An illustration of the lumber mill
George Harlow White, ca. 1875
Eugenia was one of those strange places that, despite repeated attempts at fame and glory, just never quite got off the ground. It first hit the spotlight in the early 1850s, following the discovery of some glittery rocks in a remote canyon. Eugenia was immediately swept away by a fierce attack of gold fever. The glitter tarnished quickly when the 'gold' turned out to be fool's gold.
In 1859, Robert McLean Purdy, impressed by the immense power of the stunning power of the nearby waterfalls, known as Eugenia Falls, opened a sawmill. In 1860, he expanded his operation to include a flour mill. By 1865, the village had grown to accommodate a store, tavern and post office, also operated by Mr. Purdy. Purdy, who reportedly displayed a set of giant moose antlers and samples of Eugenia's fools gold in his store, also found time in his busy schedule to act as Justice of the Peace. S. T. Halsted operated the Eugenia Hotel and Thