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Public art will honour Hamilton-“The Electric City” and Nikola Tesla who made it possible

Tesla seated in his lab with his electrical equipment

In less than two weeks the bidding will close for submissions to produce a $185,000 work of public art to celebrate the arrival of cheap, clean hydro- electrical power to Hamilton.

In 1898, Hamilton was the first major city in Canada to utilize new technology that allowed hydro-electricity to be transmitted long distances in a cost-effective way. The early implementation of this pioneering technology in Hamilton was due to the bold thinking of five entrepreneurs, all with the first name John. The ‘Five Johns’ formed a private power company called the Cataract Power Company. Using a recently patented system designed by the brilliant Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla that used alternating current instead of direct current, the Cataract Power Company built a power generating station at Decew in St. Catharines and a 56-kilometer transmission line to their station on Victoria Avenue North in Hamilton. From the main station, power was distributed to their customers that included the City of Hamilton, major industries, the Hamilton Street Railway and several interurban railways.

DeCew Power Station in St Catharines supplied Hamilton with power that fueled its industrial expansion in the early 1900’s – Niagara Falls Public Library
An early Hamilton Hydro poster –Hamilton Public Library
Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla, who has already been commemorated with the renaming of part of Burlington Street was the father of alternating current electricity. At the dawn of the electrical age he became a rival of Thomas Edison, the inventor who had developed a direct current system. The two battled it out in New York City for the right to supply power to the metropolis. The advantage of alternating current was that it could be transmitted over much longer distances than direct current, and eventually Tesla was proven right. At one point wealthy, Tesla sold his patents to Westinghouse, and eventually became bankrupt as he could not find backers and was forced to self-finance his research into a wide range of inventions.

Last fall the city put out a call for proposals for the artwork which will be located at a city-owned property where Van Wagner’s Beach Road intersects with the waterfront trail on the Lake Ontario shoreline. Bidding will close January 19th.

There are several stipulations regarding the type of materials that can be used. The city wants durable materials and an overall design that can withstand strong winds.

For more information on the project visit the City of Hamilton website.

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