Hydro history brought to life: OPG’s Otto Holden station celebrated in new museum exhibit
At a glance
- Former workers and local townspeople have shared their stories and memories of OPG’s Otto Holden hydro station for a new exhibit at the Mattawa Museum.
- The 71-year-old station helped revitalize the community when it was built and put into service in the early 1950s.
- The station is now undergoing refurbishment to continue its clean power legacy.
In the small town of Mattawa in eastern Ontario, a beautiful new museum exhibit pays tribute to the lasting impact and history of OPG’s Otto Holden Generating Station (GS).
Recently unveiled at the Mattawa Museum, the sprawling bilingual wall display tells the story of the construction of the station and its dam in the early 1950s. The exhibit also features audio stories and pictures collected from family of those who worked on the dam.
Now a fixture in the town, the 243-megawatt Otto Holden GS had a major impact on the community when it was built. The eight-unit station first went into service in 1952 and has been generating clean power on the Ottawa River near the Quebec border for decades.
“The station is an integral part of our community history,” said Judy Toupin, the museum’s curator. “At the time of its construction, there were between 8,000 to 10,000 people living in this area. There were businesses started because of the increased number of people, including clothing stores, restaurants, bars, shoe repair, and barber shops.”
OPG’s predecessor company, Ontario Hydro, began construction in 1949, with about 1,500 people involved and an estimated project cost at the time of $60 million.
Originally called La Cave GS, the plant was renamed to honour Dr. Otto Holden, an accomplished engineer with Ontario Hydro who was instrumental in the expansion of hydroelectric power in the province.
At the time of its construction, there were between 8,000 to 10,000 people living in this area. There were businesses started because of the increased number of people, including clothing stores, restaurants, bars, shoe repair, and barber shops.Judy ToupinCurator, Mattawa Museum
As was the practice at the time, a small colony of 23 houses was built in the town for the station’s operating staff, and a 4.8-km highway was built to connect the colony to the station.
“I remember my family talking about the dances they would have up there in the colony on Saturday nights,” recalls Toupin, whose own family has a close connection to the station and the colony community it spawned.
Toupin’s father worked at Otto Holden GS as a truck driver, and her uncle served as a mechanic in the colony while her aunt worked in the canteen. Her aunt and uncle met while working in the colony and later married.
The genesis for the museum exhibit, Toupin says, was the discovery of an old signature book that was used when the station would host public tours.
“That sparked this idea to showcase this book, which then grew into building an exhibit that included oral stories from local folks about Otto Holden GS,” the curator said.
The biggest challenge for the museum has been sourcing old photos of the station, as many of the original workers would now be in their late 80s and 90s or have passed away.
Thankfully, family members and a few surviving workers are helping to keep the legacy alive by contributing photos, stories, and memories.
That included one visitor in the summer of 2022 celebrating his 90th birthday.
“He was on a mission to visit all the various dams that he worked on over his career,” Toupin said. “Otto Holden GS was his first job as a young man, so he had many fond memories.”
While its history is being celebrated, the story of Otto Holden GS will continue for many more years to come.
The station is now undergoing a refurbishment of its eight units to ensure it can continue to generate reliable, clean power to support Ontario’s growth and future electrification.
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