Public Power and Ontario Hydro

At the beginning of the 1900’s Canadian interest in the generation of hydro-electric power began to increase as the supply of wood, which had once provided the fuel for Ontario factories, became scarce. Coal was being shipped in from Alberta and the United States to keep up with the demand of coal burning plants. This proved to be a costly endeavor. Prices for the commodity skyrocketed when coal miners in the United States went on strike, and Ontario was forced to get its coal from Wales.

The Toronto Electric Power Company had a monopoly on the cities supply of electricity and they were over charging the local consumers for this service. This led to an atmosphere in which the consumers were distrustful of the power company, and there was soon an outcry for public ownership of Ontario’s hydro-electricity transmission. On the 9th of June in 1902 the Ontario Hydro Commission was formed. This commission would have the power to arrange for the transmission of electric power to towns that wanted it.

Meetings were held in Berlin, (now Kitchener) about building a transmission line from Niagara to Ontario towns that wanted hydro-electric power at a fair cost. The Mayor of London Adam Beck spoke out at this meeting in which he made his commitment to the cause of public ownership of power in Ontario.
The Ontario Provincial elections were held in 1905 and the issue of private and public ownership became a highly debated topic during this time. The Conservative party leader James Whitney believed that the power drawn from Niagara should be the property of Canadians and that the government should ensure that Canadians had power for a fair cost. The Conservatives went on to win this election, and upon taking office Whitney decaled that no further private franchises would be granted for the generation of power at Niagara Falls. Whitney appointed Beck as the chairman of the Ontario Hydro Electric Power Commission, and he held this position until his death in 1925.

The first project that the Commission undertook was to build a transmission line from Niagara Falls to Toronto. Work began on this project on November of 1908, and was completed in October of 1910. The town of Berlin held a “switching on” ceremony in October which would be the first of many to come for other Ontario towns. By 1914 the Commission was supplying over 100 municipalities with power, but the demand of power was growing and Beck realized he would have to build a publicly owned generating plant in order to keep up with the increasing demand.