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

Hydro Power in Ancient Times:
ca. 300 BCE–500 CE

Long before hydro power began providing electricity, it was used to perform simple but labour-intensive tasks. There is no consensus among historians regarding when and where the earliest hydraulic technology emerged. It is clear, however, that water power was used extensively in the Roman Empire and eastern Mediterranean region by at least the first century BCE. At this time, water-powered technology took the form of waterwheels—bladed wheels that sat on either a horizontal or vertical axis and transferred the kinetic energy of moving water into mechanical energy, most often to turn a millstone to grind grain into flour. The simplest in design was the horizontal waterwheel, which was usually positioned directly underneath the floor of a mill. The wheel sat horizontally in flowing water and was connected to the millstone by a simple vertical axle that turned as the water pushed the blades of the wheel; the turning wheel would thus rotate the millstone.

The simplicity of its design made the horizontal waterwheel relatively inexpensive and easy to operate. However, it provided much less power than the more common vertical waterwheels, which sat upright and transferred the kinetic energy of the water into mechanical energy through a series of gears and wheel-shafts. The first type of vertical waterwheel was the undershot model, which stood

upright with the bottom portion submerged in the river or stream. The natural flow of the water would provide the energy necessary to turn the blades, much like a horizontal waterwheel. The undershot wheel, however, was much more efficient at transferring the kinetic energy of the water into mechanical energy. The primary disadvantage of the undershot wheel was that it depended on the steady, consistent flow of the river or stream. If water levels were too low, there would not be sufficient energy to turn the wheel; conversely, too much water would submerge the wheel and render it useless.

These problems were largely solved by the second variant of vertical waterwheel, the overshot wheel. Construction of an overshot waterwheel typically involved the diversion of water from a river through an aqueduct, thus allowing the operator more control over regulating the flow of the water. The water was delivered to the wheel through a flume, and the wheel was turned at once by the flow and weight of the falling water. Overshot wheels were more expensive to build because they required water to be diverted from a stream or river; however, because they gained the additional advantage of gravity (the weight of the falling water), overshot wheels were much more powerful than undershot or horizontal models.

The Roman Empire was not alone in using hydro power in ancient times—water power was used to raise water for irrigation in Egypt and India by the first century BCE, while evidence suggests that water power was being used to operate forge bellows in China by the first century CE. The Romans, however, used water power on an extraordinary scale, driven in part by the necessity of grinding sufficient grain to feed its vast and growing population. The Barbegal archaeological site in present-day France gives an indication of the scale of Roman hydraulic engineering. The site yields evidence of two aqueducts, each feeding a row of eight overshot waterwheels lined up along a hillside.

The site appears to have been operated continuously for two centuries (the first to third centuries CE), and the sixteen waterwheels powered mills capable of grinding enough grain to feed thousands of people on a daily basis.

The Romans thus utilized water power on a massive scale, most importantly for the milling of grain. The fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century CE did not bring an end to the large-scale use of hydro power. Rather, the knowledge and technology survived, diffused, and became even more important in Europe and other parts of the world over the following centuries.

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