At the beginning of the 1900’s, sources of wood used for fuel were nearly exhausted. Factories became dependent upon expensive coal, which had to be shipped in from Pennsylvania and Alberta. Most electricity was being generated by coal burning steam generating plants.
The Toronto Electric Light Company almost had a monopoly on supplying electricity to cities. This company was over charging its customers for electricity and being selective as to how much power a particular industry would get.
On June 9th 1902, the Ontario Hydro Commission was formed. Based on public opinions, public ownership, public control and public distribution of electricity was supported. The main problem that arose was that private franchises had been given out to two American companies and one Canadian company for power generation at Niagara Falls. The Niagara Parks Commission had agreed not to generate hydro power.
During the Ontario Provincial election of 1905, the main issue became "Niagara Power". From the urging by Adam Beck, Mayor of London Ontario, the Provincial Conservative Party ran on an election platform of "water power of Niagara should be free".
The Conservative Party won the election and Premier James Whitney immediately announced that no further private franchises would be granted for the generation of hydro-electric power at Niagara Falls. Whitney brought Adam Beck into his Government and named him the chairman of the newly created Ontario Hydro Electric Power Commission. It became the worlds first publicly owned power authority.
Initially, Adam Beck could not generate electricity. He could only buy and distribute it. The first major project of the Ontario Power Commission was to build an 110,000 volt transmission line from Niagara Falls to Toronto.
The Canadian based Toronto Electric Light Company already had a 60,000 volt transmission line from Niagara to Toronto. The private company lobbied against the plans of the publicly owned commission.
In November of 1908, work began on the Ontario Power Commission power transmission line. It was completed in October of 1910 when the first public power was switched on.
In 1914, Adam Beck was knighted by the Britain for his services rendered to the Commonwealth of Canada. By this time, the Ontario Power Commission was supplying over 100 municipalities but was running short of power. In order to make up this shortage, the Ontario Power Commission was forced to make a deal. They had to buy power from the private Toronto Power Company, however the problem did not cease because the demand still far exceeded supply.
Sir Adam Beck began planning to build a publicly owned hydro-electric generating plant in order to utilize the maximum drop of the Niagara River.
Between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, the Niagara River descends 99 metres, which is about twice the height of the Falls. By bringing in water from the upper Niagara River at Chippawa and around the Falls along the top of the gorge, Beck could create his own waterfall 97 metres high at the gorge wall in Queenston. With this drop, every cubic foot of water equates to approximately 29.6 horsepower of energy per second or three times as much presently being produced by the private generating plants near the Falls. This was known as the Queenston-Chippawa power project.
In 1917, Ontario Hydro Power Commission purchased the Ontario Power Company and the hydro-electric generating plant they owned located below the Horseshoe Falls.