The History
of the Swan River Valley
Manitoba, Canada

National Utilities

In Swan River between 1922-24 some private people were going to start a power house and had materials sent to Swan River. They couldn’t get it out of bond at the station and it stayed there for about two years.

From the Star & Times - In 1926 E.W. McDonald, Solicitor for the town, is in receipt of advice from the Swan River Power Co., Ltd. that a contract for the electric light distribution system with a capacity of 225 connections has been let, and that two engines are now enroute from England and are expected here about the first week in November. The company states that they expect to have power ready for distribution not later than December 15th. The poles arrived here on Tuesday.

Clare Clendenning worked for the Bracken government. His job was power commissioner and the government was talking but doing little to set up Manitoba Power Commission. He left this job and with Mr. Barker and Mr. Arnold and money from England started the Northern Engineering Developing Company and took over Swan River Power Company. This company with six franchises and a few more later started to set up electric plants at Swan River, Grandview, Hamiota, Waskada and Deloraine. In 1932, the company changed to the National Utilities.

In 1926 Swan River started with one unit of 50 horse power and a switch board and up grading to 150 hph.

In 1936 a cyclone came through the valley and did damage at the plant and took the power lines down between Swan River and Minitonas. Mr. Bill Roberts, a rural inspector from Deloraine had been repairing at the power house and just got home to Deloraine and turned around and came back to repair again.

In 1937 Waskada was getting their power from United States and President Roosevelt passed a bill that no more power was to be sold out of USA so a plant was installed at Waskada and power was turned on a few minutes before the US went dead. This was completed before Bill moved to Swan River.

Mr. W.E. Roberts was in partnership in an electric repair shop with Mr. Rombley in Deloraine. In 1928-29 they sold lighting plants around the south country. They were hired by the Northern Engineering Company to set up their units and do maintenance and repair work. As the depression was on they were clearing about $30.00 a month wages each.

Mr. Rombley decided to move to Hamiota and ran the plant there. Mr. Roberts was in the Deloraine plant and still did maintenance work as needed and came to Swan River many times.

In 1938 war time – power was short and a 500 horse power engine came from England. Mr. Roberts came and installed it. They had to take the back out of the building to get it inside. Mr. Roberts moved to Swan River December 18th, 1939 and became the Power House Superintendent. Mr. Herb Roberts, his brother, took over the Deloraine plant. Jim McDonald was the chief linesman for the valley.

The National Utilities power went to Benito, Durban, Kenville, Bowsman and Minitonas and any farm close to the highway. In 1940 there were about 2,500 people in town and about 1,000 farms on power meter service. The wages for the men were frozen at $125.00 a month and $2.50 living allowance and you were to buy war bonds!

In 1946 a unit was ordered from England landing in Vancouver and Mr. Roberts went to help with the loading of it for Swan River. A special 1,000 hp unit and a generator from USA came also. Again the end of the power house had to be taken down and an addition added to get it inside. Getting the unit unloaded from the railine and into the building was a lot of hard work! By 1952, the company supplied electricity to 1,480 customers in the valley. As hydro was gradually taking over all the southern towns the National Utilities brought all the old equipment to Swan and installed it. They had a collection of everything, even a coal-gas combination as well as a gas and heavy oil and even with these increases it was insufficient for the residents’ needs in the valley.

This was a pioneer enterprise and a very successful one. It did much to further development of the Swan River Valley. Later in 1954 Mr. Roberts was hired by the town as Water Works Superintendent.

Hydro - (latin for water), took over completely by November 6th, 1952.

Submitted by: Lois Shaw

Swan River Power House

Engine in Swan River Power House

Meters and desk

Manitoba's Swan River Valley is an area rich in history. This material was a part of the 1998 Pioneer Centennial History Book project. If you would like the history of your area available online, have your historic group contact the Key Rock Group for information on electronic publication.