The Edmonton Light & Power Substation No.100


Address: 11525 80th Street.
Architects: Allan Merrick Jeffers of the City Architects Department
Constructed: 1913

On Friday, October 30th, 1908, Edmonton transformed. Its new status symbol, a streetcar network, the first west of Winnipeg and east of Vancouver, was trialled. The wide, dual doors of the Syndicate Avenue Streetcar Barns were opened as Car No.2, the Edmonton Radial Railway’s new tram, clattered out and headed south at 10:00 p.m. sharp. The test proved an immediate success. Despite a blown fuse, public reception to the system was incredible — Edmontonians had mobbed the car for the chance of being the first to ride. Within a week the new street railway was in full service.

By 1912 the tramway had spread out to every corner of the city. Whether you lived in Norwood, Westmount, Strathcona, or Bonnie Doon, streetcar service was nearby. The Railway boasted some forty-six electric-powered passenger cars along with seven work cars, and showed no signs of slowing down its expansion. But with that growth came problems. Electrical troubles plagued the network. Incidents like a generator breaking down twice in one week were common and tarnished the E.R.R.’s reputation. They needed a solution, and soon got one — the Railway was moving. Its original home on Syndicate Avenue was to be abandoned for a new purpose built facility on John Street — today’s 80th. It was no better a time to try and solve their constant issues. In early 1913, as part of the overall grounds for the Cromdale Streetcar Barns, a new powerhouse would be built. Yet, the E.R.R. weren’t the ones to build it.

Previously, the E.R.R. had been responsible for their own power needs. It was clear to City Council, however, that they would be better served by the municipally-run Edmonton Light & Power Company. On May 1st, 1913, they voted to transfer the obligation. The decision was primarily for the benefit to the E.R.R. who had been strapped financially during the year thanks to an order of thirty-five cars and the new barn. Superintendent Woodroofe described the handover as an “economical method of operating.”

With the big move to Cromdale, the E.L.&P. Co. took the opportunity to plan for the future and try and solve the Railway’s ever precarious power problem. “Plans were at once prepared and construction commenced on a permanent brick substation of modern type, situated on John Street, adjoining the new car barns. A transmission voltage of 6,600 volts was determined to be the most economical, and was, therefore, adopted — two 1,000 K.V.A. three phase, step-down transformers [are] being installed in the substation,” read the company’s annual report. Another generator went online the following January. Self-cooled, the transformers were supplied from the Packard Electrical Company of St. Catherine’s at a cost of $9,520 per unit. In total, equipment prices alone for the new substation cost the City some $56,000.

The small grey substation opened for service in November 1913 and effectively ended the tramway’s electric struggles. For thirty-eight years the tiny building gave power to Edmonton’s fleet of streetcars, guiding them through two world wars and a great depression. Eventually — because of the introduction of trolleybuses in September 1939 — street railway service was phased out while the system transitioned from “rails-to-tubber.” Substation No.100’s last day of regular streetcar service was on September 1st, 1951. It powered Car No.1 on a ceremonial tour around the city.

Currently the old plant sits unused and largely abandoned. Its roof is failing, its entrances and windows covered with rotting wood. As one of the few tangible links to both Edmonton’s streetcar and industrial heritage, it would be a shame to see it go.

Sources:
  • Colin K. Hatcher and Tom Schwarzoph, Edmonton’s Electric Transit: The Story of Edmonton’s Streetcars and Trolley Buses (Toronto: Railfare Enterprises, 1983), 16, 17, 57.
  • “Low ‘Juice,’ Less Cars,” Edmonton Journal, October 30, 1913.
  • City of Edmonton, McCauley/ Alberta Avenue Historic Resources Inventory Final Report, by Urban Systems Ltd., (City of Edmonton: Edmonton, AB, December 2011), 29.
  • “City Hall Notes,” Edmonton Journal, July 17, 1913.
  • Heather Marshall and Debbie Culbertson, Candles to Kilowatts: The Story of Edmonton’s Power Company (Edmonton: Duval House Publishing, 2002), 14.
  • “Firm in East to Send City Transformers,” Edmonton Journal, May 31, 1913.
  • “World’s Money Markets Must Give Edmonton Eight Millions To Deal With City’s Work In Coming Years,” Edmonton Journal, January 7, 1913.

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