Georgetown’s Barber Mill Dynamo, 1888. The first long-distance transmission of hydro power in North America.

Did you know that the Barber Mill Dynamo in Georgetown, built in 1888, was the first electrical generating plant in North America use for long distance transmission of hydro power? Its ruins are still standing and can be accessed via Bruce trail sidetrail by the old Barber Mill on the corner of River Road and Maple Avenue.

About the Barber Mill Dynamo

Georgetown Barber Mill History photo
The Barber Mill from 1910 as they looked in their prime.

History of Braber´s family.
The Barber family came to Upper Canada in 1822 and settled on the Niagara Peninsula.
In 1837 they moved to Hungry Hollow (now Georgetown) and bought a woolen mill that belonged to George Kennedy, the founder of Georgetown. They bought a second mill south of Streetsville, called Barbertown.
By 1852 their wool business had outgrown both buildings and a new larger one was built in Streetsville. This allowed the mill to expand to a 122 cm rolling mill.

In 1854, brothers William, James, Joseph and Robert Barber, prominent manufacturers in the Credit Valley, established a paper mill here.
Within a few years it had become an important producer of fine rag paper.
Fifteen years later, James acquired sole ownership of the mill, soon afterwards it came under his son John’s control. John Reaf Barber was an innovative manager who substantially increased the mills production by employing new technology.

At that time, electricity was used only for street lighting. The use of electricity for lighting was considered impossible.
J. R. Barber contacted C. F. Brush, the first dynamo equipment manufacturer in Ohio, and persuaded him to make a 100hp dynamo for him when Brush’s previous largest had 30hp.
He then selected a suitable site on the Credit River where he could create a 6.6m gradient. This drop height was used to drive the turbines that powered the dynamo. The turbines were 1.5 metres in diameter. In addition to the 100hp dynamo, a 60kW dynamo was installed, which was used only for lighting. Originally there were two lines from the dynamo to the mill. One was used for lighting and one for powering the machinery.

The Barber Mill Dynamo was built in 1888 in Georgetown and transmitted power via two wires up to the Barber Paper Mill located on River Road, about 3km away.
It was operated by James Charles Alexander (1874-1954) who worked there his whole life. His responsibilities included turning the power on and off and maintaining the machinery and being on call at any time as requests were telephoned from the Mill down to the Dynamo.
After the factory closed (1913) he continued to live there. Unfortunately, his young son fell off a nearby railway bridge in 1918 and died.

The Barber Paper Mill was the largest industry in Halton.
Run by John Barber, the Barber Mill produced book paper, lithographic and label papers, posters and higher grade newspaper.  Paper was originally made from cotton and linen rags until 1869. Then pulp was added to make paper from oat, wheat and rye straw. In 1879, wood pulp replaced straw.

In 1913, the paper mill was sold to Barbers by Provincial Papers, who operated it until its closure in November 1948.
In 2008, the site was designated a heritage site. Problems with cleaning up the soil contaminated by years of heavy industry are why the site is still in a disastrous state today, full of rats and people taking drugs.

Book: Historical Publications about Georgetown and Halton Hills

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