Ontario Hydro’s “Museum of Electrical Progress”

A snapshot of a (relatively) completed portion of the “Museum of Electrical Progress”, taken in 1976, months before its closure.

I recently wrote a report for the Canada Science and Technology Museum about the history of Ontario Hydro’s little-known “Museum of Electrical Progress”, a museum (or rather collection of electrical instruments and apparatus) that was under development from 1963-77 and was located in Etobicoke (present-day Toronto, known nowadays for being the home of our illustrious mayor). If you have ten pages worth of time, I encourage you to check it out – it’s a neat slice of local/institutional history and a great example (or rather a cautionary tale) of what (not) to do when creating a museum.

The museum was an initiative advocated for by Ontario Hydro commissioner Lt-Col. A. A. Kennedy, spearheaded by public relations manager Ted E. Dietrich and worked on by a handful of retired Ontario Hydro employees. The idea was to amass an admirable collection of electrical artifacts and create a public museum showcasing the past, present, and future of electricity in Ontario. It was proposed and lobbied for in the mid-1960s, an optimistic time when Ontario Hydro was telling Ontarians to “Live Better Electrically”, before the rising prices, emergent conservation ethic, inflation, and other problems that beset the energy industry caused it to change it’s perspective in the 1970s.

The Museum’s “Tree of Light”, which portrayed different electric lights as branches across the spectrum, corresponding their frequencies to everyday uses. The Museum’s collection of electric lamps was largely catalogued by Arthur G. Plumpton, a retired Ontario Hydro employee who devoted his remaining years to the lamp collection, which would later be named after him.

Initially the Museum of Electrical Progress received tremendous support, with several towns in Ontario vying to have it located in their municipality. An impressive collection of material was gathered from across North America (and from as far away as Australia), but the funding and support for the Museum never quite came through. A Hydro “Hall of Memory” was eventually eventually erected at great expense at Niagara Falls: a piece of institutional propaganda produced for the Canadian centennial, the Hall of Memory included a sort of scaled-down museum. Despite moving to a new building in 1971 the full museum was never completed and opened to the public. In continued on, under-funded but nevertheless in development, until 1977, when it (and the Hall of Memory) were shuttered for good in the wake of severe budget cuts.

Fortunately, most of the Ontario Hydro collection was moved to the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, where it now happily resides. No history of the Museum has ever been written, so, to better understand this collection, the Museum commissioned the report from me. Thankfully, they have given me permission to make this report freely available on my website. 

Perhaps the most completed room of the Museum, displaying turn-of-the-century electrical technology. On the right wall is a painted street scene, complete with electric streetcars running alongside automobiles and horse-drawn carriages.

It was a pleasure to research the Museum and I hope you enjoy reading about it.

A History of the Ontario Hydro Museum of Electrical Progress


This entry was posted in News. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.