Sir Adam Beck Road

Sir Adam Beck Road is named in honour of Adam Beck, Hydro founder

Sir Adam Beck

Stratford-Perth Archives

Sir Adam Beck

Born in 1857, Adam Beck was a manufacturer, politician, and power-authority commissioner. Feared and revered as an empire builder, he dominated provincial politics for a generation as he built and expanded the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario into the largest publicly owned power authority in the world. 

The son of a German Lutheran foundryman and miller, Beck made his name as a manufacturer of cigar boxes. He was also an outstanding athlete, and  mayor and MPP in London, Ont. As mayor, he led a movement of Ontario municipalities and boards of trade to get cheap electric power from Niagara Falls. In 1905, James P. Whitney made Beck head of a public inquiry that ultimately recommended creating a municipally owned, provincially financed co-operative hydroelectric distribution system.

Supported by bipartisan public ownership advocates, the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario began in a small way in 1910, but through Beck's aggressive promotion of "Power At Cost," thousands of new industrial, retail and household customers were soon added. By charging initial low rates to induce a large demand, then building huge, efficient generating stations whose low costs permitted further rate reductions, Beck rapidly expanded his system and drove most of his private competitors out of business. 

He also browbeat balky municipalities, tyrannized provincial governments with his powerful following, and abused his regulatory authority to hamper private rivals. Eventually, he overreached himself and Ernest C. Drury's government cancelled his electric railway scheme. George H. Ferguson (Ontario premier from 1923 to 1930) also kept Beck and Hydro on a short leash.

As principal founder and guiding genius of Ontario Hydro, Beck helped establish the public enterprise tradition in Canada, though his methods did little to render such enterprises more politically accountable. Source: Canadian Encyclopedia

The Great Steam Boat Race:  The Water Lily

The Avon Boat Club in Stratford, Ont., was formed in 1864, and the next year held a regatta on Queen Victoria's birthday, May 24, 1865. A dozen years later, on Victoria Day 1877, The Great Steamboat Race took place.

Two steamboats came to the Avon River in 1877 when William Jeffrey built an launched a 17 foot paddle-wheeler (Firefly) said to be the first built in Perth County. About the same time D. Nichol produced his 12-footer "Dreadnaught" also a paddle-wheeler. The race was to be from the dam to the island and back. Mayor Tom Daly put up the prize for the winner , and the two men readied their boats while hurling friendly insults to each other. However as regatta day approached there was news of a third boat, a surprise entry. Jeffery and Nicol would have competition. 

 Adam beck  was there with his boat called the "Water Lily" . His arrival at the regatta enlivened the proceedings considerably. The crowd watched the race from the long wooden bridge or stood on lumber piles on the banks of Easson's mill ( see Easson Steet)  or Orr's' mill (see Orr Street).  See map for location of Mills  

There was great excitement as the three boats churned off upstream. Early in the race, the Nicol boat broke down. Then, the pressure on Jeffer's "Firefly" dropped from 160 to 40 pounds.  Beck won handily. Beck also won a return race on Dominion Day, and in 1919 recalled his victory with delight as he made a speech at the official opening of the York Street Hydro-Electric Power Distribution Station in 1919.   Source: Floodtides of Fortune . Adelaide Leitch

The Water Lily

Photo: Nancy Musselman