STREETLIGHTS COME TO WINNIPEG
By George Siamandas
THE FIRST STREETLIGHT IN WINNIPEG
The first street light was set up by Mr. Robert A. Davis outside his hotel Davis House (just north of where the TD Bank now stands) on March 12, 1873. The light was probably made by E L Bentley a neighbouring tinsmith who offered others for sale for $10. But it is unlikely it was an electric lamp as there was still no source of electricity.
Davis had come to the village of Winnipeg in 1870. In 1874 he was elected to the Manitoba Legislature and later became premier of Manitoba. He was credited with getting a good financial deal for Manitoba in setting up the province. But in 1876 he moved to Chicago were he became a wealthy businessman.
In June 1882 Mr. P.V. Carroll came from New York and arranged a demonstration of four electric lights. He hooked up a dynamo he had brought with him, to the drive belt of the steam engine that ran a wood-milling operation at Main and Higgins. By October there were four lights set up along Main St.; on Broadway, Portage and Main, City Hall, and at the CPR Station at Higgins. Carroll later became manager of the first power company named the Manitoba Electric Light and Power Company. An old Grist Mill located near the Forks, was used in the evening to supply the electricity.
During the next three months of the winter 1882, the public was captivated by reports on the electric streetlights. For those that did not see them for themselves, the lights were described as casting a "brilliant light compared to the gloomy feeble rays of the gasoline lamps."
In May 1889 the Manitoba Electric Company offered lighting to the general public. There were several companies and each had its own set of poles. There was also telephone and telegraph. The city was becoming a real mess. And there were concerns that they were using bare wires which at the time carried 1,000 volts.
By this time Edison's patent on the incandescent light had started to dominate and Edison's was the system the City of Winnipeg used for its streetlights. The local company using Edison's System was called the North West Electric Company. Besides being a brilliant inventor, Edison was also a shrewd business man and developed the whole system of generation, distribution and delivery. Best of all, like Microsoft's Bill Gates, Edison was charging yearly royalties on his system.
The first hydro-electric generating plant was built in 1900 on the Minnedosa River (now the Little Saskatchewan River) and it served Brandon till 1924.
In 1906 Pinawa became the first year round hydro electric power station. It was a challenge to build in an area with no roads or railway. Some thought it was overbuilt but within ten years of its completion, Winnipeg's population quadrupled. Located on the Winnipeg River, it had been built by the Winnipeg Electric Railway Company that also operated the streetcars. But home electricity was very expensive. You paid $2 for each lamp which you owned, then it cost about 16 cents per kilowatt hour. And power stayed very expensive.
THE ORIGINS OF A CITY POWER UTILITY
Some civic politicians were concerned about the private monopoly over power. It was costing 20 cents per kilowatt hour. Cheap hydro was needed if the city were to grow. Alderman Cockburn for whom the Fort Rouge Street is named, began to lobby council for the development of a city owned utility at Point Du Bois. Cockburn claimed that he could bring down the cost from 20 per KWH to a third of that. The private companies then halved their rates and Cockburn said that he could still do it for a third of that.
The proposal to build the city's Point Du Bois plant went to the tax payers who eventually agreed to support the proposal. And Cockburn was partially right because the city set up the first publicly owned power station and was forced to charge 3 cents per hour (Even though the true cost was 7.5 cents). Cockburn who had operated a grocery store on Selkirk Avenue became the City's controller in 1909.
This rate lasted for 70 years until 1973 when Unicity and Manitoba Hydro forced up all the rates. Winnipeg Hydro remained a profitable utility for the City till it was purchased by Manitoba Hydro.