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. By 1925, electricity consumption was surging, with Calgary’s requirements almost doubling in only a few years. New sources of energy had to be found, and the answer was in hydroelectricity. At that time, hydro was still considerably cheaper than coal-power generation and would remain so for another quarter century.
Calgary Power was the province’s main energy supplier, already operating the Horseshoe and Kananaskis Falls plants west of Calgary along the Bow River. Further expansion within Banff National Park was complicated by issues of jurisdiction, so the company turned to the confluence of the Bow and Ghost Rivers as the location for its next project. After finalizing a lease on the territory in 1929, Calgary Power began construction of the Ghost Dam and Reservoir. The project was significantly larger than both Horseshoe and Kananaskis, and when it was brought online, the Ghost facility had an output of 28 MW, nearly doubling the
company’s total capacity and providing a significant boost to provincial power generation. Once completed, high voltage transmission lines were stretched out to Edmonton, and for years this line was the backbone of Alberta’s electrical system.
The timing of this project was nearly disastrous. While demand and prices had been high in the booming 1920s, Ghost Dam came online just as the Great Depression was wreaking havoc with the provincial and global economies. The depression slowed economic activity in every sector of Alberta’s economy, and soon power demand leveled off and began to drop. It was expected that the heavy borrowing needed to build the dam would be paid off with high usage and prices, but the economic slowdown had created a risky debt load with rapidly falling demand for power. Ultimately, it would take the company years to pay off the expenses it had incurred and to find new markets for all the excess power it now had. Today, the Ghost Hydroelectric Dam has nearly doubled its generating capacity to 51 MW.