Japanese woodblock print of waterwheel
Calgary Water Power Company hydroelectric plant, n.d.
Calgary Power’s dam at Lake Minnewanka, Alberta, 1912
  • Spear points from the Clovis phase found in present-day Alberta.<br/>Source: Historical Resources Management Branch, Archaeological Survey

    Clovis phase spear points used in present-day Alberta.

    Clovis phase spear points represent the oldest hunting technology in Alberta, and indeed all of North America. These fluted, jagged stone points would be attached to a bone or wooden shaft and used to hunt enormous prey such as mammoths and mastodons.
    Source: Historical Resources Management Branch, Archaeological Survey

  • Diagram of an atlatl (spear-thrower)<br/>Source: Courtesy of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

    Atlatl (spear-thrower) technology emerges in present-day Alberta.

    Atlatls were used by early hunter’s to increase the velocity of their projectile weapons. Spears or darts thrown with an atlatl could deliver devastating wounds to an animal, allowing the hunter to kill the animal from a safe distance.
    Source: Courtesy of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

  • Representation of an early hunter drawing a bow<br/>Source: Courtesy of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

    Bow and arrow technology reaches present-day Alberta.

    Bow and arrow technology in North America appears to have developed first in the Arctic before spreading south throughout the continent. The bow and arrow was ideally suited for use in the wide open spaces of the Great Plains, and was widely adopted across the region.
    Source: Courtesy of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

  • Petroglyph of a mounted hunter chasing a bison, Milk River<br/>Source: Royal Alberta Museum

    The ‘Horse Revolution’ begins in present-day Alberta.

    Horses were brought to North America by Spanish colonists in the sixteenth century. From the Spanish colony of New Mexico, horses spread across North America, reaching present-day Alberta in the 1730s. The adoption of the horse had a significant impact on the hunting/transportation patterns of Plains First Nations peoples.
    Source: Royal Alberta Museum

  • Swimmers Enjoying the Banff Hot Springs, ca. 1935<br/>Source: Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, v263-na-3562

    Rocky Mountains National Park is established by the Canadian government.

    One of the main attractions of the new park was the site’s natural hot springs. The luxurious Banff Springs Hotel, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1888, pumped water from the hot springs into its swimming pools and treatment rooms. Tourists flocked to the site to take advantage of the water’s supposed therapeutic healing powers.
    Source: Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, v263-na-3562

  • Calgary Water Power Company hydroelectric plant, n.d.<br/>Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-4477-44

    The Calgary Water Power Company opens Alberta’s first hydroelectric plant.

    The company was owned by entrepreneur Peter Prince, who also ran the Eau Claire & Bow River Lumber Company. From 1894 to 1905, the company was the major electricity provider for the city of Calgary.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-4477-44

  • The city power plant in Edmonton, 1912<br/>Source: Glenbow Archives, NC-6-271

    The City of Edmonton purchases the Edmonton Electric Lighting Company.

    The decision in favour of public ownership was made after repeated disruptions in service from the privately-owned utility. Edmonton was the first major urban centre in Canada to own its own electricity utility.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NC-6-271

  • Changing the name from Calgary Power to TransAlta, 1981<br/>Source: Photo courtesy of TransAlta

    The Calgary Power Company is formed.

    The founder of the company, Max Aitken, was initially drawn to the region by its vast hydroelectricity potential. The company would develop into Canada’s largest investor-owned utility. In 1981, the company changed its name to TransAlta Utilities Corporation, in order to better reflect its provincial reach.
    Source: Photo courtesy of TransAlta

  • Calgary Power’s power house at Horseshoe Falls on the Bow River, ca. 1912<br/>Source: Glenbow Archives NA-3544-28

    Alberta’s First hydroelectric dam opens at Horseshoe Falls.

    Owned and operated by Calgary Power, the Horseshoe Falls Dam was the first of two such facilities built on the Bow River system prior to the First World War. A second hydroelectric dam began operations at Kananaskis Falls in 1913.
    Source: Glenbow Archives NA-3544-28

  • Ghost Hydroelectric Dam, 1935<br/>Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-5663-44

    The Ghost Hydroelectric Dam begins operations

    This massive facility was the largest hydroelectric dam in Alberta at the time it was built. The Ghost Power Plant more than doubled the amount of electricity generated by Calgary Power, which was already the province’s main energy supplier.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-5663-44

  • Rural electrification crew at work near Irma, 1951<br/>Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-4160-20

    The first Rural Electrification Association (REA) in Alberta is established in Springbank.

    Over the next two decades, a total of 416 REAs would be established across the province. These organizations would play a crucial role in the spread of electricity to rural Alberta.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-4160-20

  • CCF Advertisement in the People’s Weekly, August 14, 1948, urging people to support public utility ownership<br/>Source: Image courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces, a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries

    Voters of Alberta narrowly reject proposal for public ownership of electricity utilities.

