Irving House Museum had an old piece of machinery that was rotting in the weeds under their back stairs.
Above: The brick coal gasification building, located on the corner of Third Avenue and Twelfth Street was built in 1886 and designed by prominent architect George W. Grant. It is one of three remaining coal gasification plant buildings remaining in BC and has provincial heritage significance.
The machine was definitely electrical in nature, and the City decided to rescue it, hereupon it was dragged back to the Electrical Operations Shop. Closer investigation revealed it to be some kind of generator, and the Citys intention was to restore it for display as part of the Electrical Department's heritage.
Over the past few years the Electrical Department has collected many original tools and electrical components that were used in the Electrical Distribution System, and these are proudly displayed in the Operations Shop at the works yard.
When Digby Turney, one of the City electricians, retired, he brought in some photographs that belonged to his grandfather, Mr. J.C. Digby. Mr. Digby was the City's first City Electrician, retiring in 1937, and these photographs document the early generators, switching controls and boilers that were part of the electrical system. A close look at two of the photos revealed the presence of none other than the mysterious machine rescued from under the Irving House steps, which was apparently used to power the street lights. The earliest date on the photos was 1891.
Further research has, in fact, substantiated the claim to 1891 being the centenary of the City's own electrical system. According to January 1891 issues of the "British Columbian", "the new electric power house contained boilers with 280 HP capacity, one 180 HP steam engine, a dynamo for energizing 650 incandescent lights, and a street lighting dynamo to power 50 street lights of carbon arc design." It is believed the brick power house still stands, off 10th Street and Queens.
A curious wood building, shaped like a corn crib, was located behind the power house. It was loaded with sawdust by a fan located in the Royal City Mills, blowing the sawdust down a wooden trough, and then fed into the boilers by conveyor belt.
On January 2, 1891, the "British Columbian" records that:
Above: The heritage generator.
Shortly after 5:00 o'clock this evening a large number of people gathered in the dynamo room, among those present being Mayor Brown, the Lady Mayoress, Alderman and Mrs. Hoy. The machinery was curiously inspected by the visitors and, to those who did not understand the science of the system, it seemed remarkable how the light was produced. At 5:15 o'clock, the signal was given by Mr. Bowler to turn on the light, and prompt to the word, Mayor Brown's eldest son, David, turned the handles, and the City of Westminster was ablaze with the new electric light.
The turning on of the light was a great surprise to the majority of the people on Columbia Street, who little imagined the new service would be in force for a good while yet. These lights were located along Columbia Street and Front Street, and replaced the gas powered street lighting.
When the electric plant was fully developed, in December 1891, it was valued at $85,000. Our new Royal Substation had a construction value of $6,500,000, in 1990, which is a 76 times increase. The salary of Mr. Bowler, who was the City Electrician at that time, was recorded at $110 month.
The restoration of the generator was completed by Mr. Al Robinson and his staff at Wismer and Rawlings Electric Ltd, a well known Company that specializes in rebuilding, maintaining and servicing electrical industrial equipment and apparatus. The staff of Wismer and Rawlings voluntarily donated their labour and expertise for this project.