In 1901, businessmen founded Montreal Light, Heat and Power. Through purchases and company mergers, it quickly became the sole distributor of electricity in the city. Elsewhere, Shawinigan Water and Power, founded in 1898, quickly took control of the Mauricie region and by 1903 was delivering electricity to the Montréal region. For many years, these two companies would remain the most important players in the electrical industry in Quebec.

Contrary to Quebec, where private electricity companies reigned as lords and masters at the onset of the 20th century, the Government of Ontario quickly elected to entrust the electrical industry to government-controlled provincial and municipal agencies. The champion of this policy, Conservative MP Adam Beck, in 1906 became the first president of what would become Hydro Ontario. In the history of hydroelectricity in Ontario, one should also remember the name of Thomas Ahearn, nicknamed Electricity Ahearn. At the turn of the 1880s, he distinguished himself by inventing a dozen electrical devices. In 1881, he lit the streets of Ottawa with 65 electric light bulbs and then repeated the experience with the Canadian Parliament on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the reign of Queen Victoria in 1887.

Development in the rest of Canada was not forestalled for too long. The Minnedosa River Plant, the first hydropower generating station in Manitoba, was completed in 1900. The Buntzen Lake Plant in north-eastern Vancouver began production in 1903. New Brunswick built its first hydropower generating station on the Meduxnekeag River in 1904. Then, five years later, Calgary Power was founded in Alberta. Today, this company is known as TransAlta and provides electricity to two-thirds of Alberta.