Canadiana and my Hometown

I'd like to introduce this post by mentioning that three generations of my family (grand-father, father and myself) worked in the Gatineau paper mill.  The town of Gatineau was referred to as "Gatineau Mills" for many years...  and yes, I worked on the river driving logs.

I also would like to mention that hockey in Canada is for many a big deal.  

Text source: 
Image Source: City of Gatineau Archives

Gatineau Mills, the boom town that sprang up and grew in the shadow of the Canadian International Paper’s pulp and paper plant after 1926 owes its origin to the amalgamation of companies like Edwards, Riordon and Gilmour and Hughson. Their sawmills at Chelsea, Hull, Hawkesbury, Rockland and at the Rideau Falls had consumed the best quality saw-wood of the Gatineau Valley and of the North Shore of the Ottawa River for more than 75 years. 

In 1853, the oldest of these firms, Gilmour and Company, bought out the Chelsea Falls sawmill establishment from the Blasdell Brothers of Ottawa.  Known under the name of  "Gatineau Mills", that sawmill was enlarged on many occasions. 

In 1871, her saw-milling production stood at 35 million foot board measure of planks. Later, in 1874, the Gilmours arranged for the building of the first out of three steam powered sawmills at the mouth of Brewery Creek, in the north-east corner of today’s Jacques-Cartier Park.  

The third sawmill was built there in 1893 by the Gilmour and Hughson Company, which had changed names when Ward C. Hughson joined the firm.  

In 1895, the Chelsea mill was closed down, and the Hull sawmill took over production until it closed in 1925. That establishment, located on Gilmour Road, today’s Laurier Avenue, played an important role in the history of the City of Hull.

The interlocking events that radically changed the Gatineau River valley started to unfold in 1920. These changes were needed to reach one specific goal: the building of one of Canada’s largest pulp and paper mills. The achievement of that grand project resulted in the establishment of the second "Gatineau Mills" of our region’s history, this time, on the shore of the Ottawa River.

In 1920, the Riordon Company of Montreal joined in with the Royal Securities Corporation for the takeover of Gilmour and Hughson, W.C. Edwards in the Ottawa Region, the Kipawa firm in Timiskaming and Ticonderoga Pulp and Paper on Lake Champlain.  

But Riordon had taken on more than it could chew and unable to swallow so many companies went bankrupt in 1925. 

The Gatineau Company Limited, a subsidiary of Canadian International Paper (CIP), bought out the Riordon properties for $3,016,777.

The CIP directors were already poring over the drawing board, planning what was to come next.

The harnessing of the Gatineau River water power and the use of part of that electrical energy to power the pulp and paper mill that they intended building on the shore of the Ottawa River, right in the middle of the West Templeton agricultural landscape. 

In 1926, the Gatineau Power Company, a subsidiary of Canadian International Paper (CIP), is unleashed on the Gatineau Watershed by the parent-company. 

Construction work started on the Farmers, Chelsea  and Paugan hydro-electric power stations and the Mercier and Cabonga dams are built. 

The Farmers and Chelsea power stations were in service in 1927, Paugan’s in 1928.

In parallel, from 1926 onwards the building of the mechanical and chemical pulp mills as well as that of the large paper mill had begun.  

These factories will offer well-paid jobs to three generations of our region’s workers.  

In 1927, when the building of the paper mill was finished, it was fitted with four 271 inches-wide Fourdrinier paper machines.  

The total production: 680 tons of newsprint a day in 1927 was raised to 825 tons daily in 1940.  

As for the pulp mills, they manufactured 685 tons of mechanical pulp and 160 tons of sulphite pulp daily. 

In order to diversify even more its production, the Canadian International Paper (CIP) sets up a new company, International Fibre Board and had a wood cellulose recuperation plant built.  Fiber-board used in the building industry was made there.  

These new products carry the names Tentest (an insulation), Termite-Test (an anti-parasite), Hydro-Test (a waterproofer), Acousti-Test (a sound-proofer), etc.
It gave birth to an industrial centre, to which was eventually added the Masonite Company of Canada factory.

The new Gatineau Mills pulp and paper complex attracts a large number of workers.  They settled down and become rooted in their new community. 

The Municipality of the village of Gatineau Mills, set up officially in 1933, became a town in 1946.  

The demographic growth, brought on originally by the investments of Canadian International Paper, was continued thanks to the Federal Civil Service. 

Thousands of Government jobs have taken up part of the slack that has inevitably followed in the wake of the decline suffered by the pulp and paper industry. 

In order to survive, the industry had to be reorganized! One of its last tremors led to the closing of the Bowater Plant, which suddenly put an end to the love-story that tied the community of Gatineau Mills to the pulp and paper industry since 1926.

Workers from all over had been drawn to Gatineau Mills to build the CIP mills and factories.  

Amongst these workers were shanty men who had started to fiddle away with an axe, a cross-saw and a bucksaw at the age of twelve.  

They were tired of living the nomadic life-style of the lumberjack and of log-driver, and they were eager to find stability and human warmth and solidarity. They hired themselves out at the mill, fell in love and raised a family. 

They built their small houses a walking distance away from the factory smoke stacks, a got set in their ways in order to survive through the Great Depression. 

Wearing oneself out at the job, getting a measly pension after forty years of hard work.  

Never griping, listening closely in order to catch the laughter of one’s grandchild playing outside, smiling in half-tones and rocking in silence while waiting to leave for that “very last trip”… such was their fate

Hope you enjoyed your visit.


Jodiebodie said…
Very interesting, Dan. One never loses the love of one's hometown.
It is fascinating to know the history of how places came to be, and while reading your historical report, was thinking about where your grandfather fitted in along this time line.
Our area is going through similar upheaval to when your mills closed - we are losing our automotive manufacturing sector so we have many misplaced workers and we are wondering whether a new industry will come along to rescue them.
Thanks for this history.
Jodiebodie said…
P.S. Ice-hockey being a 'big deal' - is that the understatement of the century? :-)
Stephanie said…
Great history! My late grandfather worked in a wood mill near La Tuque, Quebec.
ADRIAN said…
An informative and enjoyable read. Thanks.
EG CameraGirl said…
Interesting reading, Dan. Three generations who worked for the same company? That doesn't happen very much any more.

It doesn't seem fair to me that workers get little pensions while the company owners make millions...or billions. I guess life isn't always fair.
Stephen Hayes said…
Very interesting. If people understood what went into making paper they might not be so wasteful with it.
Tabor said…
We are so removed from the things that we use and accept as everyday tools. I once hand-made paper and it came out quite lovely if not very practical. Your link on your response to my recent blog was so hilarious...and yes, he did leave out those who realized he was "tricking" them. It shows how many of us do not like to be thought stupid and go right along showing how stupid we are!

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