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Cameron Falls

History

Town site photo

Alexander Falls generating station, ca. 1950s

Photo: Fisher

In 1917 the towns of Port Arthur and Fort William (now Thunder Bay), had each unanimously passed a by-law enacting an agreement with the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario to develop additional power sources on the Nipigon River for the twin cities. The Commission began preliminary work in 1919 at the site of the power station at Cameron Falls. Construction crews hurriedly completed the first unit or generator (Unit 2) in December 1920, and added a second unit (Unit 1) in March of 1921. Construction was temporarily halted after completion of the second unit to focus attention on living accommodations for permanent employees and their families. Between 1923 and 1926, four additional units were added (Units 3-6), bringing the plant to maximum capacity. In 1956 a seventh unit was planned for and completed in 1958.

The Canadian National Railway constructed a spur to facilitate the dam and power house construction from Cameron Falls Station at mileage 66.4 (Dorion Sub). A two-mile long spur was constructed and terminated near to the dam site. After the Alexander Falls generating station plans were put in motion, a second spur branched off the main spur line to Alexander Landing (Falls). The commission provided a six-passenger gas car for transportation between the two power sites and the station. Larger equipment was freighted by means of an engine and flatcars purchased by the commission for this expressed purpose of freighting building materials, and men.

A modern townsite, that could accommodate over 300 residents, was established in 1921-22. Over two dozen homes, that contained modern amenities as indoor plumbing, running water, and electricity, were built along a stretch of curving streets. Bunkhouses were also built to accommodate additional construction crews who were to continue to expand the plant from 1922-26 and again between 1928-1931 when Alexander Falls generating station was commenced just one mile upstream from Cameron Falls.

By the end of 1930, Cameron Falls counted no less than 600 residents, mostly construction workers, and single men. Additional accommodations were added to give an urban environment to the small isolated hydro colony. Soon a school, store, hall, and hospital were up and running, along with other services such as a post office. With the completion of the first three units at Alexander Falls by March 1931, nearly 50 homes had been established for the convenience of employees and their families who worked at both stations. By the following year 350 permanent residents lived in Cameron Falls. Later a shortwave broadcast station was installed to break isolation with the outside world. The station not only captured signals, it also broadcast its own programming.

Cameron Falls was bustling yet again from 1949-1954 when the third and largest Hydro electric generating station was under construction at Pine Portage. Although most workers lived at a construction camp at Pine Portage, additional employees were based at Cameron Falls to facilitate the transition of goods from the rails and transfer them on to trucks to be shipped out by road to the construction site. By 1956 the boom had subsided but there were still 337 residents. A mere five years later, in 1961, only 254 residents remained.

With the advent of automation (or Remote Control System), the three generating stations on the Nipigon River could, by then, be operated from Thunder Bay. By the late 1960's, only about 40 employees remained to maintain the three stations, while 150 residents remained at Cameron Falls. The cost of the colony eventually became a major burden on the commission's purse strings. It was decided to relocate the community to Nipigon 27 kilometres south of Cameron Falls. Employees purchased their homes which were then moved to Nipigon in 1973. Other structures were either auctioned off, or salvaged. Whatever was left was torn down, by the end of the year the townsite was no more than a distant memory.