1898-1929 – Corporate Consolidations and Big Projects
In the 1920s, over 80 generating stations sprouted along Québec’s waterways, leading to a fivefold increase in power generation. Hundreds of electric utilities sprang up, but only a few survived and gave rise to powerful regional monopolies. In Montréal, the Montreal Light, Heat and Power Company soon eliminated all its competitors, while in the Mauricie region, the Shawinigan Water and Power Company laid the cornerstone of a vast industrial complex by harnessing the Rivière Saint-Maurice.
Founding of Shawinigan Water and Power
American promoters obtained letters patent for the Shawinigan Water and Power CompanyThis link will open a new window., enabling Boston financier J.E. Aldred. to lay the foundations of a company that would become one of the most diversified industrial empires in Québec in the first half of the 20th century. A young engineer from Boston, Julian C. Smith, was credited with the remarkable concept for developing the Rivière Saint-Maurice. This technical triumph was the keystone of Shawinigan Water and Power's financial success.
The company came up with one initiative after the other to harness the full potential of the Rivière Saint-Maurice as quickly as possible, despite its distance from the major centres where energy was consumed.
It attracted electricity-intensive industries such as pulp and paper, aluminum and chemicals to the area.
It promoted the use of electricity in the home by touring towns and villages in central Québec with a traveling all-electric kitchen.
To stimulate energy consumption, it developed a pricing system with decreasing rates for higher volume.
To speed up development in the Saint-Maurice region, it invested in other companies and diversified its operations.
It gradually extended its territory, purchasing competitors along the way and acquiring major stakes in other electric companies, such as Quebec Power and Southern Canada Power.
It exported some of the power it generated to the Montréal market. In 1903, it built North America's first 50-kV power line – a record voltage – which was carried on wooden poles over a distance of nearly 120 kilometres.
The fame of Shawinigan Water and Power soon expanded beyond the borders of Québec. In 1919, the company created the Shawinigan Engineering Company Limited to export its consulting expertise to the United States and England.
In the 1950s, SW&P developed an interest in the agricultural market as an important trend towards automation and aggregation was taking over the farming industry. The company recruited a team of francophone agronomists to promote the accelerated electrification of farms and thus make the market more lucrative.
Once considered to be the crown jewel of Shawinigan Water and Power Company’s generating facilities, Shawinigan-2 power plant is open to visitors. Come explore this one-of-a-kind site!
The development of the Rivière Saint-Maurice extended over a period of nearly 50 years. Eight power stations, notable for their architecture and for the ingenuity that went into their creation, harnessed the river's full potential: Shawinigan-1 (built in 1901 and dismantled in 1949), Shawinigan-2, La Gabelle, Grand-Mère (built in 1916 by Laurentian Power Company and acquired in 1925 by Shawinigan Water and Power), Rapide-Blanc, La Tuque, Shawinigan-3, Trenche and Beaumont. Flow in the Saint-Maurice is regulated by Gouin dam, built in 1917 by the Québec Streams Commission.
The following slide show contains images from the year 1898
Emergence of a powerful monopoly: Montreal Light, Heat and Power
The merger of the Montreal Gas Company and the Royal Electric Company was the brainchild of Herbert Samuel Holt. Holt laid the groundwork for what would become the vast industrial and financial empire of Montreal Light, Heat and Power Company (MLH&P). Faced with the immense potential for expansion offered by the electricity market, Holt succeeded in bringing together traditional competitors: gas and electricity. Arrogantly monopolistic, Montreal Light, Heat and Power consistently refused any form of collaboration with commissions of inquiry and agencies set up by the government to try to regulate the sale of electricity.
Rivière-des-Prairies and Beauharnois generating stations are some of the greatest achievements of Montreal Light, Heat and Power Consolidated. These two run-of-river power plants are open to the public and will be sure to amaze you during your next visit.
