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Canadian Niagara Power Company



Canadian Niagara Power - Rankine Power Station

A view of the Canadian Niagara Power Generating Station located above the Horseshoe Falls


William Birch Rankine of Geneva, New York came to Niagara Falls in 1877 at the age of 19 to study law under the guidance of Augustus Porter. Rankine was in awe over the sight of the mighty Falls and began studying the thought of harnessing its power for hydro-electricity generation.

By 1899, Rankine had attracted sufficient investors to form the Niagara Falls Power Company.

On October 4th 1900 sod was turned to build a power development in Niagara Falls, New York.

The Canadian Niagara Power Company (CNP) was incorporated on April 2nd 1892. On that day, an agreement was reached between the Queen Victoria Niagara Falls Park Commission and Canadian Niagara Power Company so allow the fledgling power company to divert water from the Canadian side of the Niagara River for electrical power generation. They also received permission to build a power station a short distance upriver of the Horseshoe Falls.

The Canadian Niagara Power Company was represented by Colonel Albert D. Shaw (former United States Consul to Canada and Great Britain) of Watertown New York,  Francis Lynde Stetson (lawyer) of New York City, William B. Rankine (lawyer) of New York City, John D. Irwin of Toronto Ontario and Charles J. Holman of Toronto Ontario. 

The contract covered a period of twenty-five (25) years and allowed for the contract to be extended  three additional 25 year terms totaling one hundred (100) years. The Canadian Niagara Power Company paid the Queen Victoria Niagara Falls Park Commission twenty-five thousand ($25,000) dollars per year for the first ten (10) years. The rental would increase one thousand ($1,000) dollars per year for each of the following ten (10) years to the total of thirty-five thousand ($35,000) per year to be paid each year at the end of the twentieth (20th) year and for each subsequent year until the end of the contract. The contract gave the power company the right to terminate the lease at any time during the first twenty (20) years providing they gave the Commission three (3) months notice.




The generators at the Canadian Niagara Power Station

A view of the generators at the Canadian Niagara Power Generating Station



The agreement between the Canadian Niagara Power Company and the Queen Victoria Niagara Falls Park Commission stipulated that the power company had to pay an equivalent of two years rental in advance and that construction on the power station would begin by May 1st of 1897. Furthermore, by November 1st 1898, water connections capable of developing 25,000 horsepower were to be completed and at least 10,000 horsepower of electric or pneumatic power was to be ready for use on that day. 

The Canadian Niagara Power Company was independent of the Niagara Falls Power Company and the Cataract Construction Company but Stetson and Rankine were members of all three companies. 

In 1901, the Niagara Falls Power Company began buying capital stock of the Canadian Niagara Power Company allowing the funding to allow construction to begin. In addition, both companies shared technical data.

Initial commencement of construction for the Canadian Niagara Power Station was delayed while the power station of the American shore was being completed in order to fulfill electrical power contracts with the City of Buffalo New York and the Pittsburgh Reduction Company.

On July 19th 1895, Rankine met several directors of the Niagara Falls Park and River Railway. As a result of this meeting, an agreement was signed on September 7th 1895 between the Canadian Niagara Power Company and the Park Railway allowing the railway to sell off its excess power for the following three years. Following this three year period, the Canadian Niagara Power Company would if feasible assume the power contracts of the electric railway and its tenants (Niagara Falls Ontario Electric Light Company and the Carmelite Fathers Hospice at Falls View). This agreement allowed the Canadian Niagara Power Company to further delay the construction of their power station. The issue of transmitting power over long distances had yet to be resolved.




Canadian Niagara Power Station

A side view of the Canadian Niagara Power Generating Station




Canadian Niagara Power faced much opposition for its delay and the Government of Ontario was lobbied to withdraw any extension to the franchise. On April 23rd 1897, the Ontario Government decided not to extend their franchise to the Canadian Niagara Power Company. 

