Saturday, 19 September 2015

Buzz Lein: Domtar Woodlands and its influence on the Community of Nipigon, 1973

Buzz Lein, August 27, 1973

Domtar Woodlands and its influence on the community of Nipigon

When twenty-one year old John C. Burke arrived in Nipigon in 1909, he had no way of knowing that sixty-two years later, in 1971, he would return to see trains running over the right-of-way he had surveyed from Nipigon to Red Rock for the C.N.R.  John Burke was delighted to see that the engineering office of Foley Brothers, contractors, where he had labouriously worked over his survey notes  by the flickering light of an oil lamp was still there and still being used by people who still made notes, maps, and estimates.  The sign over the door says “ DOMTAR WOODLANDS LIMITED” in 1972.  As John Burke reminisced, one could see the moose on the right-of-way, one could taste the cheap whiskey that sold by the water glassful, one could hear the gay chatter of the local girls in the old Finn Hall that stood where  Clarke’s garage now is. [2015 = Mac’s Mart]

But Domtar Woodlands office building had a history even before this.  It is rumoured that it was originally built just after 1900 for Nipigon’s first resident doctor.  Certainly the square nails used in part of its construction would indicate it came into being about then.

Domtar’s next door neighbour, a small Anglican Church, was built in the early 1890’s by an Anglican prelate whose children had learned to speak Ojibway while playing with the little girls and boys on McIntyre Bay on Lake Nipigon in the 1880’s. This same prelate’s son eventually became the Bishop of Moosonee and Metropolitan Bishop of Toronto.  The tiny graveyard speaks of Alexander Matheson, Hudson’s Bay Company, retired, of Andersons and Olsens who died during the construction of the C.P.R., of the infant sons and daughters of the pioneer families of Nipigon.

Across the street from the Woodlands office is what was once the Scandia House, “the” place to stay in the days when the bulk of the traffic was by water.  It is not too recognizable now in its middle class d├ęcor, but eighty years ago, this cement block boarding house must have rocked to the sound of lonesome and homesick Scandinavians gradually becoming accustomed to the strange new ways of this wild, isolated wilderness in which they found themselves.

And just up the street is the Catholic Mission, established in Nipigon in 1906, the first permanent home in this area for people of this faith.  It is true that Pere Mesaiger, who was here with LaVerendrye in 1727, would never recognize it , nor would Pere Fremiot who so painfully snowshoed to Lake Nipigon from Fort William in that never-to-be-forgotten cold of February of 1852.

Another of Domtar’s neighbours is the first permanent Protestant establishment.  Even Methodist Peter Jacobs might have seen this one.  But the land was acquired for this Presbyterian Church not from the Hudson’s Bay Company, but from the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay.  A truly grandiloquent landlord of what was probably a scruffy, sandy lot covered with scrubby jackpine in 1899.

Domtar’s building is [ now,2015, was] at the junction of Second Street and Newton Street.  Second Street is just off the old portage from Red Rock [Post} to Lake Helen.  Newton Street is named for the swinging Irishman who was the Hudson’s Bay Company man in charge of the Red Rock Post in the 1880’s and early 1890’s.

After Foley Brothers got the C.N.R. causeway built and the right-of-way built up between Red Rock (of 1972) and some distance north of Nipigon, they left the area, and their engineering office seems to have been acquired by a fur trader named Sanderson who left nothing of himself behind except a reputation for stinginess and his name on a street. Sanderson rented the building out as a dwelling.

The late Carl Sjolander acquired the building in the late 1920’s and he was a fit occupant.  He was a character who left behind him years of service to the town and many delightful stories which were still going the rounds a few years ago.  It was said that he knew every cornerpost and every lot marker for miles around Nipigon – because at one time or another for some reason or another, he had changed or moved them all!

In 1942, Brompton Pulp and Paper acquired the house from Sjolander and after some slight remodelling, used it for a woods office and that has been its purpose to now.

In a small town, thirty years is a long time.  It is also plenty of time for community-minded employees to give of themselves to the community, and during this three decades the gifts have been worth while.

Stewart Young (Great Lakes Paper) worked and lived in this building. So did Bill Turner (Vice President, retired, Ontario Paper Company).  Julian Merrill was never at a loss to improve Nipigon’s civic image, Russ Hallonquist was an excellent Reeve.  Bruce Pow, Bill Christie, Cliff Elder, Jack Wynes, Pete Lacasse, Bill Schultz, Steve Farrell are remembered names.

The impressive contributions of Don Stevens and Bill McKinley to the curling Club.  Frank Polnicky’s invaluable aid to the arena construction and the United Church. Murray Wilson on church construction and on school boards at the expense of his own time. Ernie Smith’s years of service to the High School Board.  Bill Baker’s selfless service to the Public School Board. Bill Moore’s tremendous contribution to town planning boards over many years.

And the names could go on.

It just didn’t seem right that Domtar should suddenly and quietly disappear from the community after more than a generation of integrated life. It didn’t seem right that after all those years the roots should  be salted.

It was therefore suggested that Domtar should give the nearly 6000 citizens of the area a going away present, reversing the trend of what usually takes place. When their Woodlands Department moved to quarters in the main mill office building at Red Rock, Domtar donated their Nipigon property to the people of the area for use as a museum, to be used as an area museum and as a base of operations for the Nipigon Historical Society and  as a centre of operations to do the basic research that will lead eventually to the reconstruction of LaVerendrye’s Fort Ste. Anne. This was a poste du nord originally built in Nipigon by La Tourette in 1679 and rebuilt by LaVernedrye in 1717.

Here, in this museum, will be kept a record of what went on in the past.  It is important because everything now was built on everything past.  As will be the case in the future when what happens then will largely depend on what is happening now.

Thanks to Domtar Woodlands Limited, there is a very good chance that this will come about.

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