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Clarenville Light and Power Company, Limited 1933 to 1953

Clarenville Power  Station was built in 1933 by Mr. E. Stanley. In 1956 it was owned by Union Light & Power Company of Port Union and served Clarenville and the nearby settlements of Shoal Harbor and Milton.

At the other end of the Bonavista Peninsula, approximately 50 miles from Bonavista, was the fishing, shipbuilding and lumbering community of Clarenville, established in the 1890s by the merging of several small communities in order to procure a local post office. From a population of 229 residents in 1901, Clarenville had grown slowly over the next three decades rising to only 310 by 1935. Following the completion of the Bonavista branch railway in 1911, Clarenville served as its southern terminus. In 1933 the community received momentary fame when General Italo Balbo and 24 seaplanes of the Italian Air Force landed off Clarenville and nearby Shoal Harbour on a return trip to Italy from the United States. The Italians rested in the community for two weeks.

In 1932 businessman Edgar Stanley commissioned the St. John's office of the International General Electric Company to perform an economic feasibility study of a hydro development in the Clarenville area. The report indicated that in the four neighbouring communities of Clarenville, Shoal Harbour, Milton and George's Brook there were prospective customers in 200 private houses, four churches, two railway stations, seven halls and schools and ten small stores. The cost of development was estimated at $18,500. Stanley's proposal received the support of residents who not only wished to have electricity but also the employment such development would bring.

Photograph: Courtesy Geneva Cholock ©

On July 7, 1933 the legislature granted Clarenville Light & Power a 50-year franchise to supply electricity to Clarenville and the other three nearby communities. Reid Newfoundland held the water power rights to South West Brook where the power station would be built and gave them to Clarenville Light & Power in exchange for eight shares in the electric utility, valued at $100 each. The company's authorized capital stock was $20,000, all but $400 of which was taken up within a year with Stanley and his family owning all shares, except for the eight held by Reid Newfoundland.

Edgar Stanley, who was Manager of Clarenville Light & Power, relied on William Watson of General Electric in St. John's and Aaron Bailey of Union Electric for advice on utility matters. Construction started in June and included the installation of a 75-horsepower unit in the station, which was designed by Watson. On November 2, 1933 the company provided electricity over a three-mile distribution line from the power station to 12 customers in Clarenville and within two years the line was extended to the contiguous community of Shoal Harbour. From 1933 to 1944 load growth was slow but in 1946 the company was obliged to install an additional 90-horsepower hydro unit to meet the increasing load demand. In 1948 Clarenville Light k Power extended its transmission to C. & M. Pelley Limited's brickyard in Milton. Because the power station never had sufficient water to operate at full capacity, the company installed a 150-horsepower diesel unit in 1949.

By the early 1950s Clarenville and its neighboring communities had grown to about 1,620 people and the electrical system was inadequate to meet their rapidly growing power demands. Within the general customer area served by Clarenville Light & Power, there were 60 houses without electricity. Since 1940, Clarenville had grown in part because of people from smaller nearby communities moving to the town to take employment. In June 1950 PUB Chairman Grant Jack visited Clarenville to examine the electrical service. He found that the meters were old and had not been tested since their installation and the voltage was not always constant thus causing great inconvenience to customers. Jack had George Desbarats study the power situation in the area and his report to the board in December 1950 addressed the need for service extensions, capital improvements and a larger power supply.

The following year Desbarats made a further examination of the Clarenville situation as part of his provincial water power surveys for the government. In December 1951 he suggested to Premier Joseph Smallwood that several sites in the nearby George's Brook area with the potential of providing from 400 to 1,400 horsepower be developed. Their development depended, however, on whether large industries could be attracted to take part of the load, Desbarats noted that larger developments of 10,000 horsepower were possible, one of which was in the Port Blandford area only 13 miles from Clarenville. As with the Burin Peninsula, though, the Smallwood government in the early 1950s did not encourage such developments in hopes that Clarenville power would soon be part of some large provincial hydro development.

In January 1952 the PUB convened at Clarenville to hear a complaint from several residents of Shoal Harbour who had been unable to get Clarenville Light & Power to provide electricity to their homes. The board ordered Edgar Stanley to provide the service by April 1, 1952, but the company was in no financial position to undertake the capital expenditures and did not comply with the board's order. On his trips to St. John's from Port Union, Aaron Bailey stayed overnight in Clarenville to wait for the train to the capital. He used to visit Stanley, he relates, to "go over any of the things he had as a problem with the utility part and give him some advice on it. So one day I'm going through Clarenville and I called into the hardware store and Edgar is not in the best mood and his first words were 'Aaron do you want to buy Clarenville Light & Power, I'm selling out' ".

Bailey was interested and in 1952 Union Electric paid $40,000 for the utility with its 306 customers. In Clarenville Bailey saw great potential for load growth and the new acquisition gave Union Electric an electrical system at both ends of the Bonavista Peninsula, thus making the plan to electrify the whole peninsula more plausible. Union Electric officially took over the system on January 1, 1953; the dam and other facilities were later given to the town of Clarenville to use as part of its water supply.

Lockston and Electricity for the Bonavista Peninsula, 1953 to 1956

In early 1952 Bailey hired Newfoundland hydro consultant George Desbarats to study possible power sites on the Bonavista Peninsula and to determine the area's present and future electrical requirements. Desbarats advised that about 30,000 horsepower could be developed at various places but his preference was for Trinity Pond near Lockston. As Bailey later recalled, John Powell had surveyed this site in the early 1900s but it had not been previously developed because, until the mid-1940s, the Port Union power station had been sufficient for the power requirements for both Port Union and Bonavista. In October 1952 Union Electric received water rights to Trinity Pond as well as to George's Brook near Clarenville. (The company had not had the rights to the former renewed with its franchise rights in 1944.) Desbarats interviewed residents in various communities on the south side of Bonavista Bay and the north side of Trinity Bay in order to ascertain the electrical requirements of about 1,700 potential customers. Desbarats's findings complemented interviews completed by Union Electric officials and representations from residents themselves.

Together they determined that there was a significant increase in both commercial and domestic demand just around the corner. Existing hospitals and schools required more electricity as did local industries like fish plants, some of which were using their own diesel-powered generators. Less expensive hydro power would make those local fish plants more competitive with plants already using hydro-electricity elsewhere in the province. There was also the promise of two new fish plants in the Port Union-Catalina area, one of which was a fresh-fish processing plant to be set up by Fishery Products Ltd. Bailey was actively encouraging that company's President, Arthur Monroe, to build the plant with the promise of a power supply from nearby Lockston. The fog alarm and lighthouse facilities at Cape Bonavista would also take electric power, and in 1953 Union Electric informed the government that, in the Clarenville area, additional power had been requested by the railway, the shipyard, Pelley's brickyard, a creosote plant and Canadian National Telegraphs. Both Desbarats and Bailey estimated that the proposed 4,000-horsepower development at Lockston would cost $1,450,000. And it would need other new capital to extend and modernize its distribution and transmission systems.

In December 1952 Bailey visited Montreal to arrange financing for the proposed hydro project, spending a week in discussions with Reg Dean, Vice-President and General Manager of the Nesbitt, Thompson investment firm and its engineering consultant, Power Corporation. Nesbitt, Thompson agreed to help Union Electric raise a bond issue of $750,000 if the province agreed to a second mortgage for $700,000 and when Power Corporation completed a study of the development's financial feasibility. On January 29, 1953 Union Electric's St. John's lawyers Isaac Mercer and Arthur Mifflin presented the Smallwood government with a detailed proposal for electrifying the peninsula. With the government mortgage, Union Electric would be immediately able to complete its financing arrangements with Nesbitt, Thompson and would commence construction in the spring of 1953.

The provincial government found the proposed second mortgage unacceptable and in early March 1953 Bailey returned to Montreal for two weeks to hold further consultations with Nesbitt, Thompson and Power Corporation officials. On March 18, 1953 Bailey informed Smallwood that once Power Corporation had completed its own on-site investigations of Union Electric's proposed development (and assuming Power Corporation's report was favourable, as it was), Nesbitt, Thompson would agree to float a $1,000,000 bond issue. A formal application for financial assistance would follow two days later. As Smallwood wrote Dean in June 1953, the provincial cabinet had decided to make the guarantee contingent on Power Corporation's financial and engineering study supporting the proposed development.

While Power Corporation's report was not unfavorable to the development of the Lockston site, the Smallwood government delayed its decision on providing its share of financial support until the following year. The government was waiting for the report of Richard Thomas Jeffery of Ontario Hydro whom Smallwood had asked to look into UTE's and Union Electric's financial problems and the matter of Newfoundland's supply of electricity in general. Although Jeffery recommended that electricity be generated by a publicly-owned agency, as it was in Ontario, Smallwood decided finally to give Union Electric the support it needed to carry on in the Bonavista Peninsula region.

Thus, on July 8, 1954 the Government of Newfoundland signed an agreement with Union Electric providing the full guarantee for Nesbitt, Thompson's issuing of Union Electric bonds for $1,100,000. The company also received from the legislature a 50-year franchise to provide electricity on the Bonavista Peninsula. Construction work began later in July 1954 with George Desbarats overseeing the development for Union Electric. By the fall of 1955 Union Electric had completed a 46-kV transmission line from Port Union to Lockston. Using local black spruce, the company placed from 17 to 20 poles for every mile along the 20-mile route. Bailey wrote Smallwood in July 1956 that the 46-kV line (the company had first considered using a line of less expensive lower voltage) enabled the company to link with any future large hydro development that might take place at Piper's Hole or on the Terra Nova River. Union Electric used its own employees and some local electrical contractors to wire consumers' houses.

Melrose, near Port Union, was connected at this time and both Port Rexton and Trinity East received power on January 19, 1956 with temporary power from Port Union until Lockston was put in service. The Lockston power station went into operation on January 26, 1956 and in May transmitted electricity to Port Union and other peninsula communities.

Several small fishing communities in the Bonavista area - Birchy Cove, Newman's Cove and Amherst Cove - were connected in the fall of 1956 and supplied from the Bonavista sub-station which had to be enlarged to hold two new transformers that tripled the available power. In 1957 Union Electric completed a transmission line from Lockston to George's Brook, thus connecting the Clarenville distribution system to the Lockston power station. The electrical interconnection of the Bonavista Peninsula from Clarenville to Bonavista had been accomplished.

As had been anticipated, besides meeting existing load requirements Lockston allowed the establishment of new industries. In 1956 the recently completed Fishery Products fish plant at Port Union took 1,000 horsepower, and a new salt fish plant at Catalina, owned by Mifflin Fisheries Limited, used 300 horsepower. In 1956 other new customers included an ice hockey stadium and a school in Clarenville. Total company revenues from the sale of electricity for the Port Union and Clarenville areas rose sharply during this period, from $48,000 in 1950 to about $150,000 in 1956.



Photograph:  Courtesy Geneva Cholock ©