Class of 2001
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for London
Sir Adam Beck was born in 1857 in Baden, Ontario to German immigrants Jacob Beck and Charlotte Hespler. A true visionary and leader, Beck was instrumental in bringing hydro-electricity to the people of Ontario. He became a wealthy and influential civic business leader, as well as a respected politician.
Working as a teenager in his father’s foundry, Adam later established a cigar-box manufacturing company with his brother William. He moved the company from Galt (now Cambridge, Ontario) to London, Ontario in 1885, where it soon flourished.
Beck was elected mayor of London in 1902, and a few months later was also elected to the Ontario legislature as the Conservative member from the London riding. He was re-elected mayor in 1903 and 1904 while simultaneously serving as a member of the provincial legislature (which is no longer permitted). Already a wealthy man, Beck donated his salary to charity while serving as mayor.
In 1903, Mr. Beck joined a 21-member committee that would form and operate Ontario Hydro. Two years later, he became the unofficial Minister of Power, chairing a board of enquiry on the matter of private vs. public electricity grids. An early advocate of publicly owned electricity grids, Beck opposed the privately owned companies he felt did not serve the needs of the public adequately, and put forth the slogan, “dona naturae pro populo sunt” (Latin for “the gifts of nature are for the public”).
In 1906, the legislature passed a bill introduced by Beck, officially creating the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario, the first publicly-owned utility in the world. Beck was promptly elected as Chairman, and went on to oversee the first production of hydroelectricity in the province of Ontario. On October 11, 1910, Beck held the first ceremonial “switch-on” in Berlin (now Kitchener). Pressing a switch, Beck stood back as a street sign that announced “For the People” lit up and the town cheered.
Donating admirably to a number of causes, Beck was particularly supportive of the medical community. In 1900, he founded the London Health Association, which would later develop into the University and Victoria Hospitals. Having married his wife Lilian in 1898, their daughter Marion was diagnosed at a young age with tuberculosis. Her condition prompted him to found the Queen Alexandra Sanitorium in 1910, a medical facility for long-term illness that was quite advanced for its time.
In 1914 he was knighted by the King of England, earning him the nickname "The Power Knight.” While he passed away in 1925, we can remember and be thankful for Sir Adam Beck’s legacy every time we flick a switch.