100 Years, 100 People: 1930 - 1939
The Dirty 30’s
Harry Overn made of Calgary Power a family tradition. He was born in Oslo, Norway in 1876. After a few years as a blacksmith in North Dakota; in 1926, Overn moved his wife and family to Wetaskiwin, Alberta. They had 10 children (nine sons and one daughter). His association with the company started in 1930 when Calgary Power acquired Wetaskiwin Utilities. His passion for Calgary Power was soon shared by four of his sons; Sander, Roy, Lee and Einar, who also undertook long careers with the company. But Harry’s passion doesn’t end with his four sons. Harry’s grandson, Wayne and his son in law, Doug Grant also worked for the company. When you add up all the years the Overn’s contributed to Calgary Power, it comes close to 200 years.
Robert Armistead was one of the first linemen employed when Calgary Power started producing electricity on Sunday May 21, 1911. He was born in 1882 in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. After moving to Canada, he worked on the construction of the first power lines ever built by Calgary power in 1911. In November 1936, while patrolling the Jumping Pond area, Armistead noticed a brush fire, which quickly began raging out of control. Despite his best efforts, the fire destroyed the company’s number 1, 2 and 3 lines. As a result, The City of Calgary had to depend on power from its Victoria Park Steam plant while Armistead and a group of other Calgary Power employees including Tom Stanley, Bob Brownie and Bill Sharman spent long, exhausting hours repairing the damage of the blaze.
Shirley Scott was part of the innovative Home Service Department created by Calgary Power in the late 30s. The team including Scott, Audrey Dean, Marianne Pearson, Flora Williams, Kay Campbell and Walter Davidson travelled around the province informing customers about some of the new electrical appliances available. This team of dedicated home economists hit the road in 1937 and travelled throughout Alberta with their “Modern ALL- Electric Kitchen” exhibit, which featured a refrigerator, mix-master, washer and a coffee maker on a trailer hauled by a truck. The exhibit provided publicity for the company and won the Mercantile Section of the Calgary Stampede in 1937.
John Strappazzon was born in Italy in 1892. In 1911, at age 19, he came to Canada looking for a job. He was hired as a part-time laborer with another 200 men to help build the Horseshoe Dam. His starting salary was 25 cents per hour. During his lengthy career with Calgary Power, because he was such a handy man, he held several positions from maintenance man to truck driver. In the spring time, he travelled from dam to dam to manually smash the ice building up at the top of the dams. In winter, he drove a company car to take staff up the Kananaskis Valley. Due to the road conditions, the car could only go so far forcing Strappazzon and other employees to snowshoe the rest of the trip. What was most remarkable is that Strappazzon retired in 1960, after 49 years with Calgary Power.
Fred Gaskell was one of Calgary Power’s early inventive geniuses. He was born in 1898 in Newport, England. His family moved to Canada when he was only nine years old, settling in Okotoks, south of Calgary.
Gaskell started his lengthy career with Calgary Power as an electrician in 1926. In 1939, he designed and built the company’s first time-control devices at the Ghost hydro plant. The time-control devices kept electric clocks on time by automatically adjusting the speed of the machines and the load frequency. Years later, Gaskell refined his invention and expanded its use to the other hydro plants. The company relied on this device until 1974 when it was retired.
His ingenious mind kept him busy. He also invented a phone board at Seebe and a system load control, which electronically regulated the system load to keep the frequency correct.
Gaskell retired as Seebe plant superintendent in 1965, after 39 years With Calgary power.
Ernest George Thompson – Ernie Thompson was a Calgary Power employee for 37 years. His lengthy career with the company started in 1937 at the Horseshoe plant when he was hired as a laborer. Ernie was a handy man; he was great at building and fixing machinery. This skill helped him progress in his career with the company.
Ernie and his wife Winifred, and his two sons Duane and Jack lived in Seebe until 1950 when Ernie was transferred to the Calgary office to work in the hydro production department. In this role Ernie was part of numerous projects such as development and construction of the Spray, Pocaterra and Interlakes plants and the Brazeau River project.
Among his peers, Ernie was recognized as an outdoor enthusiast. His familiarity with the Kananaskis lakes area and his skills as a fisherman, earned him the role as Calgary Power’s fishing tour guide.
One of Ernie’s sons, Jack, also worked at Calgary Power. Jack was hired as a summer student at the Spray Lakes project in 1959 but was offered to carry on over to the winter before enrolling at Mount Royal College.
Ernie retired in 1974, after 37 years with Calgary Power. He passed away in 1996.