History of the Electrical Industry in Manitoba
by David S. G. Ross, P. Eng.
MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1963-64 season
Passing a current of electricity through a filament of metal excites the particles of which the metal is composed, causing it to exhibit luminescence. So the advent of electricity in Manitoba is associated with excitement, controversy, and conflict. Its development had beginnings in many places, through a variety of agencies, yet acquired a strong tendency to become unified and perhaps also to become monopolized.
To provide for the power needs of a region, it is essential for the planners of future power production to examine significant events and forces in the past before attempting to establish and project the trends of that past so as to chart the requirements of the future. This takes on added significance when it is realized that upwards of five years is not an unusual period required between conception of a new hydro-electric project and its completion to the point of readiness to assume the burden of electricity production. To deal with Manitoba’s electrical power and its significance, therefore, it is necessary to understand its past.
When Manitoba entered Confederation, the efforts of the contemporary “Separatistes” led by “our Louis” had only just been frustrated and Manitoba’s population was only 11,963.  Several waves of settlers entered the area beginning in 1871, with an additional influx from Ontario. This was followed in 1874 by the establishment of the first Mennonite Reserve east of the Red River, and the second in 1876 west of the river. At the same time, the Icelanders began to settle in Manitoba, founding Gimli in 1875. By 1881, therefore, after ten years and within the newly extended boundaries, the census revealed the population figure of 62,260. 
The earliest reference to electric street lighting was given in a press report concerning the novel and interesting light the Davis Hotel had put up in front of the building on Main Street in Winnipeg.  The first crossing of the Red River by railway over the Louise bridge on July 26, 1881 gave impetus to the aspirations of the city to become the distribution centre for the West.  Rivalry for this pivotal position came from the towns of Emerson and Selkirk.  In the process both towns escaped the boom that made for the robust character of early Winnipeg, and neither Emerson nor Selkirk figured in the advent of the electrical age in Manitoba. Instead, the laurels for first in this regard go to Brandon.
“Brandon”, as described by Manitoba’s distinguished contemporary historian, “started up at the touch of the rail on the southern slope of the valley of the Assiniboine” in 1882.  By the year 1900 it had grown, from its population of two thousand in 1883, sufficiently to attract a trio of enterprising men, Judge Walker of Winnipeg, and Brandon’s George Paterson and E. L. Christie. They chose a power site on the Minnedosa River about a half-mile north of its junction with the Assiniboine, where a head of about twenty-six feet of water was usually available from April to November. On this site they built a log dam filled with boulders and gravel, with a spillway the width of a good suburban lot, which with stop logs increased the height of water to thirty feet. Two five hundred horse power turbines spun the water into electrical energy which they sent over almost ten miles of transmission line to the City of Brandon. 
Brandon’s achievements were commendable in view of the level of electrical power development reached by larger centres at this time. It should be remembered, for example, that it was at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 that the titans of the new electrical equipment industry, Westinghouse and General Electric, fired the imagination of visitors from all over the country. As a result, progress was so rapid that by 1900 almost all equipment previously plagued by individual design and non-interchangeability, had become catalogue items. In Canada, the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario had its inception in the terms of the Municipal Power Works Act of 1903. Some early developments in the power industry date back to 1896, but the formal beginning of the Corporation in Ontario did not come until May 1906. 
Brandon’s operation was so well run, however, that in 1916 it was given an approving recommendation by L. E. Myers, an engineer, scouting Manitoba for power ventures, reporting to Samuel Insul, then in the process of building his empire of power systems. 
The Town of Neepawa was also among the first to respond to the challenge to develop hydro. Myers’ report, however, characterized it as unsuccessful due to lack of knowledge and crude construction methods. When this early venture failed, a thermal-electric plant was installed which supplied the town’s requirements for many years.  Further up the Minnedosa River, although delayed until 1914, the Minnedosa Power Company also built a dam and produced electricity. The same engineer, L. E. Myers, informed Insul that he and his companions were denied access to the plant, and received scant courtesy in the office of the Secretary. They made numerous inquiries and concluded that the operation was highly unprofitable, having cost four times the estimate, and, like Brandon, was subject to freezing during the winter. They became convinced, moreover, that the operators made no effort to develop business.  Eventually this assessment seems to have been confirmed, for the town took over and continued in the power business until the Government established a power policy for the Province in 1912. 
More diligent search may bring to light other instances of local experimentation in power development. The resourcefulness and enterprise needed to undertake such ventures was surely present among the settlers who submitted to the rigours of developing agriculture in the prairie province. It would appear that initial impetus, in many instances, was provided by the grain industry. The marketing of this commodity involved arduous loading and unloading operations, and it is frequently found that electric generation was a by-product of the urgent need for labour-saving devices in the granaries.
By the outbreak of World War I, the list of communities to whom locally generated power was available had become impressively long. The aforementioned report to Insul compiled pertinent details on such operations in some fifty towns and municipalities. The power needs of these units was deemed worthy of the investment of a bond issue of about four million dollars. The estimated net return was placed at about forty-thousand dollars per annum. Power was to be made available by the City of Winnipeg Hydra-Electric System, allegedly based upon interviews with the manager, at a cost of fourteen dollars per horsepower per year. The amount to be so contracted for was given as four thousand horse powers. Evidently, integration and centralized technical and managerial administration were considered to be conducive to profit-making.
Although nothing seems to have materialized as an immediate consequence of this report, this did not apparently end the interest of Insul in this area, for his long reach, as we shall see, made itself manifest at a later date. Strangely, in his recently published biography, Forrest MacDonald makes no mention of the Canadian interests of the Samuel Insul empire, but there is more than one reference to L. E. Myers’ role in the history of the electrical industry of the Canadian West. 
The beginnings of the Manitoba Power Commission may antedate the concept of such a commission in the minds of men. The Government tended to become involved in matters pertaining to the development of power from the very beginning. In the early stages of the development of the electrical industry, the role of the Government was that of arbiter or dispenser of legislative approval to this or that company, and the Government was necessarily involved in such matters as the scope of the terms and conditions of incorporation. Provincial intervention in the struggles of contending interests seeking franchises for electric transit and light in the City of Winnipeg, as will be discussed later on, had been also manifested. Subsequently, the logic of events seemed to have dictated a more intimate role, and the Government became a participant in the commercial sale of power to communities. This appears to have come about through political pressure and should not be considered to have been the result of any far-sighted economic theories.
On 7 October 1910, an assemblage of representatives of Manitoba municipalities appointed a delegation, headed by Mayor Adolph of Brandon, “to remind the government (that it) had adopted public ownership of grain elevators and telephones. To safeguard the interests of the public, it should (also) provide for public ownership of electric power and ensure its supply at reduced costs.” 
It is perhaps of interest at this point to note the parallel development of telephone communication. Telephones were first installed in Manitoba in 1878, just two years after Bell’s invention, by a private businessman, Horace MacDougall. By 1881, it could be boasted that the city had ten telephones on one line, which was more than any other city had at that time. In that year the city had twenty-six installations. The Bell Telephone Company of Canada bought this system in that year and by 1884 had enlarged its operations to include, in addition to Winnipeg, Brandon and Portage la Prairie, with a total of 408 subscribers. Long distance service between Winnipeg and Selkirk was inaugurated in May, 1887, and the Manitoba government purchased the entire system in 1908 for $3,300,000. 
The establishment of a Public Utilities Commission with (later Justice) Hugh A. Robson as sole commissioner, was enacted on 2 April 1912. His appointment, on 23 May, came just two days after the city passed a bylaw to bring its power utility under the jurisdiction of the Commission. The commissioner’s responsibility was set out in his terms of reference: to determine whether the Province should undertake “the development of publicly-owned power within the Province, with a view to securing for all sections of the Province, rural as well as urban, the benefits and convenience enjoyed by the citizens of Winnipeg as the result of the expenditure of public money for power developments and distribution.” 
