A wooden cross in the cemetery©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
Austin & Nicholson Lumber Company had originally begun their operations at an isolated siding named Nicholson. A mill was constructed in 1903 and by 1910 had undergone significant growth. The firm added a town site for their employees and by 1921 350 residents lived at the settlement. Business was so successful that by 1918 the two men decided to build a newer and larger mill nearby a station named Dalton.
By 1916, the company had grown to become Canada's largest producer of railway ties. By 1920, the largest mill, situated in Nicholson, was running at full capacity. Quotas required the production of an extra 700,000 axe hewed ties so a new mill was needed very quickly. This forced the firm to apply for a large piece of land encompassing land tract number Ws 61, 62, 64, 65 for a total of 2,462 acres.
A brand-new, modern mill was built in 1921 and was soon producing 6,500 ties, 100,000 board feet, as well as 75,000 feet of lath over a twenty-four hour period. The end of the decade saw many added modifications to the mill site, including a dam, a sawdust burner, new planning mills, blacksmith shop, machine shop and a cookhouse. Of all the new improvements, the best was the two-storey boarding house, which included 100 rooms and all modern conveniences for the men.
The mill stood at on the eastern side of the Shikwamkwa River and the town lay on the opposite bank. A footbridge linked both sites, until a permanent bridge, capable of supporting vehicle traffic, was built. In 1921, the village contained a mere six dwellings, two sleep camps, an office and dining hall. Two years later it had grown to 36 homes, two churches, Catholic and Anglican, a tie inspector's residence and office, large company store and post office, school, butcher shop, and a baseball diamond. The Plaza Theatre was added in 1927. The following year saw the addition of a community centre that included two bowling lanes, five pool tables, barbershop and ice cream parlour. By 1930 over 80 modern structures stood at Dalton. At this time nearly 600 residents lived at the site.
The yards were situated at Dalton Station, 5 kilometres (3 1/2 miles) north on the C.P. mainline, and were connected to the mill by a spur line. The yards had a maximum capacity of a 100,000,000 board feet and were also the place where the firm consolidated its pulpwood operations. Prior to 1921 a pulpwood siding and loading spur stood 2.8 kilometres (two miles) east of Dalton Station. Dalton Station itself was actually a separate community containing homes, a school, church, post office and store.
Although the Great Depression silenced many smaller operations, Dalton flourished. By 1930 it grew to become one the largest modern lumbering communities in North Eastern Ontario. Moreover it was the largest producer of railway ties in the entire British Commonwealth of Nations. Although the mill burnt in 1939 it was promptly rebuilt. Ten years later however flames reclaimed the structure once more and this time operations were permanently shut down.
Following the mill's closure, operations were removed to Bertrand Siding situated west of White River, where a newly renovated mill, first established in 1923, stood. Other sawing operations were based in Devon, and Sultan. Prior to the growth of Dalton Mills, a smaller operation was also situated in Pardee.
Many residents had left Dalton Mills soon after the mill burnt down and by 1951 the post office, along with all other services, closed. A few residents continued to remain at the site but but all had left by the close of the decade. Dalton Mills was no more.
Today there are only a few vestiges left to remind visitors that a proud community once stood here. On the eastern side of the Shimkwakwa assorted mill debris and foundations can still be found. The remnants of the town site include the collapsed remains of the hotel, a single cottage, and the preserved Austin residence, now used as a cottage. Cellar holes and a cemetery stand nearby the river where a line of cottages once stood.