Canadian Geographic
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Fueling Canada


The harnessing of water for the generation of low-cost electric power was an important factor in consolidating the industrial position of southern Quebec and Ontario. In Quebec large quantities of power were used by a few industrial consumers for the production of chemicals, pulp and paper, and metals. In Ontario the effect was more indirect through the substitution of electrical power for imported coal in a wide range of existing industries and locations.

With a multiplicity of power sites and a limited market outside Montréal, the hydroelectric power industry in Quebec remained under private control. While individual companies developed regional markets, the system was connected by transmission lines and interlocking directorships. In Ontario, by contrast, the anxieties of industrialists in southwestern Ontario that they would be denied power from the province’s dominant site at Niagara (then controlled by Toronto and Buffalo interests) led to political action. In 1906 the government created the publicly owned Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario (HEPCO) to administer the transmission, sale, and, later, production of power. HEPCO deliberately set low rates for domestic consumption while the private companies in Quebec maintained significantly higher domestic rates and consumption per capita was less.

Development of hydroelectric power and electrochemical industries at Niagara Falls triggered much economic growth. Canadian power companies served local manufacturing plants on both sides of the border but, as power came increasingly under the control of HEPCO, it was widely distributed to municipalities for resale to industries and households in southern Ontario.

The privately owned Shawinigan Water and Power Company was the dominant producer of electricity in Quebec and was concerned primarily with selling power on a long-term basis at relatively low rates to large industrial consumers, some of which were its subsidiaries. This policy stimulated industrial growth in Grand-Mere, Shawinigan, and Trois-Rivières. The Saint-Maurice valley became a major industrial centre with pulp and paper mills, textile and clothing factories, chemical plants, and an aluminum smelter, and it more than doubled its population from 61,000 in 1901 to 130,000 in 1931.

The growth and consolidation of urban centres, together with technical advances in the second half of the century, encouraged the development of rudimentary urban energy systems based on coal gas and electricity. Piped in from local gas works, coal gas provided a fuel for lighting and for some industrial processes. Electric-light works, developed in the 1880s with the invention of the dynamo, were situated at local water-power sites and powered nearby lighting systems.

With the development of long-distance transmission lines large-scale electrical power became available. As early as 1903 Shawinigan Water and Power Company (SW&P) was transmitting power along a 145-km line to Montréal, where it was sold to Montréal Light and Power. Although SW&P dominated the hydroelectric power industry in Quebec, six other companies served regional markets. Power from Niagara Falls reached Toronto by 1906 and London by 1911 and the network was rapidly extended and consolidated, especially throughout southwestern Ontario.

To learn more about this water-rich country, click here.


This series contains three interactive maps and one graph related to electricity generation. The first map shows value of electricity produced in Eastern Canada in 1891. The user can select various values using a slider. The second map shows electricity generation capacity for five regions of Ontario between 1906 and 1928. The third map does the same for 6 regions of Quebec. Lastly, the bar graph illustrates amount of electricity produced by province and method of generation in 2004. Users can navigate the series using the controls above or buttons below the image space, and can explore portions of each by clicking to zoom in and out, and dragging to pan around.


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Nuclear Power

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Quiz :

How much uranium did Canada produce in 2004?

About 3,000 tons
About 136,000 tons
About 13,500 tons