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

Play Timeline

Wind Power in North America and the Development of Wind Pumps

Windmill technology spread to North America in the seventeenth century and beyond with the spread of European colonialism. Settlers from the British Isles and continental Europe brought their wind power expertise with them and built windmills for long-established purposes like grinding grain, sawing wood or churning butter. Windmills were thus a common feature of the North American landscape from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. In some rural locations that saw high levels of immigration from Europe, traditional windmill technology persisted well into the twentieth century. A remarkable Alberta example comes from Bruderheim where William Mallon, a farmer of German descent who had immigrated to Alberta, built a windmill in 1920 for the purpose of grinding his rye and wheat into flour.

The full significance of wind power in North America, however, came only when it was adapted for the particular circumstances of settlement in the arid environment of the American Great Plains and the Canadian Prairie West. In areas like Alberta, settlement was made far easier and more productive through the use of windpumps. Agricultural settlement of the North American Plains began in the early nineteenth century and exploded in the decades after 1870. The end of the American Civil War, the

military subjugation of the indigenous population, and the construction of railways across the region all contributed to the tremendous growth of settlement in the American West in the late nineteenth century. At the same time, the Government of Canada purchased Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1869, opening the Canadian Prairies for agricultural settlement. When settlers arrived on the great expanse of the North American prairie, they found that the environment and the conditions for settlement were far different than in the East. Farming and ranching, the two staple industries of the region, required a great deal of water, and, unfortunately, the prairies lacked the vast system of rivers, streams and lakes found in the East. The region’s rainfall was also significantly less than what the newly arriving settlers were used to. The prairies did have plenty of water, but it was locked away in underground aquifers requiring wells and pumps to be raised. At first, wells were dug by hand using picks and shovels, and water was drawn by buckets. Once completed these wells might be from 2.5 to 9 m (8 to 29.5 ft.) deep. Such efforts took up too much time and energy and were insufficient for ranching. What was needed, therefore, was a pump that worked during all hours and that was cheap both to construct and to operate.

The solution rested in a piece of technology that was perfectly adapted for the prairie environment—the windpump. Simple and durable, windpumps appeared in the millions across the North American West to supply isolated ranches, farms and homesteads with vital water supplies. The pumps were powered by wind-driven blades that converted the wind’s power into mechanical energy by a set of gears which turned the rotary spin of the wheel into an up and down motion, thereby driving a cylinder pump located

underground. The pump, which was drilled deep into an aquifer, moved the water up to the surface.

The windpump was a uniquely North American innovation. It took existing windmill technology that had been used for centuries and modified it to meet the particular demands of western settlement. In short, it was one of the technologies that facilitated the successful agricultural settlement of the prairie region in both Canada and the United States.

In this Section

The Halladay and Jacobs Windmills

The first successful windpump was built by the American Daniel Halladay, who owned a machine shop in New England.

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