The information Robson used for his study came from a variety of sources. Among those commended for mention where the Report of the Water Powers Branch of the Department of the Interior and the review by W. E. Skinner, a consultant from Minneapolis, who had been commissioned to report upon the design and estimate the costs of transmitting and distributing power to certain designated municipal areas. The water power possibilities of the Winnipeg River were surveyed by the Federal report, signed by J. B. Challies, Superintendent of the Department at Ottawa. This provided basic data of inestimable value for many years.
Mr. Robson’s report to the Attorney-General, J. H. Howden, was dated 3 February 1914. One of the statements in the report still of interest to us at this late date, had reference to the power potential of the Winnipeg River. It was pointed out that the City of Chicago provided a convenient comparison. That city was credited with a population of two and one-quarter million (January 1913) whose power needs came to a demand of 556,000 kilowatts. On this basis the conclusion was that the Winnipeg River was capable of catering to the power needs of a city of 2,165,000 persons.
An abridgment of some of his concluding remarks has the ring of prophetic admonition. Referring to the granting of rights to private interest to develop power sites on the Winnipeg River, Robson wrote that “it is respectfully recommended that such action will be taken as will prevent the grant of any further rights ... so that the water powers involved may hereafter be held for public uses.” He suggested that “the power features of a public stream ought always to be available to the public use without any private concern being in a position to impose onerous terms before the public shall approach the property.” 
With regard to the regulation of the flow of the Winnipeg River, the report stressed the necessity for the Province to take every possible step to safeguard the interests of the Province in the sources of the stream and their maintenance and regulation. This, it pointed out, was especially necessary in view of the reference by the Dominion and the United States Governments to the International Joint Commission Regarding Boundary Waters. As is well known, even to this day, the administration of the level of water on Lake of the Woods is in the hands of a committee of technical representatives from Ontario, Manitoba and the Canadian Government. This group maintains a watchful eye upon the preservation of a prudent balance between the interest in lake water levels, which must be kept within very narrow limits, and the flow of water from the lake into the Winnipeg River to derive the maximum continuous power potential from the river. This must be performed with a due regard for changing climatic factors, such as rainfall and snow, which influence this balance not only on the Lake of the Woods but on the whole of the watershed upon which both the lake and river depend.
The outbreak of the war interfered with the implementation of the Robson report and the enunciation of a power policy by the Government. By 1919, however, post-war reconstruction was under way and in March of that year the “Electrical Power Transmission Act” ushered in the Manitoba Power System as a department under the Minister of Public Works. Although this Act provided for a Manitoba Power Commission, it was not to have more than a one-man commission until the Act was amended in 1929. The six men who served as commissioners were J. M. Leamy, 1919-1921; J. Rochetti, 1921-1924; C. A. Clendening, 1924-1927; D. L. McLean, 1927-1931; J. W. Sanger, 1931-1945; and Herbert Cottingham, 1931-1946.  Initially, six municipalities entered into agreement with the commissioner (Portage la Prairie, Morden, Carman, Roland, Oakville Electric Limited and Elm Creek Power and Light Limited), and semi-diesel plants were installed to serve Virden and Minnedosa.
Power distributed by the Commission was supplied under agreement with the City of Winnipeg from 1 May 1920 until growth in demand for electricity threatened the city’s available supply. A study for the Province, made in 1930, indicated some of the socio-economic factors which affected the future of the Manitoba Power Commission. This report stated that:
After describing a variety of farm operations to which electric service can be applied, the report goes on to state that “even the farmers at present using electric service are not as yet aware of the economic uses that can be made of the electric service at their disposal.” With regard to farm use of wind and gasoline electric plants, the report concluded that “these farmers cannot afford to continue operating these plants when electric service is available for their use, even at the present rates for power supplied by the Manitoba Power Commission.” 
