Fonds PR2368 - ATCO Group fonds

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ATCO Group fonds

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    • Source of title proper: Title based on the provenance of the records.

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    • 1898-2000 (Creation)

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    10.43 m textual records and other material.

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    Administrative history

    ATCO was founded as Alberta Trailer Hire Company in 1947 by father and son S. Donald and Ronald D. Southern. In 1962, the company was incorporated as ATCO Industries with its head office in Calgary, Alberta. In 1999, ATCO merged with both Northwestern Utilities and Canadian Western Natural Gas, who up until then had served northern and southern Alberta, respectively. ATCO celebrated 100 years of natural gas service in Alberta in 2012 (Canadian Western Natural Gas began serving southern Alberta in 1912), pledging to make a large donation of records to the Provincial Archives of Alberta to commemorate the occasion.

    Canadian Western Natural Gas, Light, Heat and Power Company incorporated on July 19, 1911, and took over the natural gas utilities service for Calgary, Alberta, previously served by the Prairie Fuel Gas Company. Eugene Coste became the first company president and managing director, serving until 1921. Known as the “father of Canada's natural gas industry,” Coste died in Toronto, Ontario on January 22, 1940, at the age of 81. In 1912, Canadian Western Natural Gas commenced natural gas utilities service in the southern Alberta communities of Calgary, Lethbridge, Brooks, Nanton and Okotoks, and by 1919, was serving nearly 12, 000 customers. In 1947, the company changed its name from Canadian Western Natural Gas, Light, Heat and Power Company to Canadian Western Natural Gas Company Limited. The company marked their 100,000th customer in 1963 by setting a gold-plated meter in the Calgary home of Mr. and Mrs. John D. McGregor.

    Northwestern Utilities Limited was formed in 1923, bringing the first natural gas utilities service to Edmonton and North-Central Alberta on November 9 of that year. The work to introduce natural gas power had begun in 1913, when Edmonton business owners organized the Industrial Association to promote the benefits of the service to ratepayers. They brought in Clapp and Huntley, English gas experts, to aid in determining the best drilling location; eventually deciding on the town of Viking, Alberta, they successfully commenced drilling in November 1914. In November 1915, Edmonton ratepayers voted in favour of a gas proposition, originally awarding it to the Northern Alberta Natural Gas Development Company. Prominent Albertans involved in this company included Eugene Coste and R.B. Bennett. The company soon ran out of money, however, and the project was deemed a failure until the formation of Northwestern Utilities Limited. 88 days following this formation, Northwestern completed a $4,000,000 pipeline project from Viking to Edmonton, and subsequently began promoting gas service to homemakers; by January 1, 1928, 8,000 homes were using natural gas. Growth continued despite the company having to navigate through several crises, including a pipeline burst on January 2, 1928, that left several homes without heat on a -20 degree day. By the 1960s, Northwestern was serving 100,000 customers in 80 communities through a network of over 4,300 kilometers of pipelines.

    Edda Leppard was the first Home Service Director at Northwestern Utilities beginning in 1923, and was responsible for instructing customers on gas cooking, adjusting the burners on their gas range stove, and estimating the price of a gas installation. On February 28, 1930, a distinct Northwestern Utilities Home Services Department officially opened under the direction of Kathleen Esch, offering a free advisory service to the women of Edmonton so they could best utilize gas power in their homemaking. The department was eventually renamed “Blue Flame Kitchen,” and as of 2020, continues to offer cooking classes, demonstrations and home economics advice, create and sell cookbooks, and test recipes under this name as a division of ATCO. While Home Services Departments were commonplace for utility companies and major food manufacturers when Blue Flame Kitchen was founded, as of 2016, it was the last remaining such department in North America. Blue Flame Kitchen employs trained home economists, many of whom hold Bachelor of Science Degrees in Home Economics, and was a major employer of Alberta women though much of the 20th century. In 1929, Canadian Western Natural Gas formed their own Home Services Department under the direction of Hyperia Lee Aylesworth.

    In 1925, Canadian Western Natural Gas became a sister-company to Northwestern Utilities under the International Utilities Corporation, a U.S.-based holding company. In 1930, the Dominion Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of the American Commonwealths Power Corporation, purchased the network of Canadian Utilities companies, of which Canadian Western Natural Gas and Northwestern Utilities were a part; Dominion Gas and Electric subsequently merged with Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based International Utilities Company in 1944. In 1955, a motion picture, Meet Your Gas Company, was co-produced by Canadian Western and Northwestern. In 1961, International Utilities purchased Northland Utilities Ltd. In the 1970s, Canadian Utilities became the corporate parent of Canadian Western, Northwestern, Northland, and Alberta Power Limited, the latter of which formed to take over the electrical operations previously run by Canadian Utilities. Northland then merged into Northwestern. The resulting company, known as CU, became one of the largest investor-owned utilities in Canada. At this time, International Utilities returned to residence in the United States. In 1980, ATCO purchased majority ownership of Canadian Utilities from International Utilities, and in 1999, ATCO merged operations with Northwestern Utilities and Canadian Western Natural Gas, to create an intra-Alberta transmission company and a province-wide distribution company.

