Electrical failure moves Upper Canada Village to generators

Diesel generator sets are, for the most part, placed in unobtrusive areas around Upper Canada Village to power the attraction after an extensive electrical failure February 2. (The Leader/Blancher photos)

MORRISBURG – The sound and smell of a diesel engine is not normally associated with 1866 Upper Canada. Since February 2, an extensive electrical failure at Upper Canada Village prompted the use of multiple generators on-site to keep village operations running.

St Lawrence Parks Commission Director of Historic Sites Geoff Waycik outside of Willard’s Hotel.

“It was during a planned preventative maintenance upgrade that we were doing,” explained Geoff Waycik, director of historic sites for the St. Lawrence Parks Commission. “An incident occurred which knocked out one of the three electrical phases which then put pressure on the rest of the system. It was a house of cards after that.”

The SLPC has been updating infrastructure at many of its attractions during the off season. Since 2020, the commission has received over $10 million in funding for upgrades and operations.

“Unpredictably this happened and it really unveiled the 60 year old infrastructure of the village,” he continued. “A vast majority of the electrical dates to the installation of this site.”

Upper Canada Village was constructed between 1956 and 1961.

Many of the buildings at the attraction were relocated to the village from communities along the St. Lawrence that were eventually flooded with the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
It was not until the 1880s that electricity systems began to be used in Ontario villages. Set in 1866, Waycik explained that Upper Canada Village is an artifact that needs a working electrical system.

“You don’t see it. We try to hide it from the public, but there is a great need for an electrical system here,” he said listing sump pumps, heating in the winter, safety and security lighting, food and washroom services, as some of the many needs in the village.

“There is a great electricity need here,” Waycik said. “Pumpkinferno and Alight at Night too. It’s pretty incredible to think about how much electricity is needed here. It’s a bit of an ironic thing.”

When the failure happened at the village, Waycik said the SLPC acted quickly to put generators in place to protect the buildings and collections. The electrical failure impacts the entire village, but not operations. This year UCV returned to its regular pre-pandemic programming for the first time since 2019.

“The diesel generators are enabling us to open fully, so we have a fully open operation.”

While there are generators strategically set around the village, efforts have been made to place the equipment in less intrusive spaces.

Waycik said that interpreters have been using the generators, when asked, as a talking point of how mills and businesses were powered in 1866.

Repairing the electrical system is no simple feat – in fact the main system at the village will be replaced. The SLPC recently completed tendering the electrical design study contract. Waycik said it will take a few months to design what the new electrical system will look like, and then there is doing the work. No time line for completion was given but it is expected to continue into 2023.

He said that staff are looking at ways of adding sustainable energy generation to help with honouring the village’s sustainability principles. Renewable energy options are being looked at for the non-historical building areas like the Discovery Centre and the facility/support buildings.

“We look at that as an opportunity. Maybe we can generate some of the electricity we need ourselves.”

Waycik said that since the village opened for the season, he hasn’t receive any complaints about the generators around the village.

“I think people understand and they don’t feel like it detracts terribly from their visit,” he said.

An overall budget for the electrical system replacement is unknown until the design study is complete. Operations at the neighbouring Crysler Park Marina, Riverside-Cedar Campground, and Upper Canada Golf Course are unaffected by the electrical issues at UCV.

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