Aerial view of the Shawinigan hydroelectric complex and the Cité de l’énergie
A hydropower complex to take you back in time
Built in 1910 on the Rivière Saint-Maurice falls, I’m Hydro-Québec’s oldest operating generating station. For a long time, I was the most powerful hydropower generating station in North America. Given my advanced age, that title was taken from me decades ago, but I still impress with my beauty and original equipment. For example, I work with eight generating units, some of which still have a horizontal axis!
The tour of the historical complex begins with an exploration of the inside of the Northern Aluminum Company (N.A.C.) power plant, which is located next to me. Commissioned in 1901, it now welcomes the public in a vast exhibition hall. It houses a collection of fascinating heritage industrial machines, including the original turbines used during the construction of La Loutre dam.
Hydro‑Québec is a founding partner, of the Cité de l’énergie, a one‑of‑a‑kind museum complex. It houses a multitude of exhibitions and presents activities that touch on history and science. Here, you’ll get to relive the industrial history of Shawinigan and its region.
Be sure to take the elevator to the top of the lookout tower, an old 115‑metre tower that’s as tall as a 38‑story building. The view is breathtaking!
A sneak peek!
Have a look at these pictures for a hint of what your guided tour has in store for you!
Did you know?
Two phases, two technologies
Built in two phases, I’m a monument to the technological advances of the time. I work with eight generating units, five of which have a horizontal axis and three, a vertical one. The workers here must be versatile. They need knowledge dating back to the beginning of the last century!
I can say without pretense that I’m one of Canada’s top 25 engineering achievements of the 20th century.
The name “Shawinigan” is of Indigenous origin. The Atikamekw nation used the Rivière Saint‑Maurice to travel by canoe for hundreds of years. In Atikamekw, shawinigan means “portage on the crest.”
A strong flow
In the old N.A.C. penstocks, the water flow rate was 30,000 litres per second, equivalent to the contents of an 18-foot pool or 85,000 cans of pop.
The equivalent of Switzerland
The Saint‑Maurice’s watershed covers over more than 40,000 km2. That’s the equivalent of the area of Switzerland! A watershed is a geographical area bounded by ridges that carry rainwater to one place.
Some images are from the Hydro‑Québec Archives.
You may know that I was once considered the flagship of the Shawinigan Water and Power Company’s hydropower fleet. Today, I can boast that I’m the oldest hydropower generating station in Québec still in operation. Here are some milestones in my history.
1879: Demonstration of the arc lamp in Montréal
1897: Opening of the Shawinigan Water and Power Company
At the end of the 19th century, Bostonians John Edward Aldred and John Joyce bought the Shawinigan waterfalls on the Rivière Saint‑Maurice from the Québec government for $50,000, the equivalent of approximately $2,000,000 in today’s dollars. In 1897, the two Americans founded what would become one of the greatest industrial empires of the time, the Shawinigan Water and Power Company (the “SW&P”).
1899–1901: Construction and commissioning of the N.A.C. power plant
With the agreement of SW&P, the N.A.C., the Canadian subsidiary of the U.S.‑based Pittsburgh Reduction Company (ancestor of Alcoa – Aluminum Company of America), built a generating station to supply its aluminum smelters with electricity. It was thanks to the N.A.C. power plant that the first aluminum ingot was cast in Canada on October 23, 1901. In 1925, the N.A.C. became Aluminum of Canada or Alcan (purchased in 2007 by the Anglo‑Australian company Rio Tinto).
1910–1911: My construction
Inaugurated in 1901, Shawinigan‑1 generating station was to be expanded shortly thereafter to meet the growing demand for electricity. The SW&P commissioned me in 1911. In 1948, Shawinigan‑3 generating station began operations. The increasingly obsolete Shawinigan‑1 generating station was demolished in 1950, making me the oldest station in Hydro‑Québec’s generating fleet still in operation.
1914–1918: World War I
1922–1929: My expansion
Encouraged by the increase in energy demand, SW&P carried out an expansion project to increase my capacity and added vertical‑axis generating units, a novelty at the time. I’m the only generating station in Hydro‑Québec’s generating fleet to have generating units with both vertical and horizontal axes.
1929: Stock market crash and beginning of the economic crisis
1939–1945: World War II
1960: Beginning of the Quiet Revolution in Québec
2000: Decommissioning of my control room
My control room, which had been in service since 1911, ceased operations in the year 2000. Controls were then grouped with those of one of Hydro‑Québec’s telecontrol centers to make generation equipment more flexible. A modern control room has been set up to operate the equipment should there be a problem or an emergency.
It’s well worth the trip!
Don’t take our word for it: this is what the people who visited the generating station with our guides had to say.
A must-see to understand Québec and its great capacity for innovation, as well as its regions and their place in history.
It’s the only place where we can see generating units with a horizontal axis.
It was really well organized. Interesting experiences for everyone, children and adults alike!
Reservations and practical information
Visitors aged 18 and over must present official photo ID.
(Accepted ID: health insurance card, driver’s license or passport)
At a glance
The tour of the Shawinigan-2 and N.A.C. generating stations is offered as part of the visit of the Cité de l’énergie’s historic sector. Admission fees apply to enter the Cité de l’énergie.
Length of tour
About 90 minutes
Tours start at set times. We recommend that you arrive 15 minutes in advance.
From mid-June to the end of September
Public tour times
Tours start every 30 minutes, from 10:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Schedule for groups
We welcome groups year-round.
Reservations required, subject to availability.
Reservations are required and must be made with the Cité de l’énergie’s reservation system. Tours are offered based on availability.
Shawinigan-2 Generating Station
The Cité de l’énergie
1000, av. Melville
Shawinigan (Québec) G9N 6T9
The tour of the generating stations is on foot and includes some stairs. There are also elevators on site. It is partially accessible to people with reduced mobility.
The tour of the generating station and the N.A.C is accessible or partially accessible to people with reduced mobility.
The tour offers one or more services for people with impaired vision.
The tour offers one or more services for people with impaired hearing.
The tour is suitable for adults and school‑age children but is not recommended for children under the age of two, for safety reasons.
Pacemakers and other medical implants
Electric and/or magnetic fields may disrupt operation of pacemakers, implantable automatic defibrillators and processors in cochlear implants. As a precaution, visitors with these types of medical implants may not participate in the part of the tour that takes place inside the generating station.
Those with a neurostimulator must temporarily stop the device before entering the generating station. If they are unable to stop the device, they are advised not to enter.
For regular tours, there is no risk of interference for insulin pumps.
What to wear
We recommend that visitors wear flat, closed‑toe shoes inside the generating station. Part of the tour takes place outdoors, so dress accordingly!
Free parking at the Cité de l’énergie
Electric vehicle charging stations
Your tour begins at the Cité de l’énergie in Shawinigan. Transportation to the historic hydropower sector is included.
For additional information
Book your tour!
The tour of the Shawinigan-2 and N.A.C. generating stations is offered as part of the visit of the Cité de l’énergie’s historic sector.
Admission fees apply to enter the Cité de l’énergie.
Shawinigan‑2 Generating Station and Cité de l’énergie
What should I expect at the guided tour?
The first part of the tour takes place in the former N.A.C. (Northern Aluminum Company) generating station, one of Canada’s first hydroelectric generating stations, which Hydro‑Québec has restored and transformed into an interpretation center.
This includes the following attractions:
the generating station’s original penstock
Hydro‑Québec’s industrial exhibition, featuring real turbine parts dating from the early 20th century
a presentation of experiments on electricity
The second part takes place in Shawinigan‑2 generating station. Visitors can observe, among other things, 100‑year‑old generating units still in use by Hydro‑Québec.
Outdoors, visitors are invited to explore the remains of two old generating stations – Shawinigan‑1 and Alcan‑16 – and see how water is directed to the generating stations.
The N.A.C. and Shawinigan‑2 generating stations are part of the Cité de l’énergie, a unique museum complex that co‑founded by Hydro‑Québec.
When are the tours?
During the summer, there are lots of options: 11:45 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 12:45 p.m., 1:15 p.m., 1:45 p.m., 2:45 p.m., 3:15 p.m., 3:45 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. The tours are generally given in French, for an English tour please call us in advance.
During the rest of the year, visits for school groups and other groups (15 or more people) can be arranged based on availability.
How long is the guided tour?
The tour lasts 90 minutes: 60 minutes in the interpretation center located in the old generating station, and 30 minutes in Shawinigan‑2 generating station.
Why can't we visit Shawinigan‑3 generating station?
The location of Shawinigan‑3 generating station is difficult to access due to its high elevation.
Visitors can see it from the Hydro‑Québec lookout tower at the Cité de l’énergie.
Does the entire tour take place indoors?
No. Approximately one third of the tour takes place outside.
In case of rain, make sure to dress appropriately and bring an umbrella.
Note: Some places outside do not offer much shade. In case of a heat wave, dress accordingly and bring water to stay hydrated.
How far do you have to walk during the tour?
The first part of the tour in the interpretation center requires walking approximately 200 metres. There is a stop if you need to sit.
For the second part, at Shawinigan‑2 generating station, there is an approximately 50‑metre walk. There are stops where visitors must remain standing.
You must also walk approximately 350 metres outside, between the N.A.C generating station and Shawinigan‑2 generating station, and between the generating station and the bus stop.
There are also two flights of stairs to climb.
Why can’t we visit Shawinigan‑2 generating station free of charge, like at other Hydro‑Québec facilities?
Tours at Shawinigan‑2 generating station are managed by Cité de l’énergie, a unique museum complex that co‑founded by Hydro‑Québec.
There are entrance fees for the entire site since Cité de l’énergie provides transportation to the generating station.
Note: Visitors are not allowed to go directly to Shawinigan‑2 generating station.
What topics does the tour cover?
Due to the rich built heritage of the Shawinigan hydroelectric complex, the tour focuses on the history of hydroelectricity (heritage tourism).
The Hydro‑Québec industrial exhibition, presented in the interpretation center, includes a demonstration of how we harness the force of water and transform it into electrical energy.
Some experiments help students and young visitors learn about the effects of electricity.
Is the tour accessible to people with reduced mobility?
The tour is partially accessible to people with reduced mobility.
The two buildings we visit during the tour have elevators. However, the tour is relatively long and takes place entirely on foot. It includes only one stop where people can sit to see experiments. The outdoor portion involves some inclines.
Are wheelchairs available for visitors with reduced mobility?
The Cité de l’énergie has several wheelchairs available, as well as a bus with a wheelchair lift.
Is the tour suitable for young children?
No, the tour is not suitable for small children. It is suitable for children of school age. For safety reasons, children under 2 are advised not to participate in the tour.
The tour includes a significant amount of walking and focuses on historical topics, generating station operations and some electricity concepts, which may not be appropriate for young children.
Is there a significant amount of walking during the tour?
Yes. You must walk during the entire tour. There is a 15‑minute stop to view experiments. There are also two flights of stairs.
What type of clothing should you wear?
Flat, closed-toe shoes are required.
In case of rain, make sure to dress appropriately clothing and bring an umbrella.
Why do I need to show identification to access the facilities?
This is a requirement of Hydro‑Québec’s corporate security management team to protect personnel, visitors and equipment.
Visitors aged 18 and over must present identification with a photo (driver’s licence, health insurance card, national ID card or passport) before they can tour Shawinigan‑2 generating station.
Are you allowed to take photos in Shawinigan‑2 generating station?
No. For safety reasons, it is prohibited to bring a camera or any other electronic device (cell phone, tablet, MP3 player, portable music player or computer) into the generating station.
However, you are permitted to take photos in the interpretation center (old N.A.C. generating station) and outside. People who wish to take a photo with their guide must ask for permission.
Visitors must leave their devices in a locked locker provided free of charge.
Are you allowed to bring a handbag or backpack into Shawinigan‑2 generating station?
No. Visitors must leave their personal belongings (purse, backpack, cell phone, bags, etc.) in a locked locker provided free of charge.
However, you are permitted to take photos in the interpretation center (old N.A.C. generating station) and outside.
Are water bottles allowed in Shawinigan‑2 generating station?
Yes. Visitors can bring a bottle of water into the generating station and the interpretation center (old N.A.C. generating station), but they must carry it at all times.
We recommend staying well hydrated, especially in the summer, as part of the tour takes place outside.
Can people with pacemakers visit Shawinigan‑2 generating station?
No. The electromagnetic fields in power plants may disrupt pacemaker operation. As a precaution, visitors with pacemakers may not participate in the part of the tour that takes place in the generating station. They are invited to participate in an outdoor presentation given by a guide instead.
At the interpretation center (old N.A.C. generating station), these people are prohibited from viewing the Van de Graaf electrostatic generator. Pacemakers are not a problem for the rest of the tour.
Are strollers or baby carriers allowed in the generating station?
For safety reasons, it is prohibited to bring a stroller or baby carrier into Shawinigan‑2 generating station.
At the interpretation centre (old N.A.C. generating station), strollers and baby carriers are discouraged, because some passageways are narrow.
Is there a restaurant or cafeteria on site?
No. There are no restaurants, cafeterias or vending machines at Shawinigan‑2 generating station or the interpretation center (old N.A.C. generating station).
However, visitors can purchase food at the Cité de l’énergie main pavilion.
Are there public washrooms on site?
Yes. There are washrooms for men and women in the interpretation center (old N.A.C. generating station).
At Shawinigan‑2 generating station, washrooms are available to children only in the case of an emergency.
Shawinigan-2 thermal generating station – Technical specification