    The 1948 provincial election included a plebiscite concerning ownership of electricity utilities in Alberta. Rural areas largely voted in favour of public ownership, while urban voters (particularly in southern Alberta) supported a continuation of private ownership. In the end, the vote was extremely close, with public ownership defeated by a mere 151 votes.
    Source: Image courtesy of Peel’ Prairie Provinces, a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries

  • Five of the turbines installed at Cowley Ridge Wind Farm<br/>Source: Photo courtesy of TransAlta

    Cowley Ridge Wind Farm begins operations near Pincher Creek.

    Cowley Ridge was Canada’s first commercial wind farm. A total of fifty-two wind turbines were installed in 1993-94. In 2000, the project was expanded with the addition of fifteen new (and much more powerful) turbines.
    Source: Photo courtesy of TransAlta

  • Aerial view of Drake Landing Solar Community<br/>Source: Wikimedia Commons/CA-BY-SA-3.0

    Drake Landing Solar Community opens near Okotoks, Alberta.

    Drake Landing is North American’s first fully integrated solar community. This award-winning initiative uses solar heating technology to provide the community with the majority of its space heating and hot water needs.
    Source: Wikimedia Commons/CA-BY-SA-3.0

  • AAdvanced Energy Research Facility, Edmonton, 2011LT<br/>Source: Photo Courtesy of Enerkem

    The City of Edmonton announces the launch of the ‘waste-to-biofuels’ project.

    The waste-to-biofuels project will convert garbage into biofuel by harvesting carbon from the waste material. The project includes an Advanced Energy Research Facility, which opened in 2012.
    Source: Photo Courtesy of Enerkem

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Early Alberta Hydro History: to 1913

The early development of hydroelectric power in Alberta was a direct product of the province’s great immigration and settlement boom of the early twentieth century. As in the rest of North America, it was the explosive population growth in urban centres that drove the demand for electricity in Alberta. Between 1901 and 1911, Calgary’s population increased nearly tenfold, from 4,398 to 43,706. It was this tremendous population growth, coupled with the city’s close proximity to the powerful water resources of the Rocky Mountains, that made Calgary the epicentre of Alberta’s early hydroelectric development.

Calgary’s first hydro plant was nothing like the enormous mega projects that would characterize hydro later in the twentieth century. It was a small shack-like building constructed by the Calgary Water Power Company in 1893. This two-storey structure was built along a weir spanning the south bank of the Bow River and Prince’s Island, just north of downtown Calgary. This barrier altered the flow of the river and pooled water so

that it could be channelled through the plant. It was originally built to supplement the company’s wood-fueled steam plant, but was later connected to a generator that provided electricity to much of Calgary. In 1894, the Calgary Water Power Company was granted a ten-year monopoly on providing Calgary with electricity.

By 1905, the existing facilities and infrastructure could not meet Calgary’s demand for electricity. Hydroelectric power was still the cheapest option available, and the region needed all it could get. New corporations entered the race to develop southern Alberta’s hydro potential. In 1911, Calgary Power (which would evolve into TransAlta Utilities over the next century) completed the province’s first major hydroelectric plant in order to provide Calgary with badly needed electricity. This plant was constructed at Horseshoe Falls on the Bow River, about fifty miles upstream from Calgary.

Even before the Horseshoe Falls plant was finished, it was clear that this one project would not be sufficient to provide booming Calgary with its electricity needs. In 1910, Calgary Power won the bid to build a second hydroelectric facility on the Bow River, this one located at Kananaskis Falls. Development of this project was complicated for several years by a dispute between Calgary Power and the Nakoda people, upon whose reserve land the facility was to be constructed. The Nakoda people wanted a one-time payment of $10,000 and an annual rent of $1,500 from Calgary Power for the right to build and operate the facility—terms that the company had accepted to clear the way for the Horseshoe Falls project, but which it now refused to pay a second time. The company received permission from the federal government to proceed with construction prior to

reaching a negotiated settlement, a move that outraged the Nakoda and dramatically raised tension between the two sides. The project was completed in 1913, one year before the Nakoda and Calgary Power reached a final financial agreement.

By the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, hydroelectricity was well on its way to becoming an essential source of power for Albertans. The economic boom and population growth had created enormous demand for electricity, and investors recognized the profits to be made by developing the region’s hydro potential. Large-scale projects like Horseshoe Falls and Kananaskis Falls were precursors of what was to come, as developers would look to expand the province’s hydroelectric capacity in the 1920s and beyond.

In this Section

Horseshoe Dam Hydroelectric Plant

Alberta’s first large-scale hydroelectric plant, Horseshoe Falls, came about through the intersection of two powerful and complementary forces that defined early twentieth-century southern Alberta.

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