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How Saskatoon’s forgotten downtown electrical station powered the entire province

By in Culture

Early this year, the Saska­toon Farmers’ Market opened its new location near the air­port, a move that some ven­dors and customers opposed. However, history shows how the market’s previous down­town site has served multiple purposes, including as a pow­er station that helped electrify Saskatchewan.

It might seem like the Sas­katoon Farmers’ Market has always been in Riversdale, but the market only moved to Riv­er Landing in 2007. One hun­dred years earlier, in 1906, the then newly incorporated City of Saskatoon built its first elec­trical generating station about one kilometre away on Avenue H South and 11th Street West.

But within a few years of its completion, Saskatoon’s first power station was insufficient to meet the energy demands of the rapidly growing popu­lation. Not only did Saskatoon need a new facility to meet the needs of citizens during its boom period, but the city council’s planned electric streetcar system also increased the need for more power.

The city’s second generating plant was then built in a down­town location along Avenue A South and 19th Street West in 1911. If you visit River Land­ing, you will notice an obscure octagonal tower made of white bricks — a pumphouse.

While this structure might seem out of place, it is actual­ly an artifact of the Saskatoon Power House. This pump­house utilized the river’s water to cool the generators of the electrical facility.

The 1911 power station served Saskatoon’s needs for over 16 years until, once again, the growing city’s electrical demands overburdened the existing energy system.

Up to then, electric power had been used mostly for il­lumination and the telegraph, but this period saw the rapid diversification of its applica­tion. The electric streetcars that began operating in 1913 are just one example, and after the 1900s the rise of house­hold appliances led to the con­sumption of more power.

The changing energy de­mands of society caused Sas­katoon authorities to consider building another new plant in 1927. Although the previous facilities were owned by the municipality, this plant — lat­er named the A.L. Cole Gener­ating Station — was sold to the Saskatchewan Power Com­mission before it commenced operation in 1929.

The provincial body pur­chased the plant to fulfill its mandate to create a Saskatch­ewan-wide power grid capable of producing cheap power and then distributing the energy across a large network. The SPC’s planned integrated elec­trical system would use large plants like Saskatoon’s to cre­ate energy for the multitude of rural communities.

By the summer of 1930, the SPC had constructed and be­gan energizing 1,096 miles of transmission lines. Because Regina and Moose Jaw refused to sell their facilities, Saska­toon became the central point of electrical generation in the provincial network.

This brought reliable and cheap power to the 106 mu­nicipalities integrated into the provincial grid. It also in­troduced energy to the farms neighbouring the transmis­sion lines through a process the SPC called “rural electrifi­cation.”

In the following decades, the SPC — later renamed SaskPower — continued expanding its provincial electrical network which ef­fectively powered more of Saskatchewan’s rural commu­nities as they were integrated into the system.

In 1959, the A.L. Cole fa­cility was superseded by the construction of the Queen Elizabeth Power Station built four kilometres upstream. The old plant was actively used until 1983, and afterwards it became tangled up in a failed proposal to repurpose the building into condominium residences that lasted over a decade.

The A.L. Cole Generating Station was demolished in 1996 and within 11 years the location would be home to the city’s vibrant farmer’s mar­ket. Although the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market move from downtown to the north-end was seen as unfortunate, the River Landing site has served Saskatoon in different ways for over 100 years — this is just the latest in a long history of transformations.

Long before farmers brought their produce to popular mar­kets in Saskatoon, the city was sending its power to farms throughout Saskatchewan.

Noah Callaghan | Staff Writer

Photo: Supplied | Saskatoon Public Library Local History

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