Several loud “crumps” signalled the end of the towering 200-metre-tall smoke stacks at the Nanticoke Generating Station (GS) this morning at 11 am.

In its heyday, Nanticoke GS was the largest coal-fired plant in North America, providing 15 per cent of the province’s electricity, and employed close to 650 people from the surrounding Haldimand-Norfolk community in southwestern Ontario.

From the time it went into service in 1972 up until it burned its last piece of coal in 2013, the eight-unit, 4,000-megawatt station stood as a landmark for the community on the north shore of Lake Erie.

“It was a tremendous place to work every day. Just the size and magnitude of the place made it one of a kind,” recalled Larry Jankovic, who spent 27 years at the thermal plant as a mechanical technician with Ontario Hydro/OPG. The 55-year-old began his 32-year career in the industry as an apprentice at the station and worked there right up to its closure.

Now a mechanical maintenance supervisor with OPG operating out of Gravenhurst, Jankovic looks back fondly at his time at Nanticoke GS. It was the station’s family atmosphere that has stuck with him after all these years.

“You really, truly cared about the people you worked with there. They were all fantastic people,” he said. “We all had a get-it-done attitude, and we certainly got a lot of work done and safely produced a lot of power over that period of time, which was Ontario’s biggest industrial period.”

It was indeed a unique time and place. When all eight units were running at full tilt on a hot summer day, temperatures near the boilers and turbine hall could rise to 40 or 50 degrees Celsius. It made for some sweltering working conditions for employees who operated and maintained the plant.

“Because of the great teamwork and camaraderie you kind of gritted it out,” Jankovic said.

In 2010, two units at the station were shut down, and another two ceased operations in 2011. Nanticoke’s run ended on Dec. 31, 2013, when the final four units at the plant were retired.

At the time of its closure, Nanticoke GS was the last coal-fired generating plant still in operation in the province, and one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the country. To date, eliminating coal generation in Ontario was the single largest action to fight climate change in North America.

Today, the site of the old station is in the midst of a major transformation that reflects the province’s move away from coal to renewable, clean power generation. With Nanticoke’s demolition underway, work is progressing to build a new 44 MW solar facility on the site and adjacent lands.

For Jankovic and his colleagues, seeing the plant’s doors close after nearly 42 years in operation was a bittersweet moment. There was sadness, but also deep pride in our hard work, he said.

“I look at Nanticoke as a faithful old friend,” he said. “We all worked together with pride to make sure we did the job well and kept the plant running. I consider it a privilege to have worked there.”