Rankine Generating Station

An arched passage contains industrial equipment used for hydroelectric turbines and generators. This passage is underground below the main turbine hall.
  • Year Built: 1905
  • Year Closed: 2005

For a station that's been producing power for 100 years, it's in remarkably good shape.

The William Birch Rankine station (originally known as the Canadian Niagara Power station) has a rich history and was a key player in the development of hydro-electric power in Niagara Falls and the surrounding area.

When it began generating power in 1905, it was the most advanced hydro-electric station in the world with the largest capacity generators (10,000 horsepower). Today, it's considered small.

For its 100 year anniversary, Professor Norman Ball wrote The Canadian Niagara Power Company Story. This book describes in detail the origins of the station, the people involved in its history, how electric power changed the area, and how the station adapted to all of the changes that occurred during its operational life.

The book dives into the technical challenges in designing, building and maintaining the station, and is supported by historical photos and anecdotes from former workers. This includes both power generation and transmission, along with the different people and technical experts involved in each.

While the architectural style is different, the station has functional similarities to the Toronto Power Company station located a few hundred meters away.

Water enters through the forebay and drops down 130 feet through the penstocks. This falling water drives turbine blades which spin a rotor that connects back to the generator in the power house at ground level.

Cross section of the William Birch Rankine generating station from the power house at ground level down to the tailrace 130 feet underground. Water enters the station at the forebay and drops down through the penstocks to the turbines underground. After exiting the turbines, the water enters the tailrace tunnel and is returned to the river.
Hydro-electric power station water flow: 1) Water enters the forebay from the river and 2) passes through the ice/junk racks. 3) It then enters the penstocks and drops down until it 4) reaches the turbines and then 5) exits through the tailrace.

The Power House—the most visible part of the station to the public—is 600 feet long and contains 11 generators. It looks like an industrial building, not too dissimilar from other factory-like settings.

However, the control room is unlike anything that one would expect today. Levers and knobs are mounted on clean marble surfaces, hinting at the fact that the station was built to be exhibited. It was a demonstration of modern technology and it attracted numerous visitors.

The control room has a curved marble wall. A large array of ammeters, knobs and levers are mounted on the marble wall and are visible from the main desk.
Rankine control room: The main desk in the Rankine control room views this curved marble wall adorned with ammeters, knobs and levers.

In 2006 the station was decommissioned and ownership was passed to the Niagara Parks Commission a few years later. The station is planned to reopen as a historic site for tourism sometime in 2021.

Unfortunately I didn't have a chance to venture down to the wheelpit or turbines below ground, or to see the tailrace. One hopes that this will become publicly accessible at some point in time. For now, I'm stuck looking at photos from archives or other explorers who managed to visit.