VIEW-17254 | General view of Shawinigan Water and Power Co., Shawinigan, QC, 1917

General view of Shawinigan Water and Power Co., Shawinigan, QC, 1917
Wm. Notman & Son
1917, 20th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Architecture (8646) , Cityscape (3948) , industrial (826) , Photograph (77678) , river (1486) , Waterscape (2986)
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Keys to History

A "second industrial revolution" gripped Europe and North America in the late-nineteenth century. Driven by new technologies and energy sources, this revolution saw industrialization intensify and broaden. Since heat and mechanized production were central to the new industrialization, cheap and reliable hydro-electrical energy was a key ingredient in this surge. The inventions of electrical lighting and motors in the 1880s by Thomas Edison (1847-1931) and Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) sent industrial developers searching for fast-flowing, large-volume rivers from which they could generate hydro-electricity. Quebec's St. Maurice River valley, flowing off the Laurentian Shield into the St. Lawrence, beckoned.

In 1898 a syndicate of Montreal and American businessmen formed the Shawinigan Water and Power Company to harness the power of the St. Maurice and thereby entice industry to set up business nearby. Shawinigan power was soon applied to industries like aluminum smelting and paper making. As transmission technology was improved, power was sent to nearby Quebec cities to energize other industries. Shawinigan Power used its monopoly privilege over the St. Maurice to become Canada's largest private energy provider, until it was bought by Hydro-Quebec in 1963.

  • What

    Hydroelectricity is produced by directing fast-moving water through pipes - penstocks - down a gradient into turbines; these turn generators that convert the kinetic energy of water into electrical impulses. Hydroelectricity -- "white coal" -- paid handsome profits. By 1919 Canada was generating 5,353 million kilowatt hours of mostly hydroelectric power. Shawinigan Power increased its profit by clustering heat-using industries - paper, aluminum and calcium carbide (for acetylene) - near its generating stations.

  • Where

    Shawinigan, like Niagara in Ontario, was situated near the emerging industrial heartland of Canada. Cheap power energized Quebec industrialization and allowed Montreal to provide the amenities of modern life, such as tramways and lighting, to its citizens. As electrical transmission technology improved, hydroelectric development reached deeper into Canada's hinterlands (to James Bay, for instance), allowing power to come to the industry, not industry to the power.

  • When

    Electricity made possible the smelting of aluminum, a light, corrosion-resistant metal that quickly transformed manufacturing, construction and consumer products ranging from paint to kitchen pots. Both electrical and aluminum production became commercially viable in the 1880s, and thus Quebec found itself in the vanguard of these new technologies.

  • Who

    Shawinigan had promoters, including Montrealer Louis-Joseph Forget (1853-1911), but it also relied on capital and technology contributed by Americans like James Buchanan Duke (1857-1925). These men were often decried as monopoly capitalists who squeezed out competition and overcharged for their product.