Electric power from the first plant on the Severn River reached Orillia from Ragged Rapids, making this the first municipally owned hydraulic plant for the long distance (19 miles) transmission of electricity in North America.
‘Orillia Water, Light & Power Commission” formed to conduct the business of the production of electricity in Orillia.
Swift Rapids generating station was completed and put into operation.
Minden generating station commissioned.
Two auxilliary diesel engines were purchased to produce power in case of a heavy demand on the present plants.
Matthias generating station came on line.
Over the years, the OWLP continued to maintain and upgrade their existing 3 hydraulic generating stations and the local distribution system in Orillia to maintain the structural integrity and safety of its assets.
OWLP installed a state-of-the-art fibre optic system in Orillia.
In compliance with the government’s Electricity Act of 1998, the former Orillia Water, Light and Power Commission wa transformed into the present day Orillia Power Corporation and its affiliates Orillia Power Distribution Corporation and Orillia Power Generation Corporation.
Today, the Orillia Power Corporation continues to distribute reliable cost-competitive electricity to our customers; generate environmentally-friendly electricity at our power plants; contribute to and be accountable to our community; and provide a safe work environment for our employees.
The story of the development of electrical power in the Orillia district is, of course, inextricably combined with the first community use of its water resources.
Back in 1872, presaging the future use of water resources, in Orillia, the Reeve and Council awarded Messrs. Robert Pace and William Todd a franchise to build a reservoir in what is now Victoria Park, using the waters of the spring there. Wooden pipes, made of hemlock with the bark still on, joined by iron couplings conducted the water by gravity from the park eastward, down the main street with large cisterns at the corners of West, Peter and Matchedash streets. To administer this project, a “Fire, Water and Town Property Committee” was set up in 1876. This committee was the origin of the ORILLIA WATER, LIGHT AND POWER COMMISSION.
It was the need for fire protection that forced and speeded up the further development of local water resources. All the buildings on Mississaga (Main) Street to the Peter Street corner and down Peter Street half way to Colborne, were completely destroyed in a fire in 1879. The following year, the name of the Fire, Water and Town Property Committee was changed to the “Orillia Fire and Water Committee”.
In the next few years, the logical steps were taken to use the available water supply to produce public and private lighting. In 1887, Orillia’s arc lighting plant, with a capacity of fifty 2,000 candlepower lamps was built in Victoria Park. It was steam operated using wood as fuel.
Even after the drilling of more wells in Victoria Park, the need for additional water became apparent. The nearest and best water available appeared on the property of Mr. W.H. Fitton (corner of Stanton Drive and Fittons Road). The idea of using this water was investigated, but a by-law to raise $25,000 for the purpose of bringing water to town from Fitton’s Springs was defeated – the idea was considered too fantastic!
Continuing loss of property through fire finally convinced the townspeople that further steps had to be taken and that the town’s water system had to be extended and its supply increased. The next by-law for financing the Fitton’s Springs development was passed in 1892.
An eight inch cast iron pipe was laid from Fitton’s Springs to the bottom of Jarvis Street to just west of the former “Club Pavalon” where storage tanks and a steam pumping plant were built, while on Champlain Street, a stand-pipe was constructed to serve the higher levels.
The ratepayers, by a majority of five, had given their consent to pay $2,750 to Goldie and McCullough for the equipment and installation of the new steam plant, and $9,450 to Canadian General Electric for the incandescent lighting plant. The steam plant had two Goldie and McCullough 100 horsepower cut-off condensing engines harnessed to a line of shafting which extended across one of the rooms to operate the machine. The CGE equipment provided 45 arc lamps for street lighting and 2,300 incandescent lamps for public and private use. Each night a man had to go around and inspect, adjust and clean the street lights because of uneven burning of carbon.
Discussions in and out of council had been going on for several years concerning the feasibility of converting from steam to electrical power. In fact, there are records showing that in 1889, more than twelve years before the completion of the Ragged Rapids plant, Orillia had been considering the possibility of selling electrical power to Gravenhurst at the price of $1,000 per year for 100 horse power, if and when, the town constructed a power station at Ragged Rapids.
In 1896, the committee again changed its name, this time to the “Orillia Fire, Water and Light Committee” – the first time the word “Light” appeared in its title – and its members again considered the question of building a new power plant, hydraulic instead of steam. The idea was first officially proposed in March 1898 and tenders were invited in July of that year. Local citizens voted 399-61 in favour of building a municipally owned hydraulic plant for the long distance (19 miles) transmission of electric power on the Severn River – 5-1/2 miles from Severn Falls, at Ragged Rapids.
