BY JAMES HUGNAGEL
This summer the city of Hamilton, a prosperous Canadian city of over a half million inhabitants located just over the border in Ontario, renamed a portion of its heavily-traveled Burlington Street, “Nikola Tesla Boulevard”.
According to the Hamilton Community News, “Several hundred spectators attended the road renaming, just east of Ottawa Street, including Mihailo Papazoglu, ambassador of Serbia to Canada… Following Sunday’s noon hour ribbon cutting ceremony, the Nikola Tesla Electric Festival was held on the Hamilton beach strip, featuring Serbian dancing, food, music and a variety of technological demonstrations inspired by Tesla’s work.”
Nikola Tesla, of course, has been garnering a great deal of attention of late, partly due to the electric car and company named after him. Recent recognition of his scientific and engineering contributions to life today as we know it, including the game-changing effects of AC electricity as it is transmitted to our homes, offices and factories, development of radio transmission (precursor to TV) and invention of the electrical induction motor, among other discoveries and inventions, have elevated him to a kind of pop culture icon internationally the past couple of years. Tesla Facebook group membership numbers in the tens of thousands of fans worldwide.
So what was Tesla’s connection to Hamilton, to the extent that they decided to rename a street after him?
The CBS listed five reasons why the time had come for Hamilton to begin to capitalize on its Tesla legacy. For one, Hamilton was the first city in Canada, in 1898, to implement an AC electrical grid based on Tesla’s design. In fact, amazingly, the Decew Falls Generation Station Number 1, built that year, is still in operation today.
The first such commercially-viable, AC hydropower generating facility in history, designed by Tesla and constructed under his supervision, of course, was right here in Niagara Falls, USA, on Buffalo Avenue. It was known as the Edward Dean Adams Power Plant and commenced operations in 1895, three years before the Hamilton plant, sending AC power to Buffalo.
A second reason is hydroelectricity built and sustained the industrial base of Hamilton from then until the present day. Hamilton’s steel plants supply 60% of Canada’s steel. Companies in operation there include Westinghouse, International Harvester, Otis Elevator and Procter and Gamble.
Wikipedia characterizes Hamilton’s bustling economy as follows: “The most important economic activity in Ontario is manufacturing, and the Toronto-Hamilton region is the most highly industrialized section of the country. The area from Oshawa, Ontario around the west end of Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls is known as the “Golden Horseshoe” and the centre of it is Hamilton… Major industrial products include motor vehicles and parts; iron, steel, and other metal products; foods and beverages; electrical goods; machinery; chemicals; petroleum and coal products; and paper products.”
Of course, all of the factories fled the city of Niagara Falls back in the 1960’s, when NYPA commandeered all the hydropower from the Niagara River, which had previously powered local industry, and started shipping it to New York City and out-of-state to profit Albany.
The other three reasons given to honor Tesla by CBC included, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that a group of Tesla enthusiasts cared enough about their hero to make it happen, that it was an excuse to have a big outdoor party and that “Everyone loves Tesla”. Elon Musk was apparently impressed by all of this – a recent ad for an autopiloted Tesla Model S was filmed in Hamilton.
And that’s not all the city of Hamilton has in mind for promoting the memory of Tesla. There’s a movement to name the new high school the “Nikola Tesla Secondary School”. An online petition states that “Our goal is to inspire youth to higher education, technology and innovation. For that we need the youth to be aware of Tesla, his inventions, and to be informed of his significant contributions to the world, to Hamilton, and to the way we live today! Think of how much electrical distribution, the electric motor, and wireless transmission, have made our life better… We want to make sure the youth know that, and are inspired by him… Let’s name the new high school to the “Nikola Tesla Secondary School”, to show the world that we are serious about education, technology and innovation.”
In addition to the Tesla street, Tesla school and annual Tesla festival, Hamilton plans on unveiling a statue of Tesla as a public work of art.
Here in Niagara Falls, on the other hand, the original 1890’s Transformer House on Buffalo Avenue, where Tesla worked his magic, serves as a warehouse for a local construction company. Politicians Dyster and Ceretto blacklisted a nascent Tesla Museum grass roots group due to its peripheral association with a reporter they didn’t like, and Dyster turned down an opportunity to obtain the famous Tesla sculpture that had graced Goat Island for decades and was being relocated to an out-of-the-way spot by State Parks, and display it at a prominent place in his city, something that would have made international headlines.
Maybe State Parks should have offered the Tesla statue to Hamilton.