Video: Niagara Parks Power Station brings hydropower history to life

A new short video documentary shows how one of the world’s oldest hydroelectric power stations has been returned to life as an educational visitor attraction.

The Rankine Generating Station was built between 1901 and 1905, and was the first hydroelectric power generating station on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. It was operational for over a century, supporting the industrialisation of the surrounding region and providing power to communities until it was decommissioned in 2006.

Today, the facilities of the plant have been opened to the public at Niagara Parks Power Station, where visitors can see an immersive sound and light show, and explore the original tunnel.

Carolina Rinfret, President and CEO of WaterPower Canada, visited the facilities to explore the new visitor centre and its features.

You can watch the video here:

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In the video, Carolina meets David Adames, CEO of the Niagara Parks Commission, to learn insights about the project.

David explains how the Rankine Generating Station was a run-of-river hydropower plant, harnessing the natural power of the Niagara River to produce power.

“It really led to the industrialisation of Southern Ontario and Western New York,” says David, discussing how communities benefited from the project. “You have to imagine that at the time, people had to be convinced to use electricity. So there might be appliances here in the power station that people would come and see, and think 'I can take that appliance into my home and use electricity to really make my life better’.”

The project not only benefited the inhabitants of the surrounding region, but it also inspired advancements in hydropower technology in other regions of the world.

Dr Henry Acres, a hydroelectric engineering pioneer, was instrumental in designing the project, which was ground-breaking for its time. "He brought a lot of innovation to this power station that was then leveraged at other power stations around the world,” explains David.

At night, the old station is brought to life with an immersive 3D sound and light show called Currents. In 2022, the tailrace tunnel was also opened as part of the visitor experience.

“The tunnel was used for all the water to leave the power station,” says David. “After it had done its job of generating power, all the water that came in from the Upper Niagara River was returned to the Lower Niagara River. So that really speaks to the sustainability of hydropower generation.”

David explains how the new visitor centre marries up the heritage of the building with creating a new modern attraction. “This tells a story of hydroelectric power generation, but it also tells a story of science, technology and engineering. It tells a story of architecture.

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