Submitted by Brian Roulston
On the corner of Wellington and Ferrie streets is a mural of Nikola Tesla that was painted by local artist Lester Coloma. The mural of the Serbian-American inventor is on the north and west walls of the former Gold Book Business Directory Building. This building was also once part of the Sawyer-Massey Agricultural Plant in the late 1890’s.
Hamilton was once known as the ‘Electric City’ because it was the first city in Canada to receive widespread electric power. It would be 13 years before Toronto would be lit up. Both cities would use the Decew I (No.1) Power Generating Plant aka The Power Glen Plant.
In 1894 John Patterson, who would later be part of a group known as the 5 Johns, visited the Edward Dean Adams Power Plant in Niagara Falls, New York. He was developing the Hamilton Electric Railway and was looking for cheaper hydroelectric power.
Patterson was interested in bringing power from New York state to Hamilton using the Edward Adams Plant. However, the Americans weren’t interested in selling hydro to Canada even at double the rates. Also, the Hamilton group was not able to secure water rights on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Those rights were given exclusively to The Dean Adams Power Plant owners in the U.S.
Hamilton had a population of about 51,000 people in 1896, and needed cheaper more sustainable power to attract industry, jobs, prestige and political clout to the city. Necessity contributed to the formation of the Cataract Power Plant Company on July 9thof that year by the ‘Five Johns’, John Patterson, John Gibson, John Dickenson, John Moodie Sr. and John Southerland. Cataract Power was formed with capital stock of $99,000 ($3,038,322.00 in today’s dollars) The Company faced several challenges. It was then believed to be impossible to send hydroelectricity over long distances. That made it difficult to secure financing as well. The search was on for another suitable place with an equivalent drop. Decew Falls, located two miles south of St. Catharines, beside what is now Brock University, was chosen as the site for the Decew I Power Generating Station.
The problem with Direct Current was the loss of power over great distances. Tesla’s system solved this loss with his Alternating Current methods. Most all appliances in your home today uses Tesla’s Alternating current. Electronic circuits use Direct Current.
It is worth noting that the only record that Nikola Tesla had of any involvement with bringing hydro from Decew Falls to Hamilton was that he reviewed the plans and approved them.
Cataract Power was already supplying electricity to both industry and homes on a much smaller scale with a steam-generating plant built in Hamilton’s North End at 366 Victoria Avenue in 1896. A single large building was built for this purpose. In 1898 the plant was converted into the original substation for power arriving from Decew Falls 56 km (35 miles) away. Another section would be added onto the existing Victoria Avenue building in 1899 and then again in 1907. This building is still occupied and being used for other activities.
In 1897 Westinghouse started construction on the Decew Falls powerhouse.
On August 26th, 1898, the power was turned on in Hamilton for the worlds second longest transmission line.
The ‘Official’ opening of the Decew I Power Generating Station took place on November 12, 1898 followed by a big celebration.
For several years after the City of Hamilton promoted in the city’s promotional booklets three key areas to lure businesses and heavy industry to the city:
·Hamilton was “Home of the Manufacturer.”
·Had unrivalled Shipping Facilities
·and was home to the “Cheapest Power in Canada.”
Special thanks to Vic Djurdjevic President of the Nikola Tesla Education Corporation.