On April 30th 1897, work on the Canadian Niagara Power Station was begun. The work was minor but sufficient to satisfy the terms of the franchise contract. 

On August 6th 1897, Rankine went to Toronto to lobby the Ontario Government to allow the Niagara Falls Park and River Railway to install additional equipment for their powerhouse at the Table Rock and to generate electrical power on behalf of the Canadian Niagara Power Company until they could produce electrical power of their own. For this privilege the River Railway would pay a small royalty fee. When Canadian Niagara Power was ready to produce electricity it would buy any equipment the railway company found it necessary to purchase. 

On November 22nd 1897, the Government of Ontario approved William Rankine’s proposal. 

On November 27th 1897, an official agreement was signed to which the Niagara Falls Park and River Railway declared that electric power would be produced in the railway powerhouse with equipment owned by Canadian Niagara Power Company and that they (CNP) would have full control of the electricity generated by its two 425 horsepower generators. 

On December 20th 1898, an Ontario Divisional Court in Toronto ruled that the Canadian Niagara Power Company would be allowed to continue its sole franchise providing that the company continues to pay its annual rental fee of twenty-five thousand ($25,000) dollars. 

Lengthy delays in construction caused a large public outcry and groups of citizens banded together in an effort to have the granted franchise taken away from the Canadian Niagara Power Company entirely so that other power companies could bid for development within the park. 

On March 1st 1899 the Canadian Niagara Power Company in an agreement with the Queen Victoria Niagara Falls Park Commission gave up “sole or exclusive rights to use water of the Niagara River within the limits of the said Park”

On August 3rd 1899, Canadian Niagara Power Company in a media release promised that electric power would be transmitted to Toronto for industrial and lighting purposes. 

On March 31st 1900, the Government of Ontario approved a proposed hydroelectric power station be built on the Canadian bank of the Niagara River by the Ontario Power Company. A deposit of thirty thousand ($30,000) dollars was made to the park commission to cover the first two years of the contract. The Ontario Power Company intended to compete head to head with the Canadian Niagara Power Company. 

The Ontario Power Company (OPC) planned to begin construction immediately with an initial output estimated at 30,000 to 40,000 horsepower. The cost of the project was two million dollars. 

On May 23rd 1901, construction on the Canadian Niagara Power Station was finally started. 

On June 7th 1902, the Niagara Falls Power Company announced that it had successfully found a way for the Canadian Niagara Power Company to transmit power over long distances at 60,000 volts. Thus accomplishment resulted in a contract with the Canadian General Electric Company for twelve (12) transformers. These transformers were needed to step up the current from the Canadian Niagara Power Station to 60,000 volts for transmission to Toronto. 

On January 2nd 1905 the Canadian Niagara Power Company power station was formally opened. Two ten thousand (10,000) horsepower generators (approx. 8,500 kilowatts each) were put into operation. 

The CNP grew to house eleven generators with the last put into service in June 1927. bringing the total installed capacity to 120,500 horsepower at 25 hertz. The cost of the powerhouse at the time of completion in 1924 amounted to $5,199,827,78.




Digging the forebay of the Canadian Niagara Power Station

An historic view of the construction of the forebay of the Canadian Niagara Power Generating Station

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library



The power house is built on what used to be Cedar Island. It takes advantage of the normal river current which used to flow around Cedar Island.

The powerhouse is located 1,500 feet upriver from the Falls. Water is diverted from the river by a concrete weir that extends into the river. The water is channeled into the fore bay and enters the penstocks (10’ 2” diameter) and plunges down 136 feet to the turbine below. 

The rotating turbine turns a 40” diameter steel shaft connected to the generator. The generators rotate at 250 revolutions per minute with a peripheral speed of 110 miles per hour. The generators produce the electricity. The water after leaving the turbines empties into a 25 foot high – 2,200 foot long discharge tunnel and discharges into the lower Niagara River at the base of the Horseshoe Falls.

On September 30th 1905, William Rankine died, three days after the third generator was put into operation.