At the time, the Commission was supplying power to about eighty farms in various parts of the Province. It was being supplied at a variety of rates, most of which involved a “readiness to serve” charge (whether or not use was made of the service) varying from sixty to one hundred dollars per year. In addition to such charges, the energy rates were ten cents per unit for lighting, and from three to five cents for power.
The terms of the agreement with the city for the supply of electricity had a marked effect upon the business philosophy and operating procedures of the Commission. The basis of the city’s charges for this supply (within agreed limits upon the amount taken during any twenty minute interval in the year, for the greatest amount taken), was a fixed unit bulk price per annum, or per unit of energy, whichever yielded the greater amount of money. This agreement was superseded by a new agreement with the Winnipeg Electric Company. Although there was little difference in the form of the rate, it was more advantageous to the Commission. This advantage, however, was intricately related to the development of Seven Sisters Falls Generating Station. 
Increasing demands for power made it imperative that the Province seek additional sources. It was able to make use of its position in a buyer’s market and to hold out the rights to development of the power site as an inducement. The Province was thus in a position to make the best deal between two contenders. It should be remembered that at this juncture the Government at Ottawa, in 1930, transferred responsibility for the administration of water power, along with other resources, to the control of the provinces.  The fact that the Commission exploited its position for the extraction of the best possible deal based on sound and thrifty business considerations seems reasonable.
The contract with Winnipeg Electric Company was drawn for a term of thirty years. Thus, from 1929, the contract carried over into the eventual take-over of the company by the Province in 1953. But, in 1929 the distribution of power throughout the Province was by no means the exclusive prerogative of the Manitoba Power Commission.
In fact, less than fifty per cent of the communities served received power from the Manitoba Power Commission. Today the number of cities, towns, villages served by the Provincial Utility numbers 534. Other comparisons of the situation in 1930 and our present stage of development are available in the following table.
The extension of electrical service to those who needed it was not yet a self-sufficient business, and the utility operated at a loss. Nevertheless, during the depression years, the number of urban communities served continued to increase, as well as the number of individuals being served with power. Consultants, notably H. Carl Goldenberg and Emerson P. Schmidt, T. H. Hogg, as well as Winnipeg’s E. P. Fetherstonhaugh, D. A. Ross, J. G. Sullivan, E. V. Caton, John Sanger, and Herbert Cottingham were engaged at various times in investigating and reporting the troubles, portents and prospects for improvement of the government-owned utility. The report which seems to have had the greatest impact, possibly due to a fortunate combination of the time of its appearance and the opportune climate for implementation, was that of the commission headed by Emerson P. Schmidt of Minneapolis.  This study, oriented to development of rural electrification, became the basis for an intensive and meaningful, so-called, five-year electrification plan. The efforts made to meet annual quotas of new farms gave rise to the remark which still echoes in the corridors of the Hydro headquarters building: “We do those things which are most difficult in no time at all; the impossible takes us a little longer”.
The heroic effort, the political courage, and the spirit of public enterprise that brought electrical living within reach of most Manitobans merit our admiration and gratitude. Manitoba must look to its centre for the story of the genesis and growth of electric power production, and the history of the electrical power industry in this prairie metropolis consists of a series of crises.
The recent rivalry between two forms of energy, electricity and gas, once siblings under one parent company, had parallels in the city’s early beginnings. A succession of companies actively campaigning for political favour, for public acceptance and support, kept the infant city in a ferment for much of its tumultuous early life.
At first, a few isolated locally-operated oil and steam lighting plants added to the bustle of competing emporiums. Witness the rhapsodic newspaper story (to which reference has been made previously), of March, 1873, eight months before the city was granted its charter, which hailed the first electric street light in Winnipeg. These lights were erected by the owners of the Davis Hotel on Main Street opposite what was then called Post Office Street, and is now Lombard. To the paper, it was a “beacon for the weary traveller ... lighting up the streets.” 
