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

Play Timeline

Evolution of an Industry: 1913-1945

Even before the Kananaskis project was finished, engineers began to address the most significant problem with hydro development on the Bow River—irregular water flow. Hydroelectric dams operate most efficiently when the flow of the river is steady and consistent, but the water levels of the Bow River (and the speed at which they travel) fluctuate wildly between spring and winter. The best available solution was water storage and regulation—build a dam and a reservoir to divert and store water to be released during periods of low river flow. In 1912, the issue was partially solved with the construction of a dam at Lake Minnewanka, creating a reservoir that allowed for some regulation of the river. This alone was not sufficient to solve the problem, however, and advocates of hydroelectricity in Alberta eagerly sought permission to build more dams and create more storage reservoirs.

For the first time, however, advocates of Alberta hydropower came up against organized opposition to further expansion. The main point of contention between advocates and opponents

of hydropower was the fact that development along the Bow River had taken place in Rocky Mountain National Park. As detailed by Christopher Armstrong and H. V. Nelles in their book Wilderness and Waterpower, substantial opposition to further hydro development within the boundaries of the national park emerged in the 1920s. Tourism was big business, and opponents of hydropower development argued that more dams and storage facilities would detract from the landscape and potentially undermine the region’s appeal as a tourist destination. Advocates of hydropower, including Calgary Power, insisted that further expansion was necessary to meet the demand for electricity in southern Alberta. This struggle between competing economic interests was further complicated by a struggle between the federal and provincial governments regarding jurisdiction over the park. The end result was to stall several proposed projects in the 1920s, and there was very little further development within the boundary of the national park.

Yet, the growing demand for electricity in Alberta could not be ignored. The province had suffered a sharp economic downturn after the First World War, but prosperous times had returned in 1925, and Albertans needed more power. The result was the largest hydro project in Alberta history, the Ghost Hydroelectric Dam. Located on the Bow River downstream of both Horseshoe and Kananaskis Falls (and outside the boundary of the national park), this plant initially consisted of two 18,000 horsepower generators plus a 1,250 horsepower unit to provide electrical service for the station itself. The resulting artificial lake, the Ghost Reservoir, was 12 km (7 mi.) long and more than 1 km (3,281 ft.) wide. This massive storage reservoir allowed water flow to be regulated, ensuring an adequate supply for the power plants and doubling the existing productive capacity of Calgary Power.

The timing of the Ghost project, however, was less than ideal. The Ghost Hydroelectric Dam was finished in 1929, shortly before the worst economic crisis in Canadian history—the Great Depression, which severely undercut the demand for electrical power. All further power developments were quickly suspended and remained inactive until the outbreak of the Second World War, which sparked a rapid economic recovery and created enormous new demand related to the war effort. To meet this demand, Calgary Power was granted permission to expand its operations within the national park, and in 1942, the company built a new dam on the Cascade River. Coupled with improvements in the storage capacity of the existing projects, the new dam provided the necessary power to help meet the demands of war production. With new facilities on line and demand rising, the industry was well positioned for the future.

In this Section

Ghost Hydroelectric Dam

After a short economic downturn following the First World War, Alberta’s economy returned to the booming prosperity that had characterized the pre-war years.

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