The generation of electricity from waterpower extends over the last 100 years at the Orillia Power Corporation. In 1902 electric power from the first plant on the Severn River reached Orillia from Ragged Rapids, making this the first municipally owned hydraulic plant for the long distance (19 miles) transmission of electricity in North America. Before building the plant the whole town council and Mayor snowshoed in from the nearest road to Ragged Rapids to inspect the proposed site. The plant was built to replace two steam powered generators that provided electricity for lighting and to power pumps for the town’s municipal water supply.
In 1913, the Dominion Department of Railways and Canals, in conjunction with its plan to improve the Trent Waterways system, suggested that Orillia’s power plant (so newly completed at Ragged Rapids) be transferred 1-1/2 miles downstream to the Swift Rapids, also on the Severn River. The purpose of the suggestion was to avoid the long and costly rock cutting that would be necessary to by-pass the Ragged Rapids. The OWLP (former Orillia Water Light and Power) Commission agreed to the move in view of the offer of Dominion Government financing and the provision for future increased supplies of electricity. As a result of this agreement, the construction of the new dam, and powerhouse was begun in 1913.
The work at the Swift Rapids was interrupted with the outbreak of the war in 1914, but shortly resumed. Meanwhile, Orillia’s power needs were supplied by the Ontario Hydro Commission with whom the OWLP Commission had cooperated in the erection of a high tension line between Eugenia Falls and Collingwood.
In 1917 the Ragged Rapids plant was disbanded and the new Swift Rapids plant was completed at the Trent Severn Waterway Lock 43. The new larger plant supplied the ever increasing industrial and domestic demand for electricity. The Swift plant has a net head of 14.3 meters, a present output of 7.9 MW and a capacity factor of 61%.
The continuing increase in demand for electricity to power industry and residential consumers prompted the construction of Orillia’s second generating station Minden G.S. in 1935. It is located on the Gull River in the town of Minden. The plant was built during the depths of the great depression. Construction was performed by employing men who qualified under the Unemployment Relief Work Act. The Minden plant has a net head of 21.3 meters, an output of 4.4 MW and a capacity factor of 57%.
In the early days of electricity production, when demand was easily matched by supply from the generating stations, it was possible to continue producing power when the rest of the province was experiencing a blackout. In 1948 after a blackout, Orillia was an oasis of light in semi blackout according to the September 15,1948 edition of The Evening Telegram after a power failure in the Ontario Hydro system. Orillia and the surrounding hamlets of Longford, Uthoff and Atherley were able to carry on in full capacity thanks to Orillia’s independent system.
In 1950 Matthias, the third generating station was completed on the south branch of the Muskoka River in Matthiasville. It was needed to supply power to growing industrial and residential demand in Orillia. The Matthias plant has a net head of 13.1 meters, an output of 2.95 MW and a capacity factor of 64%.
It was obvious that the demand for power would increase as Orillia grew, so a decision had to be made whether to build another hydraulic generating station or affiliate with Ontario Hydro. On June 15, 1954, Orillia joined the Hydro family as a participating municipality. Ontario Hydro paid $231,000 to Orillia for equipment that had been serving some of the latter’s rural customers who would henceforth be serviced by Ontario Hydro.
In 1965 work was begun at Swift Rapids to renovate the equipment at this, the oldest of Orillia’s generating plants. This machinery had served the system for fifty years and the Commission was faced with the choice of abandoning the plant or of replacing the equipment. The Commission replaced two of the three old turbines with two new tube type turbines that increased the capacity of the plant from 6,000 H.P. to 10,000 H.P. The tube type turbine was recognized as being the most efficient and economical installation for the Swift Rapids G.S. redevelopment.
As a result Bill 35, the Energy Competition Act, in October 1998, municipalities in Ontario became the sole shareholder of their local utilities. They could either keep or sell their utility. Orillia chose to keep. Bill 35 also stated that utilities had to incorporate under the Ontario Business Corporation Act by November 7, 2000. On November 1, 2000, the former Orillia Water Light and Power Commission was incorporated into three new entities – Orillia Power Corporation (holding company), Orillia Power Distribution Corporation (wires company) and Orillia Power Generation Corporation (generation).