Nexans in North America : The Early Years
The Need for Hydropower
At the dawn of the 20th century, electricity was really still in its formative years. Most of the power supplied in Ontario was coal-generated steam. Unfortunately, the lack of a ready supply of reasonably priced coal close to Ontario was hindering the region’s industrial growth. Although coal was available from eastern and western Canada, the cost of transportation made these sources practically prohibitive, so Ontario was almost entirely dependent on Pennsylvania for its coal supply. There was a strong desire to better secure access to power and this desire would have a lasting effect on the cable business in North America.
Three privately-owned hydro generating plants had been in operation on the Canadian side at Niagara Falls for several years, and experience had proven that hydro power could be generated much more cheaply than thermal power. Clearly hydro could provide dependable and lower cost power for Ontario if an economical arrangement could be devised to transmit power over the then considered long distances to the various municipalities desiring it.
Creation of the Hydro Electric Power Commission of Ontario
In 1906, in recognition of the need for independent power, the Government of Ontario formed a Commission called the Hydro Electric Power Commission (HEPC) of Ontario. The HEPC signed its first contract with the Ontario Power Company of Niagara Falls in 1907. Five hundred sixty-six (566) circuit miles of transmission line were constructed to serve the participating municipalities.
Access to low-cost, dependable power drove industrial growth and development in Ontario. Many businesses recognized the opportunities available and moved quickly to take capitalize on the situation. For wire and cable products in particular, it was not difficult to foresee the tremendous demand being created for both primary and secondary distribution cable as the vast network of connections and interconnections with hydro power sources developed and grew at an accelerated rate.
Canada Wire and Cable Company founded
On February 11, 1911, letters patent were issued by the Secretary of State Old CW logosunder the Dominion Companies Act incorporating the Canada Wire and Cable Company (CWCC), Limited in the names of Herbert Horsfall (shown at top right), Emil Wallberg (shown at bottom right), Roderick Parke, Alfred Bicknell and Frederick Bell. Thus, the company that was to become the largest wire and cable company in Canada was launched.
The HEPC and surrounding municipalities were growing rapidly and would need great quantities of what was termed "weatherproof wire" comprising a copper conductor covered with a double or triple cotton braid saturated with a weatherproof compound. Ironically, copper wire was not one of the products that CWCC originally considered manufacturing, but this demand could not be ignored, and equipment for braiding and saturating was purchased and installed and a supply of ¼” copper rods was ordered from a company in New York. With this new product in place, CWCC secured a sizeable portion of a million pound order for weatherproof wire from the City of Toronto.
A remarkable first year
By September 30, 1911, shipments with invoice value of approximately $20K had been made, and by the year-end, this figure reached close to $97,000 (close to $2.2 million in today's dollars). By 1918, sales will have increased to $1.4 million, and by 1926 to $2.5 million.
The demand for electrical wires in this first year of operation had so taxed the company’s capacity that no attempt was made to produce steel wire rope as originally intended. In fact, wire rope manufacturing did not actually commence until the plant moved to Leaside in 1919.
The company's first location was on the banks of the Don River and offices in the then-new Kent building at the corner of Richmond and Yonge streets in Toronto. This space was immediately too small so a portion of a property at 1170 Dundas Street, Toronto (depiction shown at top of page) was leased.
Early in 1913, the company entered the building wire market by the acquisition of a rubber extruder or “tuber” as it was referred to at that time. this product comprised a single solid or stranded copper conductor over which an approved thickness of rubber compound was extruded and a single or double cotton braid applied and finished with a wax compound. These wires were used primarily for feeders and branch circuits in residential, commercial and industrial buildings. To ensure a reliable supply or rubber, the company purchased its own rubber mills.
At the same time, CWCC agreed to supply Canadian General Electric Company with weatherproof wires, rubber covered wires and also a portion of their requirements for bare rectangular copper wire for their own processing. This latter was significant in that it was the introduction of the Company’s participation in the magnet wire market which would become important in the future.
In November 1912, Wallberg purchased approximately sixteen acres of land in Leaside, a small urban community on the northeast border of Toronto intending to build a wire and cable factory as well as 100 dwellings to accommodate employees. However, due to unfavorable economic conditions through 1912 and 1913, work on the site was halted until 1916 when, to provide munitions to Great Britian for WW1, the Leaside Munitions Company Limited was incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary of CWCC, and began operations there.
By the end of the war, this facility was expanded to include another 18 acres of land and several buildings were erected to house forging presses, bullet heating ovens, machining and related equipment.
Copper takes center stage
During the mid-twenties, the discovery of a rich copper-bearing ore body in northwestern Quebec, not far from the Ontario border, was a true game changer. Now known as Noranda, the company today ranks among the largest Canadian enterprises.
CWCC completed building their rod mill at Montreal East and the first rod rolled upon delivery of wire bars from Canadian Copper Refiners in July 1931.
All information taken from The Red Reel : The Story of Canada Wire by J. Harry Pryce, copyright 1978, Canada Wire and Cable Limited.