The following slide show contains images from the year 1901
At the turn of the 20th century, a strong trend toward municipal ownership of electricity distribution systems was taking shape in Ontario. On May 14, 1906, under the aegis of Adam Beck, an innovative businessman and influential politician, the Ontario Legislature passed a bill creating the Hydro Electric Power Commission of Ontario (HEPCO), or Ontario Hydro. At the outset, the organizational model was simple: electricity generation was left to the private sector, transmission was handled by the Commission, and distribution was the responsibility of the municipalities. The "Ontario Model" found supporters in Québec, where a number of towns and cities chose to place the electrical services in their territory under municipal control. In 1963, many municipalities accepted Hydro-Québec's buyout offer; the handful who kept their municipal distribution systems were Alma, Amos, Baie-Comeau, Coaticook, Joliette, Jonquière, Magog, Sherbrooke and Westmount.
A growing number of companies attempted to carve out a place for themselves in the lucrative public lighting market. More and more electric wires crossed overhead, and the Montréal cityscape grew uglier and uglier. Influenced by climate and urban aesthetics, Montréal became one of the first cities in North America to adopt a policy of undergrounding—burying power lines—a practice that improved the city's appearance and protected the power grid against bad weather.
The following slide show contains images from the year 1908
Two renowned industrialists and financiers, William Price and James Duke, launched a joint project to build a powerful hydroelectric generating station on Île Maligne, at the headwaters of the Rivière Saguenay, which would meet the needs of their own pulp and paper mills and also provide power for the aluminum smelter that had just located in the region.
Over the next 40 years, Alcan (Aluminum Company of Canada) built the Chute-à-Caron, Shipshaw, Chute-du-Diable, Chute-à-la-Savanne and Chute-des-Passes generating stations, mainly to meet its own growing energy requirements.
Development of the Gatineau, a necessity for the pulp and paper industry
At the initiative of the Canadian International Paper Co., Gatineau Power Company was formed to build and operate generating stations on the Gatineau and Ottawa rivers. Over the years, the generating facilities of Gatineau Power came to include the Corbeau, Chelsea, Rapides-Farmers and Paugan generating stations. Located in Gatineau and commissioned in 1927, Rapides-Farmers generating station is open to the public.
The following slide show contains images from the year 1926
Mammoth project on the Fleuve Saint-Laurent (St. Lawrence River)
n August 1929, Robert Oliver Sweezey. began work on a run-of-river generating station at Beauharnois on the Saint-Laurent. But the New York stock market crash on "Black Thursday," October 24, and the subsequent depression seriously impeded the realization of Sweezey's dream. Financial problems piled up. Political scandals linked to the project damaged the engineer's credibility. Then came the coup de grâce. The Ontario government refused to make good on a contract between Ontario Hydro and Beauharnois Light, Heat and Power for the purchase of a large quantity of power produced by Beauharnois generating stationThis link will open a new window.. Driven to the brink of bankruptcy, Sweezey had no choice but to accept Herbert Holt's takeover offer. Holt got a bargain that reinforced Montreal Light, Heat and Power's supremacy in the Montréal electricity market.
Beauharnois Generating Station
The Beauharnois project was mind-boggling in size. It received worldwide press and was frequently compared to the building of the Panama Canal. The comparison was a natural one, since the headrace canal is also a strategic component of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The generating station is remarkable in a number of respects.
Dredging of the headrace—one kilometre wide, 24 kilometres long and an average of 10 metres deep—required more earthwork than the building of the Panama Canal.
The generating station is located close to the Montréal, Ontario and United States markets. This, from the outset, gave it potential beyond the local market. In fact, the financial arrangements put together by Sweezey to make his dream a reality were based on two contracts to sell the electricity generated: one with Ontario Hydro and the other with Montreal Light, Heat and Power.
Hydro-Québec's 1961 commissioning of the last of the station's 36 generating units marked the end of more than 30 years of construction. At that time, Beauharnois was considered the most powerful generating station in Canada; even today, it is one of the largest run-of-river plants in the world.
The Art Deco style of the powerhouse gives it an unusually elegant appearance, and this character has been carefully preserved, even after major renovations in the 1990s. It has been classified as a national historic site.
Power and elegance: the project is stunning in its size.
You can visit this generating station with its Art Deco styling free of charge.
The following slide show contains images from the year 1929