Kapuskasing is a town on the Kapuskasing River in the Cochrane District of Northern Ontario, Canada, approximately east of Hearst. The town was known as MacPherson until 1917 when the name was changed so as not to conflict with another railway stop in Manitoba.
History and Industry
Located near the western edge of the Clay Belt of "New Ontario," the town was founded in the early 20th century after the National Transcontinental Railway, forerunner of the Canadian National Railway was built through the area in 1911. An Ontario Historical Plaque was erected by the province to commemorate the founding of Kapuskasing's role in Ontario's heritage. A scheme to settle veterans of the First World War in this vicinity was unsuccessful. It was not until the start of pulp and paper milling operations in the 1920s that Kapuskasing began to develop as an organized community.
The Kapuskasing River Pulp and Timber limit, that included of timber and hydro leases at Sturgeon Falls, White Spruce Rapids (Spruce Falls) and Big Beaver Falls was awarded to speculators Saphrenous A. Mundy and Elihu Stewart in 1917 and Spruce Falls Pulp and Paper Ltd. was incorporated, but no development took place.
The still unexploited timber limits were sold to Kimberly-Clark in 1920. The new Spruce Falls Company Ltd. began the development of the first pulp mill in Kapuskasing under the direction of F.J. Sensenbrenner, a Vice President of Kimberly Clark Corporation for the next 20 years. The small sulphite mill started up in late 1922 with four 12-ton digesters and a daily output of 75 tons of pulp. Spent liquor was discharged untreated into the Kapuskasing River.
Early development was plagued by major setbacks. Fire destroyed the construction camp and power project at Sturgeon Falls. A years supply of pulpwood that was boomed up in the river was washed away in the spring flood. A fire at the new mill killed two workers and brought production to a halt.
In 1923, a water storage and hydro electric dam was built by Morrow and Beatty Ltd. of Peterborough at Spruce Falls. In 1925, the Spruce Falls Company Limited was awarded additional timber limits to the north and south bringing their total limits up to .
In 1926, The Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company was incorporated under joint ownership of Kimberly-Clark and The New York Times. The new company negotiated two additional hydro power leases to the north on the Mattagami River at Smoky Falls and Devils Rapids. Work to build a 550 ton/day paper mill at Kapuskasing, a 75,000 HP hydro generating station at Smoky Falls and a railway and power line connecting the two got underway in the spring of 1926. The contractor for the entire project was Morrow and Beatty Ltd. of Peterborough Ontario.
Since July 13, 1928, The New York Times has been printed entirely on Spruce Falls paper. The mill has run continuously ever since. The company became known locally as "Uncle Spruce" in affectionate reference to the steady work and benefits provided to this distinct northern community for many decades.
The was built in 1928, together with the Civic Centre (built 1928) and the former Sensenbrenner Hospital (built 1929, now Drury Place, a geared-to-income housing complex). They were commissioned by the Spruce Falls Company Ltd. These buildings were all built in an impressive Neo-Tudor style and would form the nucleus of the town. In 1951, the Inn hosted Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, on their first visit to Canada.
The landmark inn closed in 2002 and fell in disrepair but was slated for renovation by new investors. On May 22, 2007, youths set fire to the inn. It was damaged beyond repair. The arsonists were not charged as they were below the age of criminal responsibility at the time of the fire. The remains of the Inn were demolished in May and June 2008.
During World War I, the town was the site of one of the largest internment camps in Canada. The camp held over 1,300 German, Austrian, and Turkish prisoners, though the majority were of ethnic Ukrainian descent, whose homeland was part of Austria–Hungary at that time. Prisoners were employed in the construction of buildings and clearing of land for a government experimental farm on the west side on the Kapuskasing River. Isolation provided ideal security for the minimum security camp as the railway was the only access to the remote location. Prisoners who attempted to escape into the bush were turned back by endless muskeg and clouds of mosquitoes or minus-40 degree temperatures in winter. In 1917, most were paroled to help relieve labour shortages. Afterwards the camp was used briefly for prisoner-of-war and political radicals until its closure in 1920.
A small cemetery is all that remains of the internment camp near the Kapuskasing Airport where victims of the 1918 influenza epidemic were laid to rest. An Ontario Historical Plaque was erected by the province to commemorate the Kapuskasing Internment Camp's role in Ontario's heritage.
Kapuskasing Soldier Colony
Governments of the day were mistakenly impressed with the agricultural potential of the Great Clay Belt. A federal government experimental farm had been established on the west side of the river to explore and develop crops and systems for farming the area. Under the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Act of 1917, the Kapuskasing Soldier Colony was established to settle veterans returned from the Great War. Settlers received homesteads, grants, and guaranteed loans and were paid for clearing their own land. But by 1920 only nine of more than a hundred original settlers remained and the project was discontinued.
A 1920 Commission of Enquiry into the failed settlement scheme found that the settlers had not been up to the task at hand. The inhospitable climate and geography had won out. One bitter settler testified "There are 7 months snow, two months rain and the remainder mosquitoes and black flies". Settlers had also counted on the development of a pulp mill at Kapuskasing that would provide a local market for pulp wood.
During World War II, Kapuskasking was one of five Northern Ontario radar bases that were set up to watch for potential attacks on the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Kapuskasing was the headquarters for the radar bases, which were manned by the United States Army Air Force. The town may have ceased its importance as a location for a traditional military RADAR base, but has become a site for the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network that is involved with tracking and measuring ionospheric turbulence.