Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Jonathan Vance


Most studies of electricity in Canada have examined the process of electrification from a business or political perspective, emphasizing the role of private and public institutions in electrifying the country. Such approaches neglect the primary targets of the electrification process: Canadians as consumers of electricity. This dissertation analyzes electrification as a social phenomenon. Drawing from archival sources in Canada and the United States, as well as newspapers, magazines, and government documents, the author addresses technological debates in Canadian history and investigates the relationship between technology and society. The broader themes in this dissertation include: urban electrification, rural electrification, domestic electrification and the changing role of electricity in medicine.

These areas of electrification in Canada indicate that while electricity may have had some transformative effect on Canadian society, it stopped short of revolutionizing people’s lives; electricity simply made it easier — for those who could afford it — to accomplish the same tasks (at home, on the farm, and in the city) people had been performing for hundreds of years. Canadians adopted new electrical technologies to suit traditional needs, and evidence suggests that established cultural practices informed the path of electrical development in Canada.

This dissertation is the first study of the social implications of electrification in Canada on a nationwide scale, and a step toward understanding the broader social implications of technological change for Canadians.