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The Powerhouse – Remnant of a long-vanished electric railway

March 2022

While streetcars are still a very popular form of public transportation in major urban centres like Toronto, which is in the process of adding new lines, they have fallen in popularity in most municipalities, replaced by buses.

The southern Ontario city of Hamilton, who’s municipal transit system is named the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) currently doesn’t have any streetcars anymore, but is set to bring them back. The city will begin construction of a Light Rail Transit line through the lower portion of the city in the summer of 2022.

The electrification of municipalities in the late 19th Century saw numerous radial railway companies formed for the purpose of providing interurban railway transportation. The Hamilton, Grimsby and Beamsville Electric Railway (HG&B) was one such railway, officially opening for service on 17 October 1894, and initially running initially from Hamilton to Beamsville. Later extensions from Beamsville to Vineland in the Niagara Peninsula were added.

To power the railway, a generator station was built in 1894, just to the east of Hamilton in the Town of Stoney Creek. A sizable brick building, measuring 40 feet by 95 feet, containing two large compound condensing engines, two boilers and two Westinghouse coal-fired, steam-electric, direct current (DC) generators.

Unfortunately for the HG&B, shortly after opening, it was determined that the creek that supplied water to the powerhouse (Stoney Creek, from which the town took its name) would be unable to supply a reliable amount of water to fully power the generators, especially in the drier summer months, something that did happen in 1895. This deficiency forced them to purchase additional hydro from the DeCew Falls generating station in St. Catharines when it opened in 1898.

The Stoney Creek substation was later refitted with alternating current (AC) generators.

The radial railways suffered a serious drop in business by the 1920s, when buses and personal automobiles became more common. As a result, the HG&B terminated their street car service in 1927, but the company was able to continue operations for another four years. The HG&B was unusual among the Hamilton-area radials, in that it carried a large amount of freight traffic, a tactic that would ultimately allow it to survive as long as it did.

The end finally came in 1931, when the company shut down. The rail line was abandoned and the tracks torn up. The powerhouse was bought by Ontario Hydro, who used it as a storage facility until selling it 1980.

The now 86-year-old powerhouse began the next chapter in its long life, that being as a restaurant. It was completely restored to its former glory and opened as the Old Powerhouse restaurant.

By 2011, the restaurant was under new ownership and known simply as The Powerhouse, a pub and casual fine-dining restaurant.

Sources: Hamilton, Grimsby and Beamsville Electric Railway – Wikipedia, The Hamilton, Grimsby & Beamsville Electric Railway (HG&B) (trainweb.org), The Powerhouse Restaurant – Stoney Creek, Ontario, https://thepowerhouse.ca, Old Powerhouse: A taste of history | TheSpec.com, Old Powerhouse Restaurant back in business | HamiltonNews.com, Remains of the HG&B (trainweb.org), “Ride Through The Garden of Canada: A Short History of the Hamilton, Grimsby & Beamsville Electric Railway Company 1894-1931, by William Blaine (1967).

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/the-powerhouse-remnant-of-a-long-vanished-electric-railway/

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