Orillia's Own Power

Orillia Trivia   ◘ History of Orillia's Power   ◘ The Wilder Days   ◘ Vintage Summers

A board fence at plaque covering the fountain at Victoria Park, Orillia.
Plaque at Victoria Park
One of the things Orillia did right was bringing power to the city in it's early days. It's own power!

Because Orillia is a town located in between two lakes along the Trent-Severn Waterway, water has always been an important component - it's life-blood, I guess you'd say. In it's earliest days, the lakes were used for transportation, and for water uses in all it's forms, including food crops and fishing.

But in 1872, the first reservoir for town water was built. Many people might be surprised to know that the reservoir was built where we now have "Victoria Park". Most Orillians know that Victoria Park has an underground spring of fresh, clean water, and it was this spring that was used for the reservoir. Made with wooden pipes (can you imagine wooden pipes for water?) the water ran from the park to cisterns at the corner of what is Matchedash, Peter and West Sts. No pumps were used since the water flow was gravity fed.

Victoria Park covered in snow showing some of the houses on Coldwater.
Victoria Park in Winter, circa 2005

For many years, this spring was accessible to inhabitants via a water tap at Victoria Park. Fresh and clean, it was the best water you could get, and people would line up here every day to fill their household water jugs. It was closed down several times for water quality, tested and reopened, but I think (not 100% certain of this date) it was somewhere in 2001 when the Victoria Park tap was shut off, and it remains closed. The water tap is still there, hidden behind a wooden enclosure.

Hydro electric power plant at Minden, Ontario.
Minden Power Plant
In the late 1880s, Orillia's first attempt at electrical power for the town was founded - a steam-fed plant that used wood to fire the plant was built in Victoria park. Even though the first power was steam generated, this was the first baby steps into the future of hydro-electricity!

Many of the older folks in town will remember "The Pav" (the Club Pavalon). Adjacent to this property is a water filtration plant, but the water that originally fed this area came down from Fitton's Road - getting the water from Fittons to the storage tanks involved laying underground iron pumps, and the construction of the storage tanks and a steam plant.

Bracebridge power plant.
Bracebridge Power Dam
The first hydraulic plant was built at Ragged Rapids (Severn Falls area) and the first power from this plant arrived in Orillia in early 1902. The Ragged Rapids plant was replaced by the "The Swift" power plant in 1917; in 1935 the Minden Power Plant came on line (Workman's Falls), and in 1950, the Mathias Falls Plant (Muskoka River). The power plant at Swift Rapids is next to impossible to access by road, since the road in really wasn't designed for modern cars. There was a small community (The Swift Colony) at the Swift at one time that started with just a few settlers, and increased over time to reportedly between 50 and 60 persons, but today, it is mostly abandoned. One of the folks who grew up in that community has dedicated a small site with information about the community and what it was like growing up in that isolated spot, and I think it's worth a visit. Although this isn't located "in Orillia", the Swift is a pretty big part of Orillia's early power history, because without Swift Rapids, Orillia might never have gone forward as far, or as fast, as it did. See: Swift Rapids, Ontario.

For a town that began with a few pioneers, I'd say Orillia's done pretty well. "Ontario Hydro" is the corporation that manages the largest power supply in Ontario, but because of the Energy Competition Act (Bill 35), local municipalities could choose to keep or sell any utilities they owned, and Orillia, thankfully, chose to keep theirs (ours). Although the first plant at Ragged Rapids was blown up (literally) to allow the plant at The Swift to begin generating power, Orillia still runs the plants from the Swift, Minden, and Mathias.

The Swift Rapids power plant and a few of the surrounding houses in 1950.
The Swift Rapids Plant, circa 1950 (from a private album)

The power costs in Orillia are considerably less than those supplied by Ontario Hydro too. At one time, prior to the the Ontario Energy Board setting fee schedules, Orillia's charges for power were so much lower that households typically received a cheque at the end of the billing year. Ours was nearly always around $200.  That stopped when the Act came into effect, because the Act determined what fair fees were. Although the kph fees are set by the board, were it not for the rest of us having to pay down Ontario Hydro's enormous debt (which I, and many others resent), and the OEB, Orillia's power fees would still be resulting in yearly rebates. Even with that, power rates in Orillia for consumers are still less than outside of town where they have to rely on Hydro-One.

Not only does Orillia provide an alternate power supply (not having to rely 100% on Ontario Hydro (now known as Hydro One), it also is one of the things that shows Orillia's forward thinking - a huge piece of our past, that pushed us into the future.