Power to the People: Toronto Hydro

1911

Toronto Hydro

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Established in 1911, Toronto Hydro was faced with a difficult problem: few people in the city wanted anything to do with electrical appliances. Electric street lights were fine, but who wanted dangerous electricity leaking out of wall sockets all over the house? No sir — we’ll stick with our ice boxes and gas stoves.

Toronto Hydro Electric System Head Office Building at 14 Carlton Street, 1933, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1662.

To deal with this conundrum, Toronto Hydro launched an aggressive campaign to market all kinds of electrical appliances, including curling irons, fans, heaters, radios, and of course, fridges and stoves. Hydro even had its own Appliance Shop to advertise new products and encourage consumers to live in a more modern way. Their first success was with the electric iron, selling 5,600 of them in 1914. After the First World War, they also were able to interest homemakers in electric washing machines and other labour-saving devices such as vacuum cleaners, toasters and kettles.

By 1930, all of this promotion had paid off, and Toronto Hydro was doing well enough to feel the need for a new head office. They started construction at 14 Carlton Street in 1931 in the depths of the Depression. The architects were Chapman and Oxley, whose work included the east wing of the Royal Ontario Museum and the Princes’ Gates. Built at a cost of $1,335,000 with art deco flourishes, the building was described in the press as "the very model of modernity." It remains Hydro’s head office.

By Michele Dale

Toronto Hydro Electric System Head Office Building at 14 Carlton Street, 1933, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1662. View the image gallery