In 1907,  the Rankine Power Station provided the first electricity to the Village of Fort Erie. 

In 1927, the Canadian Niagara Power Company powerhouse was renamed the “William Birch Rankine Power Station”




A clock in the office - Rankine Power Station

A Clock in the Office of the Canadian Niagara Power Company - Rankine Power Station



Today, eleven generators produce 100,000 horsepower (75 megawatts). The generators have vertical shafts, wound for three-phase current, producing 11,000 volts of 25 cycle power at 250 revolutions per minute.

The Canadian Niagara Power Company remained privately owned although initially affiliated with the Niagara Falls Power Company. In 1950, the company became a direct subsidiary of the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation.  

On September 5th 2000,  National Grid Group (United Kingdom) and Niagara Mohawk signed an agreement to merge. Under this agreement, National Grid will acquire Niagara Mohawk through the formation of a new National Grid holding company, New National Grid.

In 2000, the Fortis Incorporated Power Group purchased this hydro-electric power generating station. It is the last of the low head power stations remaining at Niagara Falls. The former Toronto Power Station (Electrical Development Company) and the Ontario Power Company have since been retired.

Since 2001, based upon an agreement between the Fortis Group and Ontario Power Generation, the Rankine Power Station has not been producing any power. The 25 cycle power that had been produced at the Rankine Station is now being produced at the Sir Adam Beck Hydro-Electric Power Generating Station #1 in a more economical manner. As part of this agreement Ontario Power Generation is paying the  Fortis Group for the amount of power that the Rankine Station would normally have produced.

Today the Rankine Station sits in a quiet vigil with a much reduced staff that ensures that this station is being mechanically maintained and can be called upon at a moments notice to begin producing power if required in the case of an emergency. In a bit of irony, the Rankine Station receives electrical power from the Sir Adam Beck Power Station to maintain its state of readiness.

The current water rights agreement that supplies this power station expires in 2009.

The future of the stately Rankine Power Station as a functioning power station is now questionable. The cost to retro-fit this power station from 25 cycle to 60 cycle power would be too expensive to be cost effective in order to compete with the much larger and more efficient power plants down river.

The Niagara Parks Commission owns the property on which the power station sits. The Rankine Power Station water rights will not be renewed in 2009.  When this occurs, the Rankine Power Station will be retired and ownership will revert back to the Niagara Parks Commission. Perhaps its future will be conversion into a museum.

The Rankine Power Station has provided a remarkable contribution to the development of Niagara Falls throughout the years.




The Original Generator Regulator

 An original Generator Regulator



The cofferdam of this Company consists of an inner and an outer cribwork, with a puddle space between; the outer cribwork is ten feet wide, the inner eight feet, and the puddle space eight feet. The average depth of water is about sixteen feet. After the cofferdam was constructed, so much water leaked through the boulders between the puddle and solid rock that it was found unreasonably expensive to do the necessary pumping, so the inside of the cofferdam was covered with two layers of tongued and grooved sheathing breaking-joints, and between which was placed a layer of tarred paper, all well spiked to the timbers. The works being constructed are designed for a capacity of 110,000 horsepower. The general design is similar to that of Power House No. 2 of the Niagara Falls Power Company now in operation on the United States side of the river.

The tunnel tailrace, which leads the water to the lower river after it has left the turbines, is 2,200 feet long and of a horse-shoe form, 25 feet high and r9 feet wide, being linen with 17 inches of concrete with vitrified brick facing, except for 100 feet at river end where the tunnel drops by an ogee curve into the river. The grade of this tunnel is seven feet per thousand, which will give a speed of water, when the plant is in full operation, of 27 feet per second. The rock through which the tunnel was excavated is limestone and black shale. The former provided a good roof, but where shale was encountered timber arches resting on wall plates and plumb posts were put in to retain roof. The excavation of the tunnel was completed before the permanent lining was begun. The head canal, built entirely of massive limestone masonry, has a clear waterway 15 feet deep and 250 feet wide, and is crossed by a five-span stone arch bridge which carries the tracks of the Niagara Falls Park and River Railway, a carriage way, and a sidewalk. The canal widens into a forebay 600 feet wide, extending the whole length of the Power House.

