Victoria Daily Times, March 13, 1943.
Victoria Pioneered Electrical Development.
Had First Incandescent Lights in Canada.
By Dave Driver.
The story of electricity as a public utility on the West Coast of British Columbia began 60 years ago when the Victoria City Council signed an agreement with Robert Burns McMicking to erect and support and maintain at three separate points in the said city an electric light with an illuminating power equal to the aggregate to 50,000 candles.
Mr. McMicking, who is now best remembered as one of the over-landers of ’62, probably had more experience with electricity than anyone else in British Columbia.
This project called for the erection of three 150 foot masts each caring for or five double arc lamps and was intended to light the whole of the more thickly populated part of Victoria. The agreement was ratified in July, 1883, and the lights were ready for service in December of that year.
According to Mayor Redfern’s annual report made three weeks after the installation, the system worked very satisfactorily, power being supplied by a 25 hp steam engine driving two Brush dynamos.
A year later, however, things did not seem to have been quite so satisfactory. Rebuilding and expanding cost $22,000.
Lights “Bad Bargain”.
In 1887 Mayor Fell admitted the best Victoria could do about the light was “to make the best of a bad bargain.” He reported that while electricity was undoubtedly the light of tomorrow, it was too much of an experiment for small communities. Some further changes were made and the system carried on until 1891 when the citizens defeated a bylaw for a $50,000 improvement.
Undaunted by this partial failure, McMicking took a prominent part in organizing the Victoria Electric Illuminating Company, a firm which had the distinction of being the first public incandescent lighting system in Canada. Electric current was generated by a 50 hp steam engine and the plan was rated as having a capacity of 400 16-candle power lamps.
James Douglas Warren, Thomas Shotbolt, David W Higgins, Andrew Gray, Joseph Hunter, and others, organized the company which constructed the first street railway within Victoria city limits and which supplied electric power for lighting purposes.
An arrangement with the city was confirmed in 1889 and the promoters organize the National Electric Tramway and Lighting Company Limited, with an initial authorization capital of $250,000. The original power plant had to Thomson and Houston generators driven by a 110 hp steam engine.
It was about this time that A . T. Goward, present Vice Presidents of the BC Electric Roadway Company Limited, as a leader recently from England, entered the service of the company. His first assignment was to polish the brass on the steam engine.
Four Cars, 6 Miles of Track.
Formal opening of the first streetcar system took place on February 22, 1890. The system was originally organized for horse-drawn cars but last-minute changes in the plans were made so the horse cars were equipped with electric motors. The original street railway system at four cars and 6 miles of track.
Thus Victoria became the third city of Canada to have an electric street railway system, being preceded only by Windsor and St. Catherine’s, Ontario.
With the addition from time to time of equipment, by 1891 the system had 12 miles of track and 11 streetcars. In 1896 the streetcar company, then known as the Consolidated Railway Company, was taken over by the British Columbia Railway Company Limited.
The first hydroelectric plant on the Pacific coast was built by the BC Electric at Goldstream in 1898. The original installation consisted of two 600 hp Pelton wheels, directly connected to two stationary field generators.
This plan was enlarged at various times in now consists of one 900 and another 2000 hp waterwheel.
After 1902 the greatest expansion of electrical facilities took place to accommodate the rapidly increasing population of Victoria. In 1902 there were 2000 light and power customers and the industrial power load average about 500 hp.
The street railway system was expanded to accommodate populations in Oak Bay and Esquimalt.
Jordan River Plant.
Preliminary work on the Jordan River plant, 40 miles from Victoria, was begun in 1909 in the first unit of 6000 hp was completed in 1912. Power was delivered to Victoria in the same year.
The capacity of this plant has been since expanded to about 37,000 hp the development is entirely dependent on the storage system, there being a wide variation in the seasonal flow of water.
An auxiliary steam plant was built at Brentwood in 1912, with an initial installed capacity of 6000 hp. Plans are now in hand to increase the capacity of this plant by 10,700 hp, the limit of economic development on Jordan River watershed having been reached.
As in most cities of medium-size, the street railway business has declined during recent years, while the sale of electric power for commercial and domestic purposes has shown a considerable increase. Today, the company’s transmission and distribution lines cover not only Greater Victoria, but reach out into the more remote country districts up to a radius of 40 miles from Victoria. Owing to the increase of population due to the war the streetcar system is overtaxed. The company’s agreement with the city expired December 8, 1938, but the City Council had no substitute source and asked the company to carry on.
The company is now supplying 21,000 domestic consumers and has a connected industrial power load of 43,500 hp. It is also supplying power to buildings in the Nanaimo Duncan Utilities Company.