With reporting from Jeff Fournier.
On today’s date in 1915, Adam Beck, the first chair of the Hydroelectric Power Commission, officially opened the Eugenia Hydroelectric Generating Station in Eugenia, Ont.
People living before the 20th century faced life without electricity. Homes were heated by burning coal or wood while any light was produced by burning kerosene gas or candles. Machinery was operated by horse or steam power, and life was simple but labour intensive.
Today, electricity is abundant and helps make our lives easier. We can produce it by using fossil fuels such as uranium or gas or by using renewable resources such as wind, solar energy or water.
In Canada, hydro power is the leading source of electricity, accounting for more than 60 per cent of overall generation. Hydro power is so deeply rooted in Canada that many people use the terms “hydro” and “electricity” interchangeably.
“Hydro” is a Greek word for “water.”
It was during the 1800s when people first learned to use water to make electricity thanks to the invention of the generator early in that century. In its simplest form, this machine is composed of wires wound around a stationary casing, electromagnets wound around a movable shaft and a propeller or turbine attached to the end of that shaft. To keep the shaft spinning, a hydroelectric station uses falling water directed at the turbine.
Most stations use either the natural drop of a river or the drop created when a dam is built across a river to raise the water level. Water at the higher level goes through the intake into a pipe (called a penstock), which carries it down to the turbine. When the turbine is set in motion, it causes the generator to rotate, and electricity is produced. The process takes advantage of a scientific phenomenon: as a conductor passes through a magnetic field, it causes a flow of electrons in that wire.
Hydro power facilities are designed to have long lives that can be extended indefinitely through refurbishment and upgrades. It is common for hydroelectric generators to operate for decades and oftentimes a century or more.
At more than 100 years old, the Eugenia Hydroelectric Generating Station in southwestern Ontario is a perfect example.
EUGENIA’S POWER STATION
Located on the Beaver River in the small community of Eugenia, which is in the municipality of Grey Highlands, the station is the oldest operating hydroelectric plant in Ontario constructed by the Hydroelectric Power Commission of Ontario, the predecessor of today’s Ontario Power Generation.
After its approval was granted, the construction began in 1914. It was officially opened by Beck on Nov. 18, 1915, and was the second plant the commission had built—the first being the Wasdell Falls Generating Station on the nearby Severn River, about 100 kilometres east of Eugenia.
One of the outstanding features of the Eugenia plant is its steep operating head, which at 180 metres ranks as the highest operating head of any hydroelectric facility in Ontario.
The first settlers in the Eugenia area began clearing land in about 1850. In the process, they discovered a small river that had its source in numerous tamarack swamps and springs. The stream wound its way through the hills until it came to the edge of a nearby valley. Here, the river hurled itself over a precipice to land in a pool 25 metres below before roaring down to the bottom of the valley in a series of raging cataracts dropping 125 metres. Both the river and the valley were soon named after the area’s plentiful beaver population while the falls were named after the small village of Eugenia built beside them on the edge of the valley.
Practical settlers soon put the river to good use, and by 1870, no fewer than four different mills were doing various tasks along the upper reaches of the river.
Eugenia has become a tourist and cottage destination. Lake Eugenia, created when the area was flooded for the dam that would provide water to the power station, is home to about 400 cottages. Anglers are drawn by the lake’s largemouth bass, rock bass, perch, sunfish and bullhead catfish.
The Bruce Trail, which follows the Niagara Escarpment through southwestern Ontario, runs through Eugenia as part of a large network of local nature trails and conservation areas.
Of special significance to numismatists, a commemorative medal was issued in 2015 to mark the Eugenia generating facility’s centennial.
Featured on the obverse of the 50-millimetre medal is a view of Eugenia Falls as it appeared before the development of the generating station. On the medal’s reverse is one of the generators that still operates inside the plant today.
Only 255 medals were produced in seven different finishes, including (mintages in brackets) antiqued gold plate (50), antique bronze plate (50), bright copper plate (25), satin nickel plate (25), antiqued silver plate (50), bright nickel plate (five) and antiqued copper plate (50).
The Eugenia Hydroelectric Generating Station centennial medal continues a tradition of numismatic pieces featuring Canadian hydroelectric generating stations, including a municipal token struck in 1967 for the Saunders Hydroelectric Generating Station in Cornwall, Ont., and three medals for Churchill Falls, a large hydroelectric generator in Labrador.
The first of the three Churchill Falls medals were produced as a memento of the plant’s official ground-breaking ceremony, officiated by then-Newfoundland premier Joey Smallwood in July 1967.
In 1972, the station was officially opened and commemorated on another medal presented at the ceremonies in May of that year.
The third medal, also struck in 1972 for the opening ceremonies, was presented to the directors of the Churchill Falls Corporation. This 95-millimetre piece presents quite a challenge to most collectors as a mere 25 examples were struck.