On the Side of Caution
Toronto Power Company Generating Station
Located in Niagara, ON Canada
Photo © 2006 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Toronto Power Company Generating Station History
The Toronto Power House in Queen Victoria Park was constructed and operated by the Electrical Development Company (later the Toronto Power Company), going online in November of 1906. The area it was built on was originally a few feet underwater until land was artificially placed for the building to rest on. When the Beaux-Arts style building opened, eleven turbines produced 11,000 horsepower each; upgrades in later years increased the capacity for a total output of 137,000 horsepower. It was the first entirely-Canadian owned hydroelectric station in the Niagara Falls region.
The basic premise of a hydroelectric plant is to capture the kinetic energy of falling water by pushing turbines located at the bottom of very tall pits; the water flow turns a shaft that is connected to a generator located at the top, which then converts mechanical energy into electricity. The Toronto Power Station could only be built on the parcel of land owned by the Electrical Development Company, which did not have the fortune of owning such a vertical drop - so one was dug out of the bedrock. Massive iron penstocks were hung to carry the water to the turbines in the wheel pit. Once the water had pushed the turbines, it was directed into two discharge tunnels which combined into a single tailrace, and finally exited underneath the curtain of water at Horseshoe Falls. The tunnel complex was 1,900 feet long in total, and located 150 feet below ground.
The power house was the scene of a daring rescue attempt which took place in August 1918, when a steel barge carrying rock had broken free from its tow line and was headed straight for the falls. One of the three men aboard jumped off and safely swam to shore; the other two opened the dumping hatches to let water in, ultimately beaching the craft in the middle of the rapids. The only hope for rescue was to shoot a line from the roof of the Toronto Power House to the scow and rig a breeches-buoy to it; after several attempts, the buoy became entangled with the line. A local riverman by the name of William "Red" Hill volunteered to climb hand-over-hand above the raging waters to untangle the line. He managed to straighten the line while dangling from the rope with his legs, allowing the men to be saved after a 16 hour ordeal. He was awarded the Carnegie Medal for his courageous actions; the old scow still remains in the rapids to this day.
The plant was eventually shut down on February 15th 1974 as generating service was preferred from the Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Power Station in Queenston. The Toronto Power Station was designated as a Canadian national historic site in 1983, however the building continued to deteriorate over the years. Ownership was transferred to the National Parks Commission in 2007; structural assessments are underway to evaluate an adaptive reuse plan.
Just about all the historical images below (and more!) can be found at the Niagara Falls Public Library website. For some incredible text and photos of the tunnels beneath the station, check out the report on Vanishing Point.