6 SWEETLAND'S HILL
Union Electric Light & Power Property
The Union Electric Light and Power Company was the creation of the late Sir William Ford Coaker. The Electric Company was one of a number of enterprises originated by Sir. William Coaker, Founder and President of the Fishermen's Protective Union. In 1916 the building of Port Union began. Construction proceeded simultaneously on the business premises, the piers, the dockyards, the dwelling houses, the staff house and the power plant.
Coaker reasoned that no modern fish plant could operate properly without electricity - neither could a town. One of the principal reasons that he selected the South West Arm of Catalina for his town was the potential hydro power of the river which ran into the arm.
On May 4th 1916, an Act to incorporate the Union Electric Light and Power Company was passed by the Legislature. The petitioners for the Act of Incorporation were Dugald White, Joseph Perry and John Guppy. Dugald White had worked in the steel industry in the U.S.A., had been severely injured in an accident and returned to his home in Catalina. He was an aggressive natural leader. Joseph Perry was a businessman who had managed the Catalina Branch of the F.U. Trading Company Limited. John Guppy was a Labrador schooner Captain from Port Rexton.
The petition requested the incorporation of the Union Electric Light and Power Company to provide electricity to the Towns of Trinity, Catalina, and Bonavista and adjacent towns and settlements and for the right to use for these purposes, and I quote from the Act: "The waters of certain lakes and streams situate at the South West Arm of Catalina, at Little Catalina, at Champney's and at Trinity, To Wit:- Diamond's Long Pond, Gull Pond and their lakes and tributaries, and the waters flowing from Diamond's Long Pond into the North West Arm of Trinity and the waters also of North West Brook and its outlet to the North West And of Trinity."
This was a period of unprecedented activity. Hundreds of men were employed. They came from Port Rexton, Melrose, Catalina, Little Catalina, Elliston, Bonavista, Newman's Cove and the Amherst Coves. Some returned to their homes after the days work, some stayed with friends, some boarded with local residents, some lived under canvas and many were given a lift home at the week's end in the Company's trucks. It was an exciting experience and they knew they were participating in an extraordinary venture.
As stated above the enterprises at Port Union were under construction all at the same time. When Port Union was ready for electricity the power company was ready to supply it. This was a fine feat of co-ordination and integrated planning.
The power plant was built in 1917. The power was on in Port Union and Catalina on January 17th, 1918; in Bonavista in 1920; in Little Catalina in 1928 and in Elliston in 1929.
From the beginning the Company had been meant to operate beyond the limits of the Port Union - Bonavista power lines. This was evident in the 1916 Act which authorized the establishment of the Company. As stated above, Trinity was specifically mentioned and the brooks and rivers flowing into Trinity Arm were included in the Company's franchise.
However, probably because of the uncertain economy and the devastation of the Depression, the Company's expansion was halted. It should be noted that there was steady growth until 1929. The Depression of the thirties is today a miserable memory to those who lived through it and an uneasy if vague fact of history to the younger generation. It was a time of economic paralysis and mercantile decay. It should be noted that this area was depended then as now solely on the fishing industry. There was and is little or no diversification. Everything depended either directly or indirectly on the fishing industry. In those years, fish meant salt cod. Early in the Great Depression of the thirties, the markets for salt cod began to weaken and soon all but disappeared. Prices fell to literally nominal values. Money was scarce or nonexistent. The fishermen and average working men and many professional people lived and worked with the fear of poverty and the threat of destitution always with them, while the merchants courted bankruptcy with every season of supply. Many people were hungry and many businesses failed. It is to the credit of the Union Electric Light and Power Company that it survived these desperate and depressing years. It is also an indication of the real need of electric power in the communities it served. The Depression was a merciless curler. Only what was necessary survived. All the frills and much of the graciousness of living disappeared for many. Existence was the aim of all, but to the credit of the people let it be said, that some pride and much humanity were salvaged.
In the mid-thirties, there were signs of recovery and by the late thirties there were marked improvement. The Second World War brought unprecedented prosperity to Newfoundland and the Company's revenues improved. But the war also brought shortages of materials and manpower and expansion had to wait but it was never far from mind.
Aaron Bailey, a native of Port Rexton, who went to work with the Union Electric Light and Power Company in its early stages, literally grew up with the Company. In 1926, he became the manager at the age of twenty. Mr. Bailey's plans went beyond the program contemplated when the Company was incorporated. Over thirty years ago, he outlined to me his concept of a power grid covering all of the Bonavista Peninsula. At that time, electricity was supplied to Melrose, Port Union, Catalina, Little Catalina, Elliston and Bonavista - the tip of the Bonavista Peninsula only.
The Hydro-Electric Plant of the Union Electric Company, Port Union by "Observer"
(Originally published in the Weekly Advocate, Nov. 13, 1920.
Article made available courtesy of Mr. John Murphy, Port Union.
Transcribed by Melvin Baker, October 1997
The power for Bonavista is taken from the Bonavista feeder panel at the power station at 2300 volts. It is then stepped up by a steel out-door sub-station to a pressure of 13,200 volts, and sent over a transmission line of 11 miles to Bonavista, where it is received and stepped down by a step-down sub-station at Bonavista. Both of these stations were purchased from the Westinghouse Company and are up-to-date in every respect, and the first of their kind installed in this Colony.
Each sub-station is equipped with the latest lightning arresters and horn gap controlling switches.
There are at present 100 houses fitted and ready for the electricity and fed by three-phase local 2300 volt lines, extending throughout the town of Bonavista. The load is also being properly balanced between the phases.
The company expects in future to connect all residences and public buildings in Bonavista and surrounding nearby settlements. The new Unit with its generator and exciter was installed this year, also the steel step-up and step-down sub-stations, and the transmission lines to Bonavista. The local line through Bonavista was also run and 100 houses furnished with electric light.