masthead image

Benny

History

Town site photo

The main road

©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko

Benny Station was a railside mill town, situated at mileage 8.0 west from Cartier on the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was named in 1880's after W. W. Benny, a divisional engineer. Like many other whistle stops on the CPR line, the community finally took root at the beginning of the 20th century.

Benny's early beginnings were fairly modest. A small mill was built by a private concern sometime in 1903. The Strong Lumber Co. purchased the site and significantly enlarged the mill. A settlement began to emerge and by the close of the decade the small hamlet could count nearly a dozen homes, a bunkhouse, cookery, station, two section houses, a store. A post office opened in 1909, but bore the unimaginative name of Pulp Siding. By this time, nearly 60 residents lived in Benny. After a brief shut down in 1911, the town was temporarily abandoned. Only seven section men and a caretaker remained. The community however bounced back within a few short months.

The Spanish Pulp & Paper Co. began logging pulp wood on Onaping Lake around 1913. The logs were shipped out from the station to the paper mill in Espanola. The firm established a sizeable depot that contained a bunkhouse, cookery, warehouse, blacksmith and stables for horses and livestock. There was also an office that later housed the post office. A good number of employees built homes and brought their families to Benny.

By the 1920s, Benny had grown into an appreciable settlement with a population of around 150 residents. The community included a school, a boarding house (hotel) and a larger general store complete with a small diner. A Catholic Church was built around 1923 and included a small cemetery. A crude shed was used as a makeshift jail for any poor soul who dared to disturb the peace.

The Hope Lumber Co. purchased the mill in 1926, however a wind of change was about to blow on the community. Two years later, after the stands were cleaned bare, the mill closed. That same year the Spanish Pulp and Paper Co., which was under serious financial duress due to erratic pulpwood markets throughout the 1920's, merged with the Abitibi Power and Paper Co. In December 1929 Abitibi closed the paper mill in Espanola, along with all their bush operations. Although the shut down was initially for a three-month period, the mill did not reopen until 1943 - 14 years later.

Although Benny had suffered a massive reversal in fortunes, not everyone left. Nearly 60 residents remained, subsisting by trapping, or working in some of the area's remaining lumber camps. In 1920's a large lead-zinc deposit was discovered east of Benny Station in Hess town ship. In 1927 the Geneva Lake Mining Company was formed to explore and develop the property. In 1933 the Lake Geneva Mine (locally known as the Towagamac) became a reality, complete with a headframe and mining buildings. Local residents experienced a glimmer of hope with the few new jobs, however the zinc markets were poor and the mine stood idle. In 1935, as part of a relief project, the government finally pushed a roadway through to Benny that terminated at the mine site. A few residents were encouraged to work on the road gangs, even if the payment was a mere $5 a month. A number of individuals also acted as guides for American hunters and anglers. Some established hunting and fishing camps on nearby Onaping Lake. One of the largest, Onaping Camp, operated successfully for a few decades./p>

In 1941, Canada was at war and the wartime economy needed as much zinc as possible. The Lake Geneva Mine earnestly began operations, and a number of Benny's residents left to work in the mines. However the mine closed indefinitely in 1944 after the firms president perished in a plane crash. In its short three-year life, 10,389,646 lbs. of zinc, 3,598,411 lbs. of lead, and some silver were extracted for the war effort.

Benny's brief mining life ended unexpectedly in 1944, while just the previous year (1943) the sawmill, which stood vacant for years, burnt to the ground. Like a bad omen the village quickly dwindled within the following decade. By 1954 the school had closed and the remaining children were bused to Cartier. The store closed along with the post office in 1956. Less than 25 permanent residents remained.

Around 1964 the church was salvaged and only a few homes remained occupied. Today Benny has a permanent population of less than 15 residents. Just to add insult to injury, Bell Canada removed the telephone lines to Benny, thereby terminating service to the few remaining residents. Today there is almost nothing left of Benny, save for a few original and a few modern cabins that remain occupied.