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August 8, 2012 | by  |  This Day In Vancouver


After months of construction, and opposition from certain stubborn Aldermen, lamplighter Tim Clough is officially rendered obselete as, for the first time, electric streetlights are turned on in Vancouver.

“People were tired of coal oil lamps,” H.P. McCraney will recall, years later, in conversation with city archivist J.S. Mathews. “And in September 1886, three men—they were electricians—came up from Portland, Oregon. [...]They had electrical equipment for sale, and approached local people to form a company, and so give the undertaking local ‘colour.’ The system did not spread far, just around Hastings, Cordova, Cambie, Carrall, Oppenheimer, Powell, Alexander, Cambie and Abbott streets.”

The 50-volt, 300 light system, operated by the Vancouver Illuminating Co, is powered by a low-output steam plant on the corner of Pender and Abbott, and, despite the novelty, requires constant maintenance. In addition, the current generated by the plant itself is so weak that it only benefits the areas closest to the building; the streetlights on Granvillle street receive such a weak current, that they are barely able to illuminate.

“The joke at the time was,” Mathews will later note, “that one needed a candle to find the electric light.”


IMAGE: The first electric power plant in Vancouver, photographed in 1930. Image Courtesy of the Vancouver Archives.


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