1873 WINNIPEG GAS COMPANY was incorporated on March 8 to provide the City of Winnipeg with gas lighting. The company, which materialized as no more than a holding company, amalgamated with Manitoba Electric & Gas Light Company in 1881. One of the founders of Winnipeg Gas Company was Mr. Donald A. Smith, who later became Lord Strathcona.
THE FIRST ELECTRIC LIGHT WAS TURNED ON IN WINNIPEG on March 12. The Honourable Robert A. Davis, proprietor of Davis House, a hotel on Main Street, used an electric arc light to illuminate the front of his building. At the time, the Manitoba Free Press reported “The (electric) lamp in front of the Davis Hotel is quite an institution. It looks well and guides the weary traveller to a haven of rest, billiards and hot drinks, and lights up the streets probably more than the lamp of the newly incorporated gas company will for centuries to come.”
This event took place six years before Edison's first incandescent lamp was invented, four years before hard-drawn copper was invented, and three years before the first complete sentence was spoken over the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell.
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1880 MANITOBA ELECTRIC & GAS LIGHT COMPANY was incorporated February 14 by an Act of the Manitoba legislature. The company was granted wide powers to “supply light and heat in Manitoba by gas, electricity or other means”.
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1881 WINNIPEG GAS COMPANY and Manitoba Electric & Gas Light Company merged.
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1882 WINNIPEG STREET RAILWAY COMPANY was incorporated May 27 under the management of Mr. Albert W. Austin who obtained a charter from the City of Winnipeg to operate horse-drawn streetcars on Main Street. The City granted Austin's company the rights to construct and operate street railways in the City, as well as in the parishes of St. Boniface, St. John's, St. James, and Kildonan. The first horse-drawn streetcar went into operation October 21.
A DEMONSTRATION OF THE ELECTRIC LIGHT IN ARC FORM was given on June 14 and 15 for about two hours each evening at the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) crossing on Main Street in Winnipeg. For the demonstration, three lamps outside and one inside the engine house of the Patterson & McComb Lumber Company were used. The lumber company's steam engine was used to drive a small dynamo that a Mr. P. V. Carroll of New York had brought to Winnipeg for the purpose of “exhibiting the electric light with which he hopes to obtain a contract for illuminating the streets of the city”.
By October 16, four lamps had been placed along Main Street, from Broadway Avenue to the CPR crossing. That evening, they were turned on for the first time. Another nine were strung around the engine house of the Hudson's Bay Company's grist mill. They were in the process of adjustment prior to going out on the street. The mill engine had been engaged to drive the small dynamo each evening for the time being, and this electrical enterprise was known as the Manitoba Electric Light & Power Company. Although the organization applied for a charter in June 1882, one was never granted. The Manitoba Electric Light & Power Company was also referred to as the Electric Light Company.
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1883 THE NORTH WEST ELECTRIC LIGHT AND POWER COMPANY (LTD.) (NWEL & P. Co.) was incorporated August 25 under the Manitoba Joint Stock Companies Act "to provide electric supply and lighting to any city or town in Manitoba". Principal shareholders were Mr. Charles J. Bridges, the Honourable Corydon P. Brown, Mr. Horace McDougall, Mr. James F. Munsie, and Mr. Frank G. Walsh. On the evening of June 23, the power from NWEL & P.Co. was used for the first time to light the streets of Winnipeg.
The NWEL & P.Co. power plant was located “on Wesley Street — near Water Avenue” by directory identification — where it remained until about 1889. By that time, street lighting had been taken over by the Manitoba Electric & Gas Light Company, leaving only a few services of uncertain amount and extent for NWEL & P.Co. to provide.
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1889 NORTH WEST ELECTRIC COMPANY LTD. was incorporated under the Manitoba Joint Stock Companies Act to build and operate electric lighting systems, and electric street railways, in various cities, towns and villages in Manitoba. Although the company apparently provided indoor incandescent lighting for some businesses in Winnipeg, there was only a record of four of them, one being the company's own building at 33 Water Avenue.
BRANDON ELECTRIC LIGHT COMPANY LTD. built a steam generating station in the City of Brandon to supply the residents of the City with electricity for heat and light. The year in which the company was founded is unknown. It would be taken over by Canada Gas & Electric Corporation of Brandon in 1921.
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1891 FIRST EDISON ELECTRIC STREETCAR TO BE MANUFACTURED IN CANADA made its maiden run on January 28 along River Avenue in what was then referred to as south Winnipeg. A demonstration run, it was the attempt of Albert Austin of Winnipeg Street Railway Company to convince Winnipeg City Council to grant the company the franchise for operating electric streetcars in Winnipeg.
During the next three years, Austin had at least four streetcars operating from the south end of the Main Street bridge, along River Avenue and down Osborne Street to Elm Park. They were powered from a small steam plant — with a 22-kilowatt (kW) generator (one kilowatt is 1,000 watts) — that Austin built on Assiniboine Avenue near Main Street.
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1892 WINNIPEG ELECTRIC STREET RAILWAY COMPANY (WESR.Co.) was incorporated by an Act of the Manitoba legislature on April 20 to “construct and operate an electric street railway on the streets of the City of Winnipeg, St. Boniface, and in adjacent municipalities; to sell electric heat, light or power”. A by-law that had been passed on December 31, 1891 provided WESR.Co. with an exclusive franchise to operate the street railway for a period of 35 years. On July 26, 1892 the company operated its first electric streetcar on Main Street. Regular service began on September 5. Power for the company was supplied by Manitoba Electric & Gas Light Company.
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1894 WESR.Co. PURCHASED THE ASSETS AND PROPERTIES of Austin's Winnipeg Street Railway Company for $175,000. Austin, having lost out on the electric streetcar franchise when WESR.Co. took it over in 1892, continued to operate horse-drawn streetcars for another two years before finally selling out to his competitor. The last horse-drawn streetcar made its final run on May 11.
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1895 THE ASSINIBOINE STEAM PLANT was built. WESR.Co. built the new plant at, or near, the site of Austin's plant on Assiniboine Avenue. The plant was officially opened on November 12 with an initial generating capacity of 559 kW. Built at a cost of $65,000, it consisted of four boilers, each rated at 186 kW. The plant, located at the site of what would become Bonnycastle Park, was dismantled in 1916.
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1898 WESR.Co. GOT ALL FRANCHISES, rights and properties of the Manitoba Electric & Gas Light Company for $400,000.
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19th Century Winnipeg - the wildest place in Canada
From 1670 to 1870, fur trappers and traders managed to keep the area at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers to themselves. Original settlements in the area were solely for the benefit of the fur trade. The first construction in the area took place when Sieur Pierre de la Vérendrye, fur trader and explorer, built Fort Rouge at the river junction in 1738. In 1822, near the location of Fort Rouge, Fort Garry was built as the headquarters for the trading company, Hudson's Bay Company, which had amalgamated in 1821 with another trading company, the North West Company.
Although the trappers knew that the rich soil of the area would be an excellent agricultural resource, they kept this fact a secret from eastern Canadians and Europeans so as to protect their valuable hunting grounds from being turned into farm land. Even when Lord Selkirk's settlers arrived in the Red River Valley in 1812, they were able to make little progress in expanding the size of their predominantly agricultural settlement because the fur traders maintained control of the area. No doubt the settlers were also a little afraid of the fiercely independent traders and trappers.
As Manitoba's inclusion in the Confederation of Canada drew nearer, the predominantly Métis inhabitants of the area around the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers became increasingly concerned about preserving their rights. As a result, the area gained a reputation as a rebellious outpost and this reputation was reinforced by events such as the Riel Rebellion.
During all of this turmoil, Henry McKenney built a general store in 1862 at the point where the fur runners' trail along the Assiniboine River to Fort Garry crossed over the fur runners' trail along the Red River. A small settlement started beside the store, and this area was named Winnipeg, after Lake Winnipeg, located 65 km to the north. The name was derived from the Cree word winnipi, which means murky water.
After Confederation, word about the agricultural potential of the Red River Valley finally reached the rest of the world, and Winnipeg became a real boom town during this period. With a population of 215 in 1870, Winnipeg's population had grown to 1,869 by 1873 when it was incorporated as a City. By 1912, the population had soared to 136,035, according to the Government of Manitoba's Department of Industry and Commerce in its booklet Winnipeg 1874–1974: Progress and Prospects. The spectacular growth ended at the outset of World War I in 1914. The outset of the war stopped the flow of European immigrants and also resulted in many young men from Winnipeg being sent off to fight in the war. In addition, in 1914, Winnipeg entered a recession from which it would not recover until after the end of World War II.
In eastern Canada, the Winnipeg of the late 19th century was viewed as “one of the two most violent places in Canada”. This perception was partly due to the way in which Winnipeggers fully participated in the democratic process. When the citizens felt government was acting unfairly, they reacted with mass protests, angry mobs, and sometimes violence. For example, when the Manitoba legislature radically altered a bill to incorporate Winnipeg as a City in 1873, the Speaker of the House, Mr. C. J. Bird, was abducted and tarred. With incidents like this taking place, it is easy to understand why the easterners prayed for the salvation of Winnipeg at the YMCA convention in 1876.
Winnipeggers of the time demanded the best, biggest, and newest of everything. Thus it was a typical Winnipeg business move in 1873 when Mr. R. A. Davis invited Mr. P. V. Carroll to demonstrate the arc light — four years before the first advertised arc light demonstration took place in Newark, New Jersey.
Davis' light illuminated the way for the establishment of the electrical industry, which in turn played a role in the development of a city and a province. He was typical of the farsighted businessmen of Winnipeg, who realized what an important energy source electricity would become, and who wanted the tremendous potential profits to be gained from producing and distributing electricity.
By 1882, two different groups realized that the new City had developed enough so that a contract for supplying its electricity and street lighting could be very profitable. They began taking steps to try to secure the city contract.
One group was led by Mr. P.V. Carroll, who initially worked with the Manitoba Electric Light & Power Company. Carroll and the company had installed demonstration streetlights on Main Street between Broadway Avenue and the Canadian Pacific Railway crossing with the specific hope of obtaining a city contract. However, the Manitoba Electric Light & Power Company failed to obtain a charter, and subsequently Carroll allied himself with Mr. Albert Austin's Winnipeg Street Railway Company.
The second group, led by Mr. James Munsie, was the North West Electric Light and Power Company (Ltd.) (NWEL & P.Co.). Munsie had been quietly working on a plan for winning the city contract for his group of shareholders since November 1882. When Carroll made his intentions known to Council, Munsie was prepared. He surprised many people when he stepped forward to offer, as he put it, “to supply electric street lighting in a more satisfactory manner than had been the case until then if his group were to be given the contract”. Munsie's bid was successful and a contract was granted. It was at this point that Munsie and his group registered the NWEL & P.Co. Subsequently, NWEL & P.Co. lost the contract six years later to the Manitoba Electric & Gas Light Company.
Most of the electricity produced in the late 19th century was used for street lighting, business lighting, and public transportation. Very little of the electricity produced in Winnipeg went for residential use. Those residences with electricity were using it almost exclusively for lighting, while coal and wood were used for heating. Homes without electricity used kerosene lamps for lighting.
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