THE AMY ST STEAM PLANT

WINNIPEG'S ERA OF STEAM HEAT

by George Siamandas

 

The Amt St Steam Plant was built indirectly. On May 10, 1922 a cyclone hit Winnipeg destroying most of the hydro lines, leaving 180,000 Winnipeggers in the dark. To have a back up for this kind of future risk, Winnipeg Hydro decided to build a standby emergency plant. They would create electricity using boilers creating steam under pressure. The City's of Winnipeg's Chicago designers suggested that since steam heat was seen as the wave of the future, and to overcome high costs of building just the back up function, that it be coupled it to a central steam heating plant. In the 1920s a municipally owned coal burning steam plant was built. And at its peak it served about 700 customers in downtown Winnipeg.

 

JOHN GLASGOW HYDRO MANAGER

It was done under the leadership of John Glassco who ran Winnipeg Hydro between 1912 and 1943. Glassco was born in Hamilton Ont and educated as an engineer with experience in Montreal Los Angeles and Hamilton before coming to Winnipeg. Glassco was totally devoted to hydro in every day. He was driven to work in an electric car. And because he was deaf, they built a hearing aid operating from a car battery that was carried around for him to meetings and public events. Two retired Manitoba Hydro executives I talked to both go against the grain and heat their homes with electricity.

Many Winnipeg building complexes had central steam plants in the 1920s. Places like Eatons, The CN Station and the Fort Garry Hotel, Fort Osborne Barracks. Several neighbourhoods in the west end had central distribution and there were plants on Wall Street, Renfrew and Dorchester. Brandon and Selkirk continue to generate electricity from thermal energy. And several complexes like the Health Sciences centre still have central heating plants.

Building owners began to put in their own gas fired heating plants in the late 1950s as gas became available, and it was only the older unimproved Exchange District properties that remained on it by the 1980s. By then the costs of maintaining the old underground pipe system were getting very high. Owners where finding that putting in their own new heating system could be paid for in as little as three to five years of savings.

And by the 1980's, burning coal to heat buildings became too polluting for the province's new environmental regulations. It was no longer economic and in June 1990 the city closed it down with about 140 customers who now needed to set up their own systems. It has been a costly decommissioning. It cost $4 million to take out the asbestos insulation.

This site used to be a park called Victoria Park one of Winnipeg's first three parks established in 1894. It is located behind the Museum of Man and Nature on a choice piece of river front property. The site was once part of Alexander Ross's Victoria Gardens in the 1840s.

Victoria Park was the major gathering place for the leaders of the 1919 General Strike. In the 1906 the James Ave Pumping Station was established and in the 1920s the rest of the park was dug up for the Steam Plant. The building while on the inventory of historical buildings, was not recommended for protection and was demolished. Part of the site has become Waterfront Drive.

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