History

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Company history

For a more detailed history of BC Hydro and its predecessors, told by the people who lived it, take a look at Gaslights to Gigawatts A Human History of BC Hydro and its Predecessors As told by the Power Pioneers. All proceeds from the sales of the book go to BC's Children's Hospital.

Beginnings

The founding of the Victoria Gas Company in 1860 began the BC Hydro legacy. 23 years later, inventor and entrepreneur Robert McMicking turned on the first commercial electric lights in Canada. Along with a group of local investors, McMicking incorporated the Victoria Electric Illuminating Company and electric lights lit up the streets. The age of electricity had arrived.

Vision

BC Electric was the brainchild of financier Robert Horne-Payne and future Lieutenant-Governor Frank Barnard. With money raised from investors in England, they set out to build the coast's first hydroelectric plant near Victoria in 1898. After several years of prosperity and growth the company was taken under control by the Montreal-based Power Corporation in 1928.

Progress

In 1945, the provincial government created the BC Power Commission. This public sector enterprise began acquiring small utilities, extending electrification in rural or isolated areas and building or modernizing both generating plants and transmission systems. By 1961, it served over 200 communities all over the province, many with small diesel generating units.

Growth

To enable the development of Peace and Columbia River projects, the provincial government stepped in and bought BC Electric in 1961. A year later the government amalgamated BC Electric with the Power Commission to create a new Crown corporation: the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority, known more familiarly as BC Hydro. The '60s and '70s saw BC Hydro take on some of the most ambitious hydroelectric construction projects in the world.

Change

Restructuring during the 1980s saw new BC Hydro subsidiaries to take over its testing and research services (Powertech Labs), computer services (Westech Information Systems) and electricity trade activities (Powerex). Hydro began turning its focus from building new generating facilities to getting the most out of its existing ones. In 1989 several innovative programs announced a change of direction for Hydro, including the high profile Power Smart.

Consistent with industry trends and best practices, BC Hydro management made a decision during the 2002 fiscal year to move to a "Lines of Business" structure within the company as the best way to become more competitive, focus resources on distinct customer groups and more effectively meet those customers’ needs. Generation, Transmission and Distribution Lines of Business were created, along with two service groups — Field Services and Engineering Services. Together with the existing Corporate Operations, Shared Services and Subsidiaries, the company began operating this way for the 2003 fiscal year (April 1, 2002 - March 31, 2003).

In November 2002 the provincial government’s energy plan, "Energy for our Future: A Plan for BC," announced the creation of an independent, government-owned transmission corporation beginning in 2003. The new BC Transmission Corporation (BCTC) will operate and manage BC Hydro's transmission assets, will ensure the province has continued access to electricity trade revenues and will facilitate transmission access for all users, including BC-based independent power producers and industrial customers.

On April 1, 2003, a number of back-office functions, representing approximately 1500 employees, became the responsibility of BC Hydro's joint venture partner, Accenture Business Services of British Columbia. These functions include Business Support Services, Customer Services, Human Resource Services, Building and Office Services, Payroll and Accounts Payable Services, Financial Systems Services and Purchasing Services.

On July 5, 2010, the new Clean Energy Act took effect, consolidating BC Hydro and BC Transmission Corporation to provide a single entity that plans and delivers the clean energy required to meet British Columbia's growing demand for electricity.

Gaslights to gigawatts

A Human History of BC Hydro and its Predecessors as told by the Power Pioneers, was published in 1998.

 All proceeds from the sales of this book go to BC's Children's Hospital.

Gaslights to Gigawatts is a human history that tells the story of BC Hydro and its predecessors through the memories and memoirs of the people who lived it. That story begins in the1860s when gas lamps first illuminated the muddy streets of Victoria and runs till the present era of billion-watt (gigawatt) power projects and energy conservation.

Through hundreds of interviews and written submissions, the book includes the stories of line workers, dam builders, sales reps, bus drivers and streetcar motormen, dietitians (someone had to teach customers how to cook with electric ovens), clerical staff, meter readers, labourers, managers and trade unionists. These are the countless people who dedicated their working lives to BC Hydro and, before it, to the BC Electric Company and the British Columbia Power Commission.

Gaslights to Gigawatts includes over 250 photographs and illustrations (many never before published) and a detailed historical chronology.

Bits from the book

What kind of whiskey did it take to thaw a frozen gas meter in the 1890s?
Scotch.

Did Boris Karloff really dig ditches for BC Electric before becoming Frankenstein?
Yes, but badly.

How did it feel to be one of the company's first Chinese-Canadian employees in the late 1940s?
Extremely proud.

Can you walk away after getting "zapped" by 8,000 volts?
Sometimes.

And what does a plant engineer do when the Mercedes Benz diesel engine that powers a small town " takes the Sputnik course back to Germany"?
Light a candle.

About the authors

The Hydro Power Pioneers is BC Hydro's retiree organization made up of thousands of former employees from around the province. Writer-editors Hugh and Andrew Wilson most recently produced Fire in the Blood, the story of Western Canada's foundry industry.

Gaslights to Gigawatts includes over 250 fascinating photographs and illustrations, many never before published. This 240 page hardcover book is available from the BC Hydro Power Pioneers. Proceeds from sales of the book will benefit the B.C.'s Children's Hospital. 

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