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City of Kingston Archives

Kingston Public Utlities Commission

  • CA QUA10013
  • Corporate body
  • 1913-

Before Kingston was incorporated public utilities for water and light were non-existent. Only a few fortunate citizens had their own wells. Water was delivered by cart to the majority and fire crews generally had to bring their own water. Even after incorporation in 1838 the Town Council was not anxious t o assume responsibility for public utilities, and the first use of gas was brought about by a desire for profit. In 1847 the City of Kingston Gas Light Company was incorporated to provide lighting for streets and buildings. Most of the stock was held by the wealthier citizens of Kingston. Not long afterwards, in 1848, a bill to incorporate the Kingston Waterworks Company was presented to the Legislature by John A. Macdonald, at that time the member for Kingston.

In January 1886 the Kingston Electric Light Company was incorporated. The company supplied light, heat and power for Frontenac County. The use of electricity for street lighting began in 1888, and from this time on the correspondence of the City Committee on Fire and Light contains many petitions from citizens requesting street lighting. In October 1889 the Kingston Electric Light Company and the Kingston Gas Light Company agreed to merge. Competition was thus eliminated although the bill of amalgamation was actually dated 1891. The new company was called the Kingston Light, Heat and Power Company. A twenty year limit was placed on the charter after which the corporation of the City of Kingston was to be given the option of acquiring the company. Actually it was less than ten years before the company expressed its interest in handing over.

In 1876 the Kingston Street Railway Company was incorporated. In the early days the cars were horse-drawn and the tracks ran down the middle of the street. By the 1890's a new company, the Kingston, Portsmouth and Cataraqui Street Railway was formed and in September, 1893 an electric railway system was inaugurated with considerable publicity. The first of these three utility companies to be acquired by the city was the Kingston Waterworks Company on Oct. 1, 1887. It was placed under the direction of aCommittee of the City Council which was then referred to as the Water Works Committee.

By the early 1900's there was considerable public pressure for city acquisition of other utilities. There was belief that rates would be lower if control was in the hands of a body supposedly unconcerned with profits. In 1904 the voters were asked to vote on a by-law for the purchase of gas and electric utilities and a referendum was also submitted to decide whether the Water Works Dept. should remain under a committee of Council or be placed under the management of a Commission. A Commission was voted upon and this was the foundation of the system subsequently organized to operate the city utilities of water, gas, electricity, and, much later, transportation. The success of the water supply system was frequently cited as a precedent for public control over electric and gas utlities, but the city and the Kingston Light, Heat and Power Company were unable to agree on a price. In the spring of 1901 it was decided to resort to arbitration and outside evaluators were brought in to evaluate the plant and the powerhouse of the electric system and the gas plant (see Kingston City Records #1065). As a consequence on March 21, 1904, by-law #12, "A by-law to authorize the issue of debentures of the City of Kingston to the amount of $182,000 for the purpose of purchasing the works of the Kingston Light, Heat and Power Company" was ratified. This by-law was later scrapped and on February 13, 1905 replaced by by-law #17, "a by-law to authorize the issue of debentures of the City of Kingston in two issues to the amount of $82,000 and $100,000 respectively and to repeal by-law #12 (1904)." The price agreed upon was actually $170,373. The additional $12,000 was to cover costs and incidentals to the arbitration and the passing of the by-law.

From 1904 until 1913 the management of electricity and gas was under the direction of a Committee of Council on Light, Heat and Power. In 1912 this became known as the Committee on Civic Utilities. It was becoming apparent that the gas, electric and water departments would function more efficiently under one supervisory body. Problems were caused by the lack of coordination between the three departments. Therefore, in 1913, by-law #66, setting up the Kingston Public Utilities Commission was passed. There were to be five members: the Mayor (ex-officio) and four others elected at regular municipal elections. This Commission was to be responsible for policy. The actual operation of the three departments would be left in the hands of
a permanent staff under a general manager. On January 1, 1914, this system went into effect, and it has continued in effect ever since. The only major change has been that in 1962, after a plebiscite, the P. U. C. reluctantly assumed complete responsibility for the transit system. This was done because it had become obvious that it was a choice between no transit system at all or a publicly operated one.