In the main, however, the energy distributed in the new city during the incorporation year was in the form of manufactured gas. Early accounts make no mention of the existence, or lack of this commodity. Professor George Bryce described the local scene at the time, in the following words: “... a careful enumeration in October 1872 (tallied) a population of 1,467, but no municipal law, no way of building streets or pavements, no adequate fire protection, no water system, no drainage, no regulation of street surveys, no proper school facilities.”  This was Winnipeg in 1872, but on 8 November the following year (1873) Royal Assent was given and Winnipeg became a city.
The records are not readily available for the period before 1880. On 12 July of that year, however, the directors of the Manitoba Electric and Gas Light Company met in the offices of Ross, Ross and Killam.  There they began the story, the record of which is well preserved in the archives of the Manitoba Hydro. The initial capital, subscribed by twelve shareholders, was $50,000. (This can be represented as a per capita investment of $4.80 for Winnipeg alone, compared with our present $430 per capita investment for the entire province.)
Within a year the threat of electric lighting by a rival company moved directors with a vested interest in Gas to write to the city in these terms:
The directors, however, fearing that their arguments would fail to provide a lasting deterrent, had the rival company evaluated and made an entry in the minutes to the effect that it would approve purchase of the North-West Electric Light and Power Company for $15,000. But this was not to be for another five years. The immediate countermove was to despatch the Managing Director, James Stuart (one time Superintendent of the Consumer’s Gas Company in Toronto) to Montreal “to get thoroughly acquainted with the system of electric lighting and to see after machinery that it will be necessary to purchase ... 
An early contract with the Bell Telephone Company for joint use of poles, signed in April, 1888, by the Manitoba Electric and Gas Company, was to be the cause of controversy arising at a later date.
The Manitoba Electric and Gas Company set about the task of making itself the pre-emptive utility in the electric lighting field. Giving increased demand as good and sufficient reason, the company gave its customer, the Winnipeg Electric Street Railway Company, notice to start producing their own power for transit. But for reasons which the record does not reveal, this was not the far-sighted idea it seemed. By 1897, finding itself in a tight money situation, the Electric and Gas people offered to sell out to the Winnipeg Electric Street Railway Company for the modest sum of $400,000.
The electric transit issue was not decided at that time. As a previous paper  has described to this body, the persistent Albert W. Austin was thwarted in his effort to secure the transit business; first, as a horse-drawn service, and later, despite his great enthusiasm, as the electric transit business. The citizenry, however, did not agree to this epoch-making decision without a fuss. In 1891, the City Engineer, Col. H. N. Ruttan, was sent on a fact-finding mission to a dozen cities in the United States and Canada. The purpose of the trip was to bring in recommendations so the city could decide between “overhead trolleys” or “storage battery systems” for its electric transit franchise. His conclusions were drawn from observations of the public transit systems of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Dubuque, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Lynn, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.  The evident economy and greater experience with trolley systems decided matters in their favour. As a result, as we all know, we had trolleys rattling away on our city’s streets for half a century. It is now about ten years since they were replaced by rubber-tired vehicles, some electric and some engine-driven.
It is not quite clear how the newly enfranchised Winnipeg Electric Street Railway Company managed to absorb its predecessor, the Winnipeg Street Railway Company. However that may be, two energetic and enterprising gentlemen, Jas. Ross and Wm. McKenzie, negotiated a contract with the city (ratified as City Bylaw No. 543) which they then proceeded to sell to a company they helped organize and of which they were, with others, provisional directors.
In June 1892, (the date which afterwards appeared as the founding date for the Winnipeg Electric Company) the Winnipeg Electric Street Railway Company was organized with provisional directors, the two mentioned above and Wm. C. Van Horne and Geo. C. Campbell. These men, along with R. B. Angus, D. D. Mann, Wm. Whyte and F. Morton Morse, were also the shareholders.
Notable among this group were the folk who in 1888 undertook to build a railway to Dauphin and later organized the Canadian Northern Railway which began “to push through a railway from Winnipeg to Port Arthur - with heavy subsidies from the Dominion and Ontario Governments.” 
