Rediscovering Hope's powerful history
In February, the Heritage Canada Foundation (HCF) encourages Canadians across the nation to celebrate the architectural heritage and historic places of Canada. This year, the HCF has chosen the Heritage of Power Generation as its theme.
The BC Power Commission
Starting in 1950, Hope’s newspaper regularly ran articles about power. In 1946, the BC Power Commission became responsible for Hope’s electrical needs, replacing the local diesel generator that had been in operation prior. BC Power greatly increased the electrification of the community. However, by the December 15, 1950 edition of the paper the front page story screamed: Hope’s Power Rates Under Attack: Power Commission Chairman accused of ‘Knifing Hope in the Back.
The article cited arguments that Hope was being deprived of investment from new industries due to excessive power rates. The article also claimed that Hope had been forced to become an “eight months town” where workers spent four months unemployed due to lack of industry.
BC Electric Takes Control
By June 1951, BC Power had sold its holdings at Hope to the BC Electric Company. BCE promised lower rates and a new 60,000 volt line to replace the aging 12,000 volt line from Rosedale to Hope. The sale reportedly brought an end to a three-year fight by local businessmen who were confident that annual savings in electricity costs would bring new industry, and more electrical appliances, to the community.
Hope Women Embrace Electric Cooking
In October 1951, the BC Electric Company hosted a free cooking school for ladies wanting to learn “the correct use of modern kitchen appliances and how to get the best results from them.” Over 300 local women attended the event where they learned how to make butter tarts, breaded veal cutlets, pineapple upside-down cake, and a broiler dinner. Various local businesses put electrical items on display including a hot water tank, a refrigerator, an electric range, and a mix master. The event was reported to be a stunning success!
“Nothing short of an atomic blast”
By May 1952, the paper reported that when the switch was thrown on BCE’s new 60,000 volt power line, “nothing short of an atomic blast would give rise to any concern about Hope’s power supply in future.”
The next week, at the official opening, BCE vice-president Tom Ingledow clarified the statement saying “I do not want to infer that service interruptions will not occur…what man can build, nature can upset.”
True to form, less than seven months later, the front page of the paper announced “Light Bulbs Pop, Radios Burn When Hope Has Power Surge.” Following a power cut to replace a damaged transformer in Hope, the paper reports “the power came back on with such voltage that radio sets belched smoke, light bulbs glared white and exploded, electric motors raced wild, heated and stopped.”
Heritage of power generation
From the earliest days of local diesel generators and individual families harnessing water power to the massive power projects that took place in this area to help power the entire province, the heritage of power generation in the Hope area is a fascinating topic to delve into.
The Skagit Valley
In 1942, approval to construct the High Ross Dam on the Skagit River in Washington State was given. The project, which was fiercely opposed by environmentalists, was slated to flood 5,000 acres of the Canadian Skagit Valley – a unique, flat-bottomed valley – in order to provide Seattle with power for peak times such as the dinner hour. After over forty years of debate, the Skagit Valley was officially saved from flooding on April 6, 1983. In 1997, the Skagit was designated as a Class A Provincial Park. The Skagit controversy is unique in that ordinary citizens took it upon themselves to protest the destruction of a unique ecosystem in the quest for more power – something far more common today than in than in the mid-20th century.
The Wahleach Power Project
In 1950, the BC Electric Company announced a ten million dollar hydro-electric project that would be undertaken at Jones Lake. The Wahleach Power Plant has true architectural heritage as its construction was a massive feat of engineering involving a 1,375 foot long, 55 foot high rock-fill dam, a 13,500 foot long tunnel, a brand new generating system, and a two million dollar ultra-high voltage transmission line. Today, the generating station, located along the highway just west of Laidlaw, is the only visible testament to the 18-month project that provided approximately 14 per cent of British Columbia’s electrical capacity when it opened in 1952.
The Trans-Mountain Oil Pipeline
In the 1950s, Trans-Mountain set about building the first oil pipeline to cross the Rocky Mountains. It would stretch from Edmonton to Vancouver and would pass through the Coquihalla Valley and Hope. Construction of the 1,116-kilometre pipeline brought great economic benefit to Hope and over 150 workers made temporary – and sometimes permanent – homes in the area. The Trans-Mountain oil pipeline opened to much fanfare on October 15, 1953. In Hope, the most visible reminders of the Trans-Mountain oil pipeline are the two large, green tanks located just east of the community.
The Westcoast Transmission Natural Gas Pipeline
In 1955, Westcoast Transmission began construction on a 1,046 kilometre natural gas pipeline that would stretch from Northeast BC to the border at Huntingdon, again running through the Coquihalla Valley. The 30-inch mainline would be the first “big inch” pipeline in Canada. In 2001, 11 kilometres of the 30-inch mainline through Hope was replaced with a new, 42-inch pipe. The most recognizable feature of the natural gas pipeline is the red and white “barber pole” that crosses the Fraser River and Highway 7 just west of Hope.
The Fraser River
The Fraser River is known world-wide as a great, untamed river. In the 1950s, however, a dam that would create a reservoir stretching over 260 kilometres – from Lillooet to Quenesl – was under serious consideration. The Moran Dam, as it became known, was fiercely opposed by environmentalists who feared the complete destruction of the Fraser’s salmon runs. The project was defeated in the late 1950s, but resurfaced in 1970 when BC hydro predicted enormous rises in annual power consumption. The Moran Dam died its final death in 1972.
What Does This Mean For Me?
Power generation and use underwent a major boom in the 20th century. The 1950s especially were a time of new labour-saving devices that would make housework faster, more convenient, and if advertisements are to be believed, more fun. The Hope area was a crucible where the rising demand for electricity confronted the environmental costs of power production. Today, many of these battles are still occurring.
While the enormous hydro-electric projects of the 1950s have gone out of style, water power is being harnessed in our area every day. Modern day run of river projects, operated by Independent Power Producers (IPPs), divert streams, run them through generators, and then empty them back into the main flow downstream to produce power that is then sold to BC Hydro. Hope residents have to look no further than the Fraser Canyon or the Harrison River area to see Run of River Projects in action – both operating and under construction.
Our demand for power and energy has reached an all-time high – just think of all the conveniences that become unavailable to us during times of power disruptions. Now imagine never being able to charge your cell phone or laptop, having to use ice to cool your food instead of your refrigerator, and having to burn wood instead of just turning on the furnace.
As our energy needs increase, so too does the need for more energy production – the question is, what will this look like as we progress through the 21st century? For more information on any of the topics discussed above contact the Hope Museum at (604)869-7322 or by email at email@example.com.
Visit the Hope Museum’s Power and Energy exhibit currently on display at the Hope Library. On Tuesday, February 28, come to the library at 7 p.m. for an interactive presentation and open discussion about power and energy in the Hope area – past and present.
Editor's Note: This article was researched and written by Kimberly Campbell and Inge Wilson of the Hope Museum. It is being run by The Observer to help readers understand the history of power projects and consumption in and around Hope. Visit the Hope Library to browse through related material currently on display.