    As the Alberta Trailer Hire Company, ATCO originally provided housing accommodations to workers in Canada's first oil boom, in the form of utility trailers. In 1959, as the demand for modular, or prefabricated, housing grew, S. Donald and Ronald D. Southern opened the Alberta Trailer Hire Company's first manufacturing facility in Airdrie, Alberta, in a former Royal Canadian Air Force hangar. That same year, the company was contracted to supply housing for the Minuteman missile sites project in the southwestern United States.

    On January 9, 1968, ATCO became a publically traded company on the Toronto Stock Exchange, with 700,000 common shares listed at $7.50 each; nine months later, their shares had more than doubled to $20. By the 1970s, the company had prefabricated housing manufacturing plants in Eastern Canada, British Columbia, the United States, Australia and Saudi Arabia. In 1974, ATCO began providing housing for the Trans-Alaska pipeline. In 1978, ATCO purchased Thomas Industries Limited, a leading oilfield contract driller and well service in North America, and renamed it ATCO Drilling.

    In 1988, ATCO supplied the natural gas flare atop the Calgary Tower (Calgary, Alberta), and took on several major shelter and accommodation contracts for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary. That same year, the company was awarded a $114.2 million, five-year contract to operate and maintain Canada's North Warning System, an early-warning radar system for North America.

    In 2003, ATCO brought their emission-free, 32-megawatt Oldman River Hydroelectric generating facility online. The facility was ATCO's first in southern Alberta and their first-ever hydroelectric project; it later became jointly owned by the Piikani First Nation, a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy and Treaty 7 with headquarters in Brocket, Alberta. ATCO completed the longest transmission line in Alberta's history in 2015. In 2016, the company launched ATCO Energy, an electricity and natural gas retail company.

    Alongside their service of Alberta, ATCO, as Alberta Trailer Hire Company, entered the international market in 1960, supplying workforce housing for the Mangla Dam project in Pakistan, and the Guri Dam project in Venezuela. In 1961, the company expanded to Australia, opening a 70,000 sq. ft. modular (prefabricated) building manufacturing facility in Adelaide, which grew to 110,000 sq. ft. by 1971. ATCO has maintained operations in the Australian modular housing and energy industries into the twenty-first century, and in 2011, purchased WA Gas Networks, the largest gas distribution utility in Western Australia. In 1991, ATCO secured $1.4 billion in financing for the Barking Power Station, a natural-gas powered facility in East London, England. As of 2020, this is largest power station the company has ever been involved with. In 2014, ATCO began operating in Mexico. ATCO has also delivered several military contracts, including providing support services to the Canadian Forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2000.

    The ATCO Group is governed by a Board of Directors and an Executive Committee, as well as two Board Committees – the Audit and Risk Committee, and the Corporate Governance: Nomination, Compensation and Successions Committee (GOCOM). ATCO offers services and solutions in Structures and Logistics, Energy Infrastructure, Transportation and Commercial Real Estate.

    Custodial history

    Scope and content

    The fonds consists of records created, collected and preserved by ATCO to document the functions and activities of the company and its activities from 1898-2000. Records relate to the company’s operations, publicity, advertising, home services, infrastructure development and construction, staff wellness and social activities, employee training, internal publications, and professional development. The fonds is arranged in the following series:
    • Corporate Archives series
    • Professional Development series
    • Publicity, Outreach & Events series
    • Internal Publications series
    • Home Services series
    • Operations series

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    Physical condition

    Immediate source of acquisition

    The records were donated by ATCO to the Provincial Archives of Alberta in a number of donations.


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        The material is in English.

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        Restrictions on access

        Access Conditions: None

        Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

        Use Conditions: Permission for use required. Subject to the Copyright Act.

        Finding aids

        File list is not yet available. Contact reference archivist for more information.

        Associated materials

        For more information on power service in Alberta, please see the Alberta Federation of Rural Electrification Association fonds at the Provincial Archives of Alberta.

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        Further accruals are not expected.

        General note

        Information for the administrative history/biographical sketch sourced from ATCO Group: (Accessed Dec. 19, 2007).

        For more information on the ATCO group, please visit the ATCO Museum and Resource Centre, located in the lobby of Calgary head office at 909 - 11th Avenue S.W.

        General note

        Includes accessions: PR1999.0804, PR2013.0285, PR2016.0050, PR2020.0216

        General note

        Records have not yet been processed and are in the state in which they were donated.

        Physical description

        Includes 60,298 negatives. – 48,403 photographs. – 26,396 transparencies, 24 16mm films [16 hrs: 30 min]. – 17 U-matic videocassettes – 4 VHS tapes. – 1 Beta cinefilm. – 6 audio tapes. – 3 reel-to-reel audio tapes. – 18 3.5” floppy diskettes. – 4 plans. – 1 print. – 15 ¼” data cartridges.

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