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.