Niagara Generating Stations

Where: Niagara Falls, ON.

Engineer: Dr. Colman Sellers, Clemens Hershel, W. A. Brackenridge, Cecil B. Smith and H. W. Buck

Date of construction: 1892 - 1932

1906 Plan of Canadian Niagara Power Company Power House. (Source: Transactions CSCE Vol. XIX).

Site Location: Lat.: 43° – 4’ – 30” N.; Long.: 79° – 4’ – 41” W. (GPS: 43.0749106, -79.0781727). From the Queen Elizabeth Way, take the ON-420 exit towards Niagara Falls U.S.A. Proceed east approximately 5 km as it becomes Falls Ave/Roberts St./Regional Rd 420. At the T-junction, take the ramp right (south) onto the Niagara Parkway and proceed 1.7 km: the William Birch Rankine Power Station is on the right (west).

Plaque Location: No plaque currently exists.

Interior of William Birch Rankine Power Station (Source: Ontario Heritage Trust)

Description: The Niagara Falls & River Railway Power House was the first on the Canadian side to generate electrical power using the 57 m (187 ft.) hydraulic drop at Niagara Falls. It supplied 2MW (2,700 hp.) of DC current from three turbines between 1892 and 1932. In 1905, the Canadian Niagara Power Company opened the William Birch Rankine Power Station at Cedar Island, that by 1924 had a total licensed generating capacity of 76 MW (102,000 hp.) of 25 Hz AC current. It continued operation until 2005. The Ontario Power Company opened a generating station at the foot of Horseshoe Falls in 1905 that produced 151 MW (203,000 hp.) of 25 Hz AC current until 1999. The Electrical Development Company, later named the Toronto Power Company, opened a station in 1906 just upstream from the Rankine Station with a capacity of 102.5 MW (137,500 hp.) of 25 Hz AC current that operated until 1974. In 1922, the Queenston Chippawa Power Station opened to produce 25 Hz AC current and was later upgraded to 60 Hz. It was renamed the Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating Station in 1950, expanded significantly in 1954 and 2013, and the two stations at the site now produce almost 2,000 MW (2,700,000 hp.).

The Rankine Generating Station initially housed five turbines and generators and expanding in 1924 to 11 turbines and generators. Water from the Niagara River dropped 55 m (180 ft.) to the turbines, which are connected by long shafts to the generators above. The engineering team included: Dr. Colman Sellers, Chief Mechanical Engineer; Clemens Hershel, Consulting Hydraulic Engineer; W. A. Brackenridge, Consulting Civil Engineer; Cecil B. Smith, Resident Engineer, and H. W. Buck, Electrical Engineer. In 2019, the Niagara Parks Commission, owners of the facility, publicised plans to re-open it to tourists in 2021 as a historic industrial site.

Construction of the north end of the power house, 1904. (Source: Niagara Falls Museums)

Historical Significance: Although the first Canadian hydroelectricity was generated in Ottawa in 1882, Niagara Falls was the first of the major North American hydroelectric power generation sites. The DC current produced at the earlier sites initially powered arc and incandescent lighting and subsequently electric motors, triggering intense economic activity in southern Ontario and, particularly, western New York.

The turn-of-the-last century stations opened by the Canadian Niagara Power Company, the Ontario Power Company, and the Electrical Development Company are particularly significant because they were designed to generate AC current, which is more readily transmitted, that eventually became the norm worldwide.

The Adam Beck Generating Station was the first major publicly owned generating station in Ontario and, at the time of its initial 1922 completion, was the largest hydroelectric generating station in the world.

The Province of Ontario established the Niagara Parks Commission in 1885 to preserve the natural scenery around Niagara Falls during a time of intense industrial development. The first Chairman was Colonel Casimir Gzowski, President of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers in 1889-1891, for whom the CSCE Gzowski Medal is named.

Links to Online Documentation:

Cecil B. Smith, “Construction of Canadian Niagara Power Company’s 100,000 H.P. Hydro Electric Plant at Niagara Falls, Ont.”, Transactions, Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, 1906.

Norman R. Ball, “William Birch Rankine Generating Station: Powerhouse in the Park”, Hydro Review, 2005.

Mark Csele, “Rankine Generating Station”, 2009.

Michael Cook, “The William B. Rankine Generating Station of the Canadian Niagara Power Company”, The Vanishing Point, 2010.

“Canadian Niagara Power Company”, Niagarafrontier.com.

“Canadian Niagara Power Generating Station”, Niagraparks.com