Early power companies — a tangled history
When I asked historian Ivan Smith about early electric power companies in the Annapolis Valley, he said they had a “tangled history.”
Smith’s website, Nova Scotia History Index, contains some of this history. But to get an overview you’d have to read the community histories that have been published in Hants and Kings County. Once you did, you’d find what Smith said was an understatement.
Let’s look at some of the early power companies for an explanation. We have one major source today of electricity; but there was a time when villages and communities in the Annapolis Valley obtained electric power by forming their own companies.
In the early 20th century a group of small independent power companies sprang up in Kings County communities such as Canard and Centreville, but I couldn’t find a similar scenario in Hants County. While these companies were independent, most were linked to a power source common to all. What they did have in common was that few generated their own electric power.
One such company was located in Sheffield Mills. This quote from the history of Sheffield Mills, Grist From The Mills, explains how the community went about obtaining electric power: “In the year 1922, a group of farmers formed a company (the Sheffield Mills Light & Power Company) and brought the electric power in from Canard corner. They bought poles, had them transported to Sheffield Mills by rail on flat cars and erected them.”
The story is similar throughout Kings County. Relatively small communities such as Hillaton, Chipman Corner, Pereaux, Woodside, Somerset, Waterville, South Berwick, Habitant, Centreville, Lower Horton and Canard all formed their own power companies, and at first all were independent businesses owned by its residents.
As mentioned, few of the companies generated their own power — one of the exceptions early on being Wolfville. This being the case, how did these communities obtain electric power? In 1920, the Gaspereau River Light, Heat & Power Company was incorporated by Roy Joudrey and Charles Wright. In 1921, these same gentlemen incorporated the Avon River Power Company Limited in Windsor.
These pioneer companies supplied power directly and indirectly to all of the communities named above. Who supplied electricity to whom among those communities is a bit difficult to sort, which is why Ivan Smith said power company history is tangled, meaning perhaps a confused or complicated state. For example, the Canard Electric Light & Power Company, which sold electricity to the Centreville Electric Light & Power Company, bought power from the Gaspereau River Light, Heat & Power Company, which eventually was bought out by the Avon River Power Company Limited. The Habitant Power Company bought electricity from the Canning Power Company, which in turn was supplied by the Gaspereau River Company.
Eventually all these companies, with the exception of the one in Canning and possibly another in Windsor, were merged into one entity — the Avon River Power Company. Further, after merging with the Gaspereau Company, Avon was purchased in 1929 by the Nova Scotia Light & Power Company. By 1931, any remaining independent companies had joined the fold.
In listing community power companies I may have missed a few. Some communities, such as White Rock, bought poles and strung power lines, but there’s no record in government files indicating it registered as a company. This may be the case with some of the smaller communities in this area.