Home / Accueil

Petty Harbour Hydro-Electric Generating Station

Petty Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador, A0A, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1985/06/18

Exterior view of the Petty Harbour Hydro-Electric Generating Station, December 2005; HFNL 2005
Petty Harbour Hydro-Electric Generating Station
Exterior view of the Petty Harbour Hydro-Electric Generating Station, December 2005, showing surge tank to the top right.; HFNL 2005
Petty Harbour Hydro-Electric Generating Station
Petty Harbour Hydro-Electric Generating Station, c1900. Photo shows Newfoundland's first hydro-electric generating station, with the original line of the penstock half-way up the ridge.; From: Moses Harvey "Newfoundland at the Beginning of the 20th Century: a treatise of history and development." (New York: South Pub. Co., 1902) 176.
Petty Harbour Hydro-Electric Station, c1900.

Other Name(s)


Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1898/01/01 to 1900/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2006/01/19

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Petty Harbour Hydro-Electric Generating Station is an early twentieth century power generating plant located at the base of a rocky hill in the community of Petty Harbour. This small community is located just outside the municipal boundaries of the City of St. John's, and the power plant was constructed to service the area. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Petty Harbour Hydro-Electric Generating Station has been designated as a Registered Historic Site by the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador for its historic, technological and architectural values.

The earliest electric utility company in Newfoundland was formed in 1885 by A.M. Mackay, the superintendent of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company. That year the St. John's Electric Light Co. built the colony's first generating station, the Flavin Lane Station in St. John’s. It was established primarily for the Terra Nova Bakery, but produced enough electricity to operate arc lamps in the windows of Water Street merchants.

By 1900 Newfoundland had its first hydro-electric generating station, built at Petty Harbour by the St. John’s Street Railway Company. Power was transmitted to St. John’s for the first time on April 19, 1900. The developer of the plant was Sir Robert G. Reid (1842-1908), a distinguished bridge builder and railway contractor. The plant produced electricity for the street car system and for the homes and businesses of St. John’s. The St. John’s Street Railway Company bought out the St. John's Electric Light Company in July 1900, and closed the Flavin Street plant in favour of the Petty Harbour supply in January 1901. The streetcar and electrical service was run as part of the Reid Newfoundland Company and in 1920 was incorporated as the St. John’s Light and Power Company.

The original wooden flume which fed water into the plant traversed a steep open slope. At 6 o’clock on the morning of Wednesday, February 7, 1921 an avalanche swept away 23 meters of the flume, cutting off all power to St. John's. The flume was severely damaged and parts of it were carried over 91 meters down-slope. The effects in St. John's were not fully realized until night fell. According to the Evening Telegram:

A rush was generally made on nearby shops which happened to be open on the chance that candles might be kept there, whilst some of the more fortunate resurrected old oil lamps from damp and dusty cupboards. Confusion reigned supreme. A passer-by on our usually well-lighted thoroughfares would have been shocked to see the difference between Wednesday night and the night preceding it. Not a light could be seen anywhere save where, perhaps in occasional windows the glimmer of an oil lamp or the faint flame of flickering candles could be seen.

A crew of workmen, with the assistance of a load of lumber and labourers carried from St. John's by the S.S. Sagona, restored power by that Sunday afternoon.

In 1924, the company became part of the Newfoundland Light and Power Company Ltd, and between 1924 and 1927, modifications were made to the plant. The original 500 volt Westinghouse Generator was rewound for greater output and an additional Armstrong Whitworth turbine was installed along with two General Electric Generators. Today, the generating plant annually produces approximately 18 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity, 4 percent of the electricity generated by Newfoundland Power.

On May 1, 1978, the plant was entered in the Canadian Engineering Heritage Record as a model reflecting progressive adaptation to emerging technology. In 2003, the Petty Harbour Hydro-Electric Plant was been inducted into the Hydro Hall of Fame for 2003 by Hydro Review, a leading North American hydro magazine.

Architecturally, the building is a good surviving example of one of the oldest hydro-electric plants in Canada, one of the few plants of its type still in active service. The building is constructed of stone, with large, slightly-arched, 16/16 pane wooden windows, with heavy stone window trim. Modifications required an increase to the building’s wall height, executed in concrete above the original stonework.

Source: Historic Resources Division Annual Report, 1985/86, page 13.

Character-Defining Elements

All those features that reflect the design and use of the building as a hydro-electric plant, including:
- original turbines and generators;
- existing equipment related to the production of electrical power;
- placement of surge tank and penstock;
- placement of building in relation to existing water source.

All those features reflective of the industrial architectural design and character of the generation plant, including:
- use of stone and concrete as a building material;
- regular spacing, size and placement of the slightly arched 16/16 pane wooden windows with heavy stone trim;
- use of green paint on windows and trimwork, the colour used traditionally for trimwork on Reid Newfoundland Company buildings; and,
- large double wooden doors and catwalk on the main facade.



Newfoundland and Labrador

Recognition Authority

Province of Newfoundland and Labrador

Recognition Statute

Historic Resources Act

Recognition Type

Registered Historic Site

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Developing Economies
Technology and Engineering

Function - Category and Type



Power Generation Facility

Architect / Designer




Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador 1 Springdale Street PO Box 5171 St. John's, NL, A1C 5V5

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




Related Places



Advanced SearchAdvanced Search
Nearby Places