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 establishment1 from the Blasdell Brothers of Ottawa. (image) Known under the name of “Gatineau Mills”, that sawmill was enlarged on many occasions. In 1871, her sawmilling production stood at 35 million foot board measure of planks.2 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.3 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.4 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.5But 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 7776. 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 (image) 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 19287. 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.8
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 19469. 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. (image) 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 fate10!
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1 John W. Hughson and Courtney C. J. Bond, Hurling Down the Pine, Chelsea, The Historical Society of the Gatineau, 1987, p. 42.
2 Ibid., p. 44.
3 Ibid., p. 46.
4 Ibid., p. 50.
5 For a detailed description of the amalgamation of those four companies by Riordon and a brief historical survey of all four, see: “Gigantic Merger of Pulp and Lumber Concerns,” in Canada Lumberman and Woodworker, June 15th, 1920, p. 57-59.
6 John W. Hughson and Courtney C. J. Bond, op. cit., p. 56 et 59.
7 Patrick d’Esparbès, « Les centrales de la Gatineau » in Hydro-Presse, Mid-October 1977, p. 8-9 et Hydro-Québec, Les centrales de la rivière Gatineau, Public Relations, Laurentian Region, 1982, ISBN 2-550-02796-5.
8 Benoît Brouillette, « L’industrie des pâtes et du papier », in Esdras Minville (Ed.), La Forêt, Montréal, Éditions Fides, 1944, p. 206-208.
9 Sylvie Deschamps, Gatineau, des origines à 1950, Gatineau, Ville de Gatineau, 1987, p. 13.
10 This last paragraph, true to life, is representative of the life cycle of many labourers, for whom a job in the mill was tantamount to a life-preserver.
PHOTO No 1
Source: Library and Archives Canada, PA-27068. Photographer unknown.
Caption: The original “Gatineau Mills”: the mills of Gilmour and Company at the Chelsea Falls around 1880. On the right-hand side, at the top of the photograph, can be seen part of the log slide that followed the river bank over a distance of five kilometres, right down to the piling grounds that were located south of today’s Alonzo Wright Bridge. The deals and planks were floated down and piled along the shore. Wharves allowed for the mooring and loading of barges.
PHOTO No 2
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer: Alfred Lacroix.
Caption: Remnants of the old Gilmour sawmills at Chelsea Falls in 1909.
PHOTO No 3
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer: Alfred Lacroix.
Caption: One of the Gatineau River’s most picturesque falls, near Chelsea, in 1908. The rapids and falls of that river will be wiped out by the dams and hydro-electric power stations that were built on that stretch of the river from 1925 to 1928. The Gatineau Power Company, a subsidiary of Canadian International Paper (CIP), was to produce the electrical energy needed to run the large Gatineau Mills paper mill complex and to satisfy the demand of neighbouring Ottawa and of Ontario industries for electricity.
PHOTO No 4
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, Centre d’archives de Québec, Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Call Number N1273-30.
Caption: At the end of Gilmour Road (today’s Laurier Avenue) in 1926, could be seen the Gilmour and Hughson Company lumber yards. That firm was taken over in 1920 by the Gatineau Company, a subsidiary of Canadian International Paper (CIP), just like the Gatineau Power Company.
PHOTO No 5
Source: “Gigantic Merger of Pulp and Lumber Concerns” , in Canada Lumberman and Woodworker, June 15th 1920, p. 59. Photographer unknown.
Caption: The Gilmour and Hughson sawmill at the mouth of Brewery Creek around 1920.
PHOTO No 6
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0007_p0010.
Caption: View of the employees’ living quarters in the building yard of the Canadian International Paper (CIP) paper mill at Gatineau Mills in June of 1926.
PHOTO No 7
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0007_p0014.
Caption: Wash-room of the building yard, photographed on June 11th 1926.
PHOTO No 8
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0007_p0020.
Caption: Employees working at building the foundations of the Canadian International Paper (CIP) paper mill, on June 21st 1926. Note the steam-engine powered winch.
PHOTO No 9
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0007_p0023.
Caption: View of the paper mill under construction on June 24th1926.
PHOTO No 10
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0006_p0163.
Caption: Jack-ladder of the CIP paper mill on the Ottawa River around 1939. The log-drivers are pushing the logs towards the foot of the jack-ladder with their pike-poles.
PHOTO No 11
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0006_p0168.
Caption: Cross-cutting of the logs before the bolts are sent to the rossers to remove the bark.
PHOTO No 12
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0006_p0179.
Caption: The setting-up of pulp wood reserves for the working of the pulp and paper mill during the winter season is absolutely essential. This explains the enormous log bolt piles that can be seen near the Canadian International Paper (CIP) mills and factories.
PHOTO No 13
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0006_p0185.
Caption: Hosing and sprinkling of the wood bolt piles at Gatineau Mills around 1939.
PHOTO No 14
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0006_p0194.
Caption: Drawing of the log bolts to the shredders where they will be torn into wood shavings and wood chips before being fed into the vertical digesters to make sulphite pulp.
PHOTO No 15
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0006_p0200.
Caption: The Canadian International Paper’s vertical digester around 1939.
PHOTO No 16
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0006_p0210.
Caption: Wood pulp used to manufacture newsprint.
PHOTO No 17
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0006_p214.
Caption: A Canadian International Paper (CIP) paper machine, in Gatineau Mills, around 1939.
PHOTO No 18
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0007_p0343.
Caption: Number 3 Paper Machine in the Gatineau Mills paper mill, as photographed on April 24th 1927.
PHOTO No 19
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0006_p0233.
Caption: Weighing of a roll of newsprint before shipping to the United States.
PHOTO No 20
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0006_p0240.
Caption: Loading of rolls of newsprint in a railroad box-car around 1939.
PHOTO No 21
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0006_p0243.
Caption: Waterborne shipping of rolls of newsprint from the Port of Montreal around 1939.
PHOTO No 22
Source: City of Gatineau Archives, Canadian International Paper (CIP) Fonds, P030-01_0007_p0587.
Caption: Residential district of the Gatineau Mills company town. Housing for the officials and key employees of the Canadian International Paper (CIP) mill. Photograph taken on Poplar Street, on November 2nd 1927.