Stembridge Tower Mill, Somerset, England
Raising windmill near Milo, Alberta, ca. 1910s
Wind turbine at Summerview 2 Wind Facility, 2010
  • 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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European Use of Wind Power

In Europe, the windmill was one of the greatest scientific triumphs of the medieval age. Though the technology spread throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, it was especially important in northern and western Europe, particularly England, Scandinavia, Holland, Belgium, France and Spain. The earliest verifiable reference to a European windmill comes from a late twelfth century manuscript, while other evidence reveals the presence of windmills elsewhere in Europe in the thirteenth century. These European windmills differed from the earlier Persian model in their orientation—the Persian windmills rested on a horizontal plane, while the European models stood tall on a vertical plane. The earliest windmills in Europe appear to have been post mills, whose central body rested on a series of posts and could be rotated to match the changing direction of the wind. These were increasingly replaced in the fourteenth century and beyond by tower mills. Unlike the post mill, which rotated its entire body to meet the wind, the

blade mechanism of the tower mill was positioned at the top. The top could rotate to adjust to wind direction, but the main frame of the mill stayed in place. This allowed for the construction of sturdier frames, built out of brick or stone rather than wood. Stronger towers could support heavier and larger rotary blade mechanisms, which in turn allowed tower mills to capture more of the wind’s energy than post mills. Tower mills, however, were more expensive to build, and as such, both tower and post mill technology continued to be used throughout the Middle Ages.

Windmills were built to serve a variety of functions, such as raising water for irrigation or sawing wood. By far the most important function of windmills, however, was to grind grain for food. In this period, a typical western European family would consume about 1.2 bushels of wheat and barley per week. Grinding this amount of grain by hand was extremely time consuming, requiring about nine hours of labour.

A wind-powered mill, however, could do the job in about thirty minutes, freeing up time for other pursuits. The importance of wind power in grinding grain comes down to us in a revealing anecdote from a late twelfth-century manuscript in Suffolk, England. At the time, England was a feudal state, with the rights and obligations of both lords and peasants clearly defined by the law. Among the most important rights held by a lord was a monopoly on milling grain—the lord owned and operated the local mill, and peasants had little choice but to pay the lord an oppressive fee to have their grain processed. So long as mills were primarily water powered, it was difficult for peasants to challenge that monopoly, since the lord typically controlled access to the water. The evolution of windmills, however, gave some enterprising peasants the opportunity to build mills to grind their own grain, making free use of wind power that the lord could not hope to monopolize.

One such peasant was Herbert of Bury, who built a mill on his farm in 1180; when challenged by his lord, Herbert allegedly said, “The free benefit of the wind ought not to be denied to any man.” Herbert’s lord, and the law, disagreed, and the mill was dismantled. Herbert’s failure, however, should not obscure the fact that wind power posed a potent threat to the existing social and economic order. By declaring that wind was a resource that should be freely available for all to harness, Herbert was articulating a powerfully democratic ideal.

Wind was thus a crucial source of power for Europeans through the Middle Ages. Estimates vary, but at the peak of their importance, there may have been as many as two hundred thousand windmills operating in Europe. One historian estimates that wind provided Europeans with one quarter of their energy needs up through the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century.

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