Providing Power to the People for More Than a Century

After more than 100 years of continual operation and remaining a living link to the heritage of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, the 550-kW Victoria Hydroelectric Generation Station was inducted into the Hydro Hall of Fame in 2017.

By Monty Hunter and Gary Humby

Newfoundland and Labrador is Canada’s most easterly and youngest province, having joined Canada by plebiscite (a direct vote of the qualified voters) in March 1949. England formally claimed Newfoundland as a colony beginning in 1583, and it was subject to English laws until it was organized by vote as a colony in 1825. In 1907, Edward VII, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Emperor of India, declared the Colony of Newfoundland — having enjoyed responsible government since 1854 — the status of an independent Dominion within the British Empire.

Photo (above): Unit 3, a Voith-manufactured 500-kVa Francis turbine operating at 600 rpm, is connected to a 500-kVa Westinghouse Electric generator that was installed in 1914 and is still in operation.
Photo (above): Unit 3, a Voith-manufactured 500-kVa Francis turbine operating at 600 rpm, is connected to a 500-kVa Westinghouse Electric generator that was installed in 1914 and is still in operation.

Life in the small town of Victoria, where the 550-kW Victoria Hydroelectric Generating Station is rooted, must have been difficult in the early 1900s without reliable power. Victoria has 1,800 residents and enjoyed a population of about 820 when the Victoria plant was being built. The town is situated in the Blue Hills Falls River valley about 5 km north of Carbonear. The valley is covered with a mixed forest that includes pine trees, but for hydroelectric generation the valley’s most important aspect is its numerous ponds and the river system.

History of the area

Until England recognized Newfoundland as a colony, that country did not officially allow settlement in Newfoundland, or more specifically, allow people to officially own land. The legislature in London changed the settlement policy in the late 1880s, and after that people staked claims and sought grants for their land.

In the late 1880s, a terrible epidemic struck rural Newfoundland, according to historical documents located at the Newfoundland and Labrador Registers of Vital Statistics. Many of the deaths were related to diphtheria, which local historian Dr. Frank E. Clarke attributed to “a very malignant type of diphtheria that was ravishing communities.” Clarke, in “Victoria: A Brief History,” says that because of the scarcity of medical treatments available, settlers were subject to various diseases, including scurvy, rickets, diphtheria, tuberculosis and scarlet fever.

Settlers living at that time in the area had to build their homes from rough materials they usually cut themselves, and they grew most of their own food. Pine trees were harvested for making houses, ship spars, flakes for drying fish, and other items that supported the nearby fishing enterprise.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, government agents began to survey much of the land in Victoria around Conception Bay, and families eventually received grants for the land on which they had settled.

An examination of maps of the area from the time period verifies two important facts: Victoria satisfied the English law that no one could settle (own land) near the coast (e.g., Salmon Cove, Spout Cove, Otterbury, Flatrock, Freshwater and Carbonear); and the valley was close enough so that coastal liviers (a native or resident of Newfoundland or Labrador) could easily go into the woods during the day, cut wood and return home with it by the end of the day.

Plant development

With the expanding population of the area came the appetite for modern conveniences such as street lights, telephones, electric washers and other devices powered by electricity. This demand fueled the initial construction and further development of the Victoria plant.

In April 1902, a group of individuals from the nearby towns of Harbour Grace, Carbonear and Heart’s Content received a 50-year franchise from the government of Newfoundland to incorporate an electrical company that would serve the area, which was called the United Towns Electrical Company (UTE).

UTE’s mandate was to provide lighting and heating to homes and businesses and commercial power to the communities within seven years. The company’s starting capital was C$30,000 (US$24,000), and it was given the water rights to Rocky Pond and Blue Hill Pond in the Victoria Valley watershed. This watershed would serve as the water supply for the power plant constructed in Victoria because the conditions were acceptable for the construction of a dam.

Video: 550-kW Victoria Hydropower Project

The original powerhouse building was 13 m long by 8 m wide. The roof and ceiling are of wooden construction, the inner walls finished with wooden lathes and plaster, and the floor is a concrete slab.
The original powerhouse building was 13 m long by 8 m wide. The roof and ceiling are of wooden construction, the inner walls finished with wooden lathes and plaster, and the floor is a concrete slab.

By 1904, UTE had raised sufficient capital to begin the construction of the power plant.

W.A. Mackay & Co. built the power station and the necessary transmission system. Before this, company owner William Mackay worked on constructing Newfoundland’s first hydropower station, the 5.3-MW Petty Harbour Hydroelectric Development. This plant began operating in 1900 and was inducted into the Hydro Hall of Fame in 2003.

Workers began installing poles — simple, single-pole structures that could accommodate strung wires that connected to load centers — in Carbonear and near the power station in June 1904. Electricity was available to Carbonear on Nov. 4, 1904, and the following day lights were illuminated in Harbour Grace. This represents an astoundingly short construction period by today’s standards.

Details of the development

Water storage for the new development was provided from Rocky Pond, which now also serves as the water supply for the town of Victoria. The water flows from Rocky Pond along Spout Brook to Blue Hill Pond, which acts as the forebay for the development. Rocky Pond Dam is a concrete gravity structure that was refurbished in 1983 with a downstream protective layer, and in 1995 an upstream layer was added. The dam is about 90 m long, including the spillway, with a maximum height of 7.6 m. It includes an 11-m-long overflow spillway and a dewatering outlet with a 1.5-m2 steel gate operated by a hand wheel.

