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Transportation Public Transportation

Transit Progress Derailed:

Ontario Hydro's Radial Electric Railway Scheme

by (author) David Spencer

DC Books
Initial publish date
Oct 2012
Public Transportation, History, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2012
    List Price

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In the early 1900s, electricity was THE booming technology, and with it, electric railways. Almost all electric power was privately-generated, and the continent's street railways delivered significant profits to their private shareholders. Although he was a prosperous London, Ontario manufacturer (while simultaneously the Mayor and the Conservative member of Ontario's provincial Legislature), Adam Beck believed in the benefits of a publicly-owned electricity grid ('Power at Cost!'). He was opposed to privately-owned companies whose high rates inadequately served public needs. Beck was convinced that government-ownership would result in lower costs, to be passed on to the public, causing the use of electric technology to spread well beyond the privileged elite. His political acumen and connections resulted in the 1906 creation of the Hydro-Electric Power Commission, Ontario Hydro, the world's first publicly-owned utility. Premier Whitney appointed Beck as Chairman while also sitting as the government's 'Power Minister'. Hydro would advocate a municipally-owned hydro-electric system, funded by the Province, generating electricity from Niagara Falls as well as other Ontario lake and river sources. The utility would thus spur economic development by bringing cheap public power to Ontario's many energy-hungry municipalities. It would only be a short time after the first public power flowed through the wires to Berlin, Ontario (now Kitchener-Waterloo) in October 1910 that Beck had delivered the first step in his grandiose plan to place Hydro at the centre of the province's economic, political and social agenda. Two years later, at a Brantford, Ontario meeting, he mused aloud that what the Province really needed was a series of electrically-powered railways. He was knighted by King George V in 1914 for his promotion of electricity and development of transmission lines, but, with the 1915 introduction of legislation outlining his network of long-distance electric interurban railways (also known as 'radials') scheme, Beck had unknowingly created the process that would cost him his career.

About the author

David Spencer is a professor of information and media studies at the University of Western Ontario. He holds a diploma in media from Ryerson, a B.A. from York, and a Ph.D. from U of T. His work has been published in Canada, the US, and Europe. He has worked in history circles acting at one time as President of the American Journalism Historians’ Association and chair of the History Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is a corresponding editor for the American publication, Journalism History. He is also the founder and editor of the Canadian Journal of Media Studies.

David Spencer's profile page