Protection from ice is afforded by an outer ice-rack along the river face; a line of submerged arches forming outer wall of fore-bayroom; a fine ice-rack extending the whole length of Power House inside the fore-bayroom and immediately outside the penstock mouthpieces, and by an overflow weir which can be used in combination with floating booms to draw floating materials back into the river again by means of a sluice-way channel. The wheel pit is 165 feet deep, 18 feet wide inside of bricklining, and 570 feet-long. The sides were channelled in six-foot cuts. Five chambers for auxiliary machinery were excavated in eastside of the wheel pit is the work progressed. The wheel pit is lined with hard burned brick. The course next the rock is composed of hollowbrick, and ample weepers emptying into the tail-water are provided.

The turbines, each of a capacity of 12,500 horsepower, were designed by Messrs, Escher, Wyss & Company, of Zurich, Switzerland, and are of the twin-Francis vertical type, inward discharge, two draft tubes to each unit discharging into the open tailrace below. Three of these units were manufactured and are being installed by this firm, and two units on the same design are about to be installed by I. P. Morris Company, Philadelphia, Pa. One of the most distinctive features of this plant is the size of the generating units, each of which is to have a capacity of 10,000 horsepower. The plant when completed will contain eleven of these generators. The generators with vertical shafts are of internal revolving field type, and are wound for three-phase current, 11,000 volts, 25 cycles at 25o revolutions per minute. This high generating voltage was selected not for long distance transmission, but for economy in local distribution of power. The cost of distributing at 11,000 volts, three-phase, is about one-fifth that required for a 2,200 volt, two-phase system. For long distance transmission step-up transformers will be used to raise the voltage of 22,000, 40,000 or 60,000 volts, depending upon the distance of transmission.

It is the intention to have cable connections so that this Power House can operate, if desired, in parallel with either or both of the United States plants of the Niagara Falls Power Company. The cables will be carried across the Niagara River by way of the Upper Steel Arch Bridge, a total distance of about three and one-half miles. The 11,000 volts, three-phase, will be changed to 2,200 volts, two-phase, for paralleling, by means of step-down transformers, or delivered direct to tenants on the lands of the Niagara Falls Power Company. The auxiliary machinery, consisting of exciter turbines, exciters, water pumps, oil pumps, oil tanks, etc., are located in the chambers built into the side of the wheelpit, 100 feet beneath the surface. This machinery will all be operated by an independent water service drawn from the canal above. The present Power House building, for five units, is constructed of Queenston limestone, roofed with tile, and has installed two 5o-ton electric cranes for service in installation of machinery. It is lined inside with mottled buff brick, enamel brick and marble.

Underground conduits from Power House to Upper Arch Bridge have a capacity of 75,000 horse-power, and from Power House to a Transformer Station situated south and outside of Queen Victoria Park, a capacity of 50,000 horsepower. A Transformer House, equipped with water-cooled transformers, has been constructed of a present capacity of 25,000 horse-power. It will be supplied with water for cooling purposes from pumps located in chambers of wheelpit. There is also a standpipe, 116 feet high by 30 feet in diameter, carrying one day's supply of water, to be drawn upon in case of any accident to this pumping system. Every effort has been made in the construction of these works to build for the future. Stone, brick and cast-iron have been chiefly relied on, and, where used, steel work has been designed so as to be accessible for inspection, removal and painting. The Power House and Transformer Station are practically fire-proof, the roof tiles being laid directly on the steel roof angles. In the design, all the experience gained in the construction and operation of the plants of the Niagara Falls Power Company has been made use of, and it is believed that the works herein described represent the best hydraulic, mechanical and electrical knowledge available to date.














Date last updated: February 14, 2011