The second dam, at Blue Hill Pond, is of rockfill and masonry construction with a reinforced concrete cap along the upstream face, the crest of the dam is about 37 m long, including the spillway, and it has a maximum height of 6.1 m. It incorporates a 9.1-m-long overflow spillway on the southwest side of the dam. A dewatering conduit consisting of a steel pipe extends through the dam.

Originally water was carried to the powerhouse via a 500-m-long iron flume that has since been replaced, when the third turbine was installed in 1914, by a woodstave and steel penstock. Head on the plant is 64.2 m.

To construct the powerhouse, local masons cut stone from nearby cliffs transported by horse and cart to the site for use on the facilities exterior walls. This helped cut the cost and time of importing building materials from outside the area. The original building to house the generating equipment was 13 m long by 8 m wide. The roof and ceiling are of wooden construction, the inner walls are finished with wooden lathes and plaster, and the floor is a concrete slab.

The first generating unit installed in the plant consisted of a Pelton wheel turbine and 250-kVa General Electric generator. The waterwheel impulse turbine consisted of two wheels on a common shaft with 18 buckets per wheel. Each of the wheels was driven by two jets of water, with water regulated by a mechanical governor that controlled the size of the jets by a movable plate in front of each jet. The turbine-generator operated at 360 rpm. The exciter that provided power for the armature was driven by a belt connecting the exciter to a pulley on the generator shaft.

The original Unit 1, a Pelton Wheel turbine and 250-kVa General Electric generator, included a waterwheel impulse turbine that had two wheels on a common shaft with 18 buckets per wheel.
The original Unit 1, a Pelton Wheel turbine and 250-kVa General Electric generator, included a waterwheel impulse turbine that had two wheels on a common shaft with 18 buckets per wheel.

By 1907, it was reported that the town of Carbonear had 1,300 carbon lights, Harbour Grace had 3,300 lights, and electric lighting was being provided to the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches in Harbour Grace, with 60 lights installed in each building. The increasing electrical demand required a second unit to be installed at Victoria, without expanding the powerhouse, in 1907. Unit 2 was identical to Unit 1, at 250 kVa with the turbine manufactured by Pelton Water Wheel and the generator by General Electric.

Demand for electricity continued to grow due to population increases in the area as well as more electrical appliances becoming available. In 1914, a 10-m-long extension was added to the powerhouse to accommodate the addition of Unit 3, a Voith-manufactured Francis turbine operating at 600 rpm and connected to a 500-kVa Westinghouse Electric generator.

Current operations

The three units operated together from 1914 until the early 1950s. The first turbine- generator, which was installed in 1907, operated until 1952, while the second unit was taken out of service in 1953 because of age and deterioration. The unit installed in 1914 remained in service because it could use most of the available water. Also, by then the towns were interconnected to the larger local grid system so there was no need for backup generators in case one failed.

The Voith/Westinghouse unit continues to operate today. With the exception of control and protection upgrades, the unit is essentially the same as it was when it was installed in 1914. This unit continues to operate reliably and generates 3.1 GWh per year for the provincial grid.

“This plant stands as a monument to the entrepreneurs who started it and to the engineers and trades people that built it over 110 years ago when the development of hydroelectric power was being pioneered,” said Gary Murray, vice president of engineering and operations with Newfoundland Power. “Today, our Victoria hydroelectric plant continues to provide clean, renewable low-cost electricity.”

Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, UTE became part of Newfoundland Light and Power Company Ltd. in 1966, which is now Newfoundland Power Inc., a Fortis subsidiary. As part of Newfoundland Power’s 100th anniversary celebrations in October 1985, the company opened the unused section of the Victoria power plant as an electrical museum.

The museum contains the original Unit 1 and 2 turbine-generators, which provides physical representation of the early stages of electrical generation in Newfoundland. Also in 1985, the station was declared a registered Provincial Historic Site by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The museum was recognized in 1988 with a Certificate of Commendation from the American Association for State and Local History. Since opening as a museum, the historical artifacts have attracted thousands of visitors who are eager to learn more about the early power industry in Newfoundland.

With the induction of the Victoria Hydroelectric Plant into the 2017 Hydro Hall of Fame, Newfoundland Power now has two facilities that have received this prestigious award, the first being Petty Harbour.

“It is a tremendous honor to have our Victoria Hydroelectric Plant inducted in the 2017 Hydro Hall of Fame,” Murray said. “We have a long-standing tradition of proudly serving the people of this province since 1885, and the Victoria plant is an example of the role that we have played in the development of industry, business and community for more than 130 years.”

Newfoundland Power is the primary distributer of electricity on the island portion of Newfoundland and Labrador and purchases 93% of its energy needs from Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. The utility also operates a total of 23 hydropower plants and has invested more than $500 million in capital projects over the past five years, with total assets valued at about $1.5 billion. Newfoundland Power annually sells about 6,000 GWh of electricity.


Monty Hunter, PE, is senior mechanical engineer and Gary Humby, PE, is manager for generation at Newfoundland Power Inc.

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