The whole 1898 Council along with Mayor Thomas H. Sheppard, was returned to office and in February 1899, they snowshoed from the nearest road to the Ragged Rapids to inspect the proposed site. Work began the following spring. Sparrow Lake was crossed many times in the next few years by canoe and barge all laden with men and equipment as the powerhouse and dam gradually took shape.
In 1901, the administration building and substation were built in town at 25 West Street North and the following year on January 21st, 1902, electric power reached Orillia from Ragged Rapids. The contract for the power plant had been let to the Electric Maintenance and Construction Co. of Toronto for $75,000 but $48,000 more was needed before the completion of the project, the whole sum being raised by the issuing of debentures. The cost of current to the customers was $17.00 per H.P. per year as announced in 1901. Ragged Rapids thus became the first municipally owned hydraulic plant for the long distance transmission of electric current on this continent. The dam at the site was called the Patriarch Dam after its engineer Mr. P.H. Patriarche.
The new generating plant supplied power for the enlarged water pumping station at the bottom of Jarvis Street where an intake pipe had been laid in the lake. The town was no longer entirely dependent on steam power for its water supply, as the new electric power added 864,000 gallons a day from the waters of Lake Couchiching. During these early days, the power was turned on at night only for street lighting purposes. A daytime use for the power was to work the new organ at the Presbyterian Church on Sundays.
Because of the heavy spring flooding in 1904 and because the Patriarche Dam had been built with a vertical face, not solidly founded on rock, the whole dam burst. A temporary dam of rock and lumber known as the Battle Dam (after its engineer) was erected three miles above the Ragged Rapids site at McDonald’s Cut at a cost of $28,000. Until this was finished in January 1905, the old steam plant in Orillia supplied power to carry water to the people of the town and to provide light.
In 1906, the Hydro Electric Commission of Ontario (Ontario Hydro) was established.
The citizens of Orillia voted $80,000 for the construction of a new and improved plant at Ragged Rapids with a second power line to the town. The work was begun in 1906, Quinlan and Robertson being the contractors, McRae being the engineer. The capacity had been increased to 1600 H.P. and the future looked bright. The industrial and domestic demand for power was constantly increasing so that it became apparent that the Ragged Rapids station could not supply adequate power for the future growth of the community. In 1911, came the first suggestion, from a federal government engineer, that Swift Rapids would be a preferable site for Orillia’s power complex.
In 1913, a public utilities body separate from, and independent of the town council, was elected to conduct all civil business connected with the distribution of water, the disposal of sewage and the production of electricity. This body was known as the “Orillia Water, Light and Power Commission”, consisting of four members (two to be elected for a two year term each year) along with the mayor of the town as an ex officio member. The members of the first Orillia Water, Light and Power Commission were: Messrs. E. Long (Chairman) W.S. Frost, C.H. Hale, J.B. Tudhope and Crawford Goffaatt as mayor.
In that same year, 1913, the Dominion Department of Railways and Canals, in conjunction with its plan to improve the Trent Waterways system, suggested that Orillia’s power plant (so newly completed at Ragged Rapids) be transferred 1-1/2 miles downstream to the Swift Rapids, also on the Severn River. The purpose of the suggestion was to avoid the long and costly rock cutting that would be necessary to by-pass the Ragged Rapids. The OWLP Commission agreed to the move in view of the offer of Dominion Government financing and the provision for future increased supplies of electricity. As a result of this agreement, the construction of the new dam, with a 47′ head, 800 cubic feet per second of water (Inland Construction built Swift) and the new powerhouse was begun in 1913.
The work at the Swift Rapids was interrupted with the outbreak of the war in 1914, but shortly resumed. Meanwhile, Orillia’s power needs were supplied by the Ontario Hydro Commission with whom the OWLP Commission had cooperated in the erection of a high tension line between Eugenia Falls and Collingwood.
As Orillia’s factories gained munitions and other contracts, the need for completing the Swift Rapids developments became more urgent. In order to bring the new plant into operation, the old Ragged Rapids powerhouse and station were blown up and submerged on November 10, 1917.
Electricity from the new plant reached Orillia during the regime of Mayor Robert Curran and Commissioners C.H. Hale, F.H. Horne, J.B. Tudhope and A.H. Waite. The increase in current from the three horizontal turbines of 2,000 H.P. each was expected to look after Orillia’s power needs for many years to come.
IN 1921, the OWLP Commission took over the operation of the sewage and pumping plant at the bottom of West Street. Nine years later, the same body assumed responsibility for the whole sewage system and was in complete charge of the electric power supply and the water services for all of Orillia and parts of the surrounding townships. The Commission now had assets exceeding 2 million dollars, serving 3,000 domestic, commercial and industrial customers. In 1974, the City of Orillia assumed responsibility for the waterworks and still maintains it today.
On December 20, 1933, it was announced that consideration was being given to the idea of developing a new power complex on the Gull River at Workman’s Falls near Minden. The Gull River, though not large itself, was steadily fed by some fifteen lakes and streams which accounted for the fact that a privately owned power plant had been in existence there for some years. This plant had supplied the power to run a grist mill, operated by the Workman family, but at the time the OWLP Commission were investigating the site, it was owned by a Mr. Stinson (M.P.) of Lindsay. Mr. Stinson gave the Commission an option on his land, the selling price being $20,000, with a down payment of $1,000.
The Ontario Municipal Board gave its consent to the proposed project by wire in June 1934 and in September the contract for the building of the Minden plant was awarded to the Dominion Construction Company. The Commission immediately started work on the site, employing men who qualified under the Unemployment Relief Work Act – this being in the depth of the great depression.
At Workman’s Falls, there was a drop of 125 feet from the government regulating dam 2-1/2 miles upstream to the waters below the falls. The dam and the attractive new powerhouse were quickly completed and on August 21, 1935, the first current from Minden reached Orillia. The capacity of the new plant was 5,200 H.P. produced by two vertical generators. The total cost to Orillia amounted to a modest $690,000.
During the depression years, there had been less demand for power from industry than planned for, so that for a few years, Orillia had a surplus to sell. Then came a welcome reversal to the picture, and the continuing upswing of business began to strain Orillia’s power resources to the limit. In July 1943, the Commission had taken an option on a parcel of land near Matthias Falls on the south branch of the Muskoka River with the idea that here might be another source of power for Orillia. Two years later the proposed site and adjacent flooded lands were purchased. Preliminary survey work was done in 1946.
The next few years saw the building and installation of two new diesel plants on the Atherley Road, with a capacity of 1,450 H.P. each.
Finally, in 1949, the firm of Aiken and MacLachlan Limited were awarded a contract for $1,115,000 to build a third power complex of approximately 4,000 H.P. potential at Matthiasville. The 882 foot (wide) dam of concrete and steel was completed in 1950 and that same year, the Matthias plant was placed on remote control lessening the number of resident staff needed. The total cost of Matthias amounted to $1,130,000.
It was obvious that the demand for power would increase as Orillia grew, so a decision had to be made whether to build another hydraulic generating station or affiliate with Ontario Hydro. On June 15, 1954, Orillia joined the Hydro family as a participating municipality and is still a member of it. Ontario Hydro paid $231,000 to OWLP for equipment that had been serving some of the latter’s rural customers who would henceforth be serviced by Ontario Hydro.
In any electrical power complex, nothing is ever static. With Orillia’s three hydraulic power stations, its more than 100 miles of transmission lines, its diesel plant and substations, there have been remarkably few troubles. On July 20, 1956, however, the diesel plant on Atherley Road was partially destroyed by fire and was not completely restored until three years later.
In 1965 work was begun at Swift Rapids to renovate the equipment at this, the oldest of Orillia’s generating plants. This machinery had served the system for fifty years and the Commission was faced with the choice of abandoning the plant or of replacing the equipment. The Commission replaced two of the three old turbines with two new tube type turbines that increased the capacity of the plant from 6,000 H.P. to 10,000 H.P. The tube type turbine was recognized as being the most efficient and economical installation for the Swift Rapids G.S. redevelopment.
The citizens of Orillia are in a fortunate position in having an alternate source of power, apart from Ontario Hydro.
In 1995, the Orillia Water, Light and Power Commission entered into an agreement with The Township of Severn to provide maintenance and management services for the Village of Coldwater – an additional 600 customers with Severn Hydro. Severn Hydro was later purchased by Hydro One Networks and is now maintained by them.
In 1998, the utility launched into a new venture – a fibre optics based data communications network in Orillia.
As a result Bill 35, the Energy Competition Act, in October 1998, municipalities in Ontario became the sole shareholder of their local utilities. They could either keep or sell their utility. Orillia chose to keep. Bill 35 also stated that utilities had to incorporate under the Ontario Business Corporation Act by November 7, 2000. On November 1, 2000, the former Orillia Water Light and Power Commission was incorporated into three new entities – Orillia Power Corporation (holding company), Orillia Power Distribution Corporation (wires company) and Orillia Power Generation Corporation (generation).
The Orillia Power Distribution Corporation continues to distribute reliable cost-competitive electricity to our customers, contribute to and be accountable to our community and provide a safe work environment for our employees