The succession of absorptions by the Winnipeg Electric Street Railway Company, as has been indicated, began with the non-electric street railway company in 1894. Prior to this, there had been some talk of the Manitoba Gas and Electric Company’s purchasing the rival North-West Electric and Power Company. This take-over did occur in 1900, but it was made by the Electric Street Railway, following the latter’s acquisition of the Manitoba Electric and Gas Company. This was approved by the directors of the Electric Street Railway Company at a meeting in Montreal in January, 1898. The important features of this acquisition were the franchises, rights and licenses, as well as the right to use the “Auer Incandescent Light System” and the “Welisbach Incandescent Gas Light Company Patent”, which were included as a part of the arrangement. The books of the Manitoba Electric and Gas Company were closed in March, 1898.
An interesting and diverting issue developed over the possible exploitation of the swift flowing Assiniboine. This issue exerted powerful pressures upon these vying infant utilities. Early in 1888, a citizen’s delegation persuaded city council to spend some two thousand dollars on an initial survey and study of the power potential of the city’s reaches of the Assiniboine River.  One of the features of the several schemes advanced involved the construction of a channel to Lake Manitoba. The lake would then become a natural storage basin. Attempts to obtain Dominion Government approval went very well, except that the senior Government insisted upon ancillary works which would maintain the navigability of the stream. Some estimated that this feature of the plan would cost an additional $200.000. The amount estimated to cover the costs of providing the power generation facilities alone was about $500,000 for a capability of approximately ten thousand horsepowers.
By January 1893, according to the City Comptroller, the city was involved to the extent of $5,000 in this connection, and among those clamouring for an opportunity to carry out the scheme were the redoubtable Ross, Holt, McKenzie and Mann. Others who appeared on the scene to try for this power plum, included the Assiniboine River Power Company, which in 1890 submitted a tentative proposal, received council’s support, and then failed to follow through with a firm proposal. The Winnipeg Electric Street Railway Group, as already mentioned, was also making impatient noises. The Winnipeg General Power Company, incorporated in 1902, sought a workable plan but failed in this endeavour and was subsequently absorbed by the Winnipeg Electric Street Railway.
The Manitoba Water Power and Electric Company stirred things up with its offer to produce fifteen hundred horsepowers at a flat price of thirty-five dollars per horsepower year. When this group also failed in meeting its commitments and interest in the Winnipeg River developed, the Assiniboine returned to its original humdrum role, so that only in its contribution to the Brandon Power story does it merit mention in the annals of the electrical power industry of Manitoba. 
Spurred by outside interests, there seems to have been considerable agitation for the city itself to enter the power business. Wrangling and legal battles between the city and rival power groups challenged the ability of the city to regulate and control the use of its thoroughfares for the distribution of power. The charters of the contending companies and the city itself were, for the most part, granted by the legislature of the province. There must have been considerable uncertainty as to how far the city could go. Threshing about for a solution to these problems, the city exerted pressure, at least upon the Winnipeg Electric Street Railway, to set up terms and conditions for its sale to the city. On 3 August 1900, the city of Winnipeg’s solicitors reported that arbitration had been abandoned, indicating a successful effort to thwart those who would have wanted the take over to occur. 
Attempts were made to cast doubt upon the legal position of the W. E. S. R. Company in exercising the rights it had acquired through the purchase of the Manitoba Electric and Gas Company. Eventually this question had to be referred to the courts.
Gobbling up competitors was only one of the strategies employed in promoting the growth of the W. E. S. R. Company. To facilitate its expansion, and perhaps with some regard for the contentiousness of its claims to right-of-way, subsidiaries were launched. The first of these was the Winnipeg, Selkirk and Lake Winnipeg Railway Company which was founded in September 1900. Two years later the Suburban Rapid Transit Company was incorporated. To initiate development of power generation on Pinawa Channel, they formed the Winnipeg General Power Company in July of 1902. The latter seems to have been a means of bidding for a license from the Dominion Government and to acquire land and right-of-way for the development of Pinawa power from the Dominion Government. 
Under primitive conditions, and with determination to overcome many hardships, the work of wresting the power potential from the Winnipeg River received a great deal of attention and inspired the admiration of many men. It is difficult for the modern engineer to imagine the problems which were involved when, “rock drilling was done by tripod steam drills. Steam was supplied by boilers set on skids and moved from one location to another by the riggers ...” 
Pinawa Generating Station was officially opened 10 May 1906. It grew with Winnipeg until its continued existence became an impediment to further development on the river. When the Seven Sisters Station was about to be expanded to its maximum potential, the full flow of the river was necessary. This, in turn, necessitated the damming up of the Pinawa Channel on which the first station had been established.
The expanding, burgeoning economy of the province was fed by succeeding waves of immigration: from 1901 to 1910, 68,266 newcomers helped to increase the total population to about 400,000. The next four years marked the entrance of 50,000 more.  With the outbreak of World War I, Manitoba settled down to a more gradual growth rate which persisted until comparatively recently.
The power developments on the river had envisioned an even more rapid and continued expansion. Bryce traced the population growth for Winnipeg from 215 in 1870 to just under 80,000 in 1905.  Consulting engineers planning Winnipeg’s future water supplies in 1907 projected curves of anticipated population, and these in turn were used to make plans for the power needs of the future. The projections showed such close correlation with data from actual experience up to 1914 that it was confidently predicted that the population would exceed three-quarters of a million by 1948.  It is interesting to speculate on the possible reasons for the error in these predictions. Professor Morton attributes the change in the growth rate of the province to the building of the Panama Canal. This engineering feat, which commenced operations during the summer of 1914, was, this historian states, “to turn the gateway of Winnipeg and sap the traffic that fed its growth.” 
At this point in our narrative, it is perhaps well to review the development of municipal power aspirations. Mention has been made of the efforts made to use the Assiniboine for power purposes. Spurred by rates that remained at what some thought high levels (although comparable with rates for power produced in like manner elsewhere) and by a power shortage scare, a group associated with a grocer, Alderman J. W. Cockburn, began a study of the potentialities of such a project. In his store at the foot of Selkirk Avenue they discussed the matter at great length. We believe that it was largely as a result of their efforts that the city formed a power committee and acquired a commitment from the Dominion Government to permit development of a generating station on the Winnipeg River at Pointe du Bois. The primary motivation of those men who urged the intervention of the civic authorities in hydro development was, undoubtedly, the hope of thereby attaining lower rates. Previous attempts to obtain legislative blessing of a scheme for civic electric power production distribution and sale had been thwarted. Some attributed this to the machinations of MacKenzie and Mann, whose names in certain quarters made a very acceptable substitute for the “bogey man.”
The ensuing drama unfolds a melodramatic plot rarely equalled in the annals of our city. The villain of the piece is “the Company” and it is duly warned never again to darken the door of the city’s limits with power brought from the outside. The damsel being wooed, though not at the moment in distress, is the city’s light and power business. And the hero? - who else but Alderman Cockburn! 
As the plot rises to climax after climax in which there are legal and physical efforts to thwart the villain, there are scenes to edify and entertain. There is the scene in which the company builds a pole line in defiance of a city police order to cease and desist; the one in which the company’s manager is served with a summons to appear before a magistrate for violation of civic ordinances; and again there were days when the city’s forces were arrayed in battle lines against the sappers and underground riggers of the company who were attempting to construct an underground connection to the terminal station on Mill Street. There were charges of use of influence, and worse, in the frustrations and political manoeuvering that delayed repeated efforts to make progress with the Pointe du Bois development. With the election in 1909 of Mayor Sanford Evans to succeed Mayor J. H. Ashdown, there was an end to obstruction and delay.  Lack of financial support, physical difficulties, mistrust, and oven an outbreak of smallpox at the construction camp failed to impede construction of the dam, generating station and transmission line. It was completed and officially opened by Gurney Evans, the young son of Mayor Sanford Evans, on 16 October 1911.
The plant, as initially developed, provided the city with an operation seventy-five miles distant, comprising five units, each capable of producing three thousand kilowatts.  Three additional units, each of five thousand kilowatt capability, were added in 1914. Fully developed in 1926, its total capability was raised to 78,500 kilowatts. (Often quoted in terms of horsepower when the figure becomes 105,000).
The company claimed that the completion of the first hydro-electric plant enabled the reduction of electric lighting rates to one-half the previous rate for steam-produced power. But the long drawn struggle for the completion of the civic utility was predicated upon the much lower rate of three cents per kilowatt-hour. When the first business manager of the city light and power department, J. G. Rossman, quoted and urged a rate of not less than seven and one-half cents, he was unceremoniously relieved of his position along with a number of key persons he had brought with him from New York. 
The legal differences of the “Company” and the city had to do, as has been seen, with rights to establish poles, string wires and so on, on city thoroughfares. This issue was fought through the courts, went to the court of appeals and finally to the Privy Council. It was not until the end of February 1912, that the final decision was handed down. It stated, conclusively, that (a) the Company had the right to bring power to the city; (b) the Company had the right to use city thoroughfares; and that (c) the city had to pay the costs of litigation.  Although hailed as a one-sided victory for the villainous forces of the “Company”, this decision cleared the way for a more rational solution of the problems of utility co-existence within the city of Winnipeg.
On the occasion of Winnipeg’s fiftieth anniversary in 1961, the city enshrined the names of a dedicated band of public-minded citizens and politicians who devoted their efforts to this great undertaking. In the commemorative booklet, published at that time, some of those who were memorialized are Alderman and later Controller J. W. Cockburn; Mayor Tom Sharpe, D. W. Bole, E. L. Drewry, R. T. Riley, John Arbuthnot, R. D. Waugh, A. Eggertson, and F. O. Fowler. Also given honourable mention are some of the dedicated civic servants with whose names the efforts to bring the utility into being are intermingled. Men like its chief engineer during development and construction, Cecil B. Smith from Ontario and J. G. Glassco, originally responsible to supervise acceptance tests in England, and later the long-time manager of City Hydro. Glassco was succeeded by J. W. Sanger, who is enjoying retirement in Winnipeg; H. L. Briggs, now a member of the National Energy Board; and T. E. Storey, actively engaged, at this time, as Assistant General Manager and Chief Engineer of the Manitoba Hydro Electric Board. 
The evolution of City Hydro was a struggle for a sometimes emotional but sometimes very rational and realistic concept. To put it in simple terms, it was an attempt on the part of the city of Winnipeg to go it alone in securing an ample and low-cost supply of electricity. The motivations for this endeavour tended to capture the minds of a large segment of the citizenry, and the initial enthusiasm of the populace seems to have endured through more than half a century of the existence of City Hydro.
Not all was conducive to the achievement of that end. There is inherent in its control and supervision an admixture of administrative aims and concerns with other services and functions of the city. This diffusion of its cohesiveness, as revealed in a number of studies undertaken for the city by consultants, has necessitated certain adjustments and the development of special skills.  Administration of its operations and the preparation and execution of plans for its future expansion and growth, as well as its continued economic health and efficiency, have made unique demands upon its personnel. It has frequently been the storm centre of municipal controversy and its stewardship has undoubtedly been plagued by political dissension. Such intimate matters as appointments and promotions, the management of its earned surpluses, decisions for the creation of additions to its plant, and its marketing policies have all been among the subjects selected for public political debate. Indeed, its continued development as a highly skilled team of devoted and conscientious public servants would seem to have been achieved largely in spite of manifest divisions of authority between its management and that of a politically oriented council, motivated by the exigencies of political campaigning or rivalry for the spotlight of public commendation.