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London Hydro Shop, 1912-1956

London Hydro Shop, 1912-1956
Plaque no. 66
Date of plaque unveiling
28 May 2013
Gina Barber
272-274 Dundas Street, London, Ontario

Take a tour of London Hydro Shop on HistoryPin

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The Hydro Shop was a retail store established in 1912 by the Board of Water Commissioners (later the Public Utilities Commission) designed to encourage the use of electrical appliances in the home for the convenience of the homemaker while building a customer base for the distribution of power from Niagara Falls, a pet project of Mayor and MPP, Adam Beck.  It was through his leadership that London became the second city in Ontario to obtain hydro at 12:15 pm on November 30, 1910.

When efforts by the Board's general manager, Edward Victor Buchanan, to encourage local businesses to undertake a campaign to promote domestic electrical appliances were met with resistance, the Board established its own retail store in 1912, first in the city hall on Richmond Street and then in a former drug store on the corner of Dundas and Wellington Streets.  There it used innovative marketing tactics such as cooking demonstrations in its showroom, free home trials and payments on the installment plan to attract more users.

It was the first of its kind in Ontario. It is credited with attracting and retaining businesses like Kelvinator and McClary and under the direction of its creative manager E. V. Buchanan with introducing the prototype for the Cascade 40 water heater, the first automobile block heater, and a forerunner of the smart meter. The Hydro Shop turned London into the electric range capital of North America, with more electric ranges per population than any other city.

The success of The Hydro Shop also spilled over to private businesses as public demand for reasonably priced electrical appliances increased. By 1956, the proliferation of such appliances—air conditioners, curling irons, fridges, kettles, mixers and stoves —in electrical business and discount stores meant that the Board’s mission had been achieved and The Hydro Shop was closed.

Adam Beck’s motto was dona naturae pro populo sunt (the gifts of nature are for the public). Through the operation of The Hydro Shop, the commission he established to oversee the distribution of electricity ensured that the farmer, the homemaker and the small businessperson shared in the benefits of affordable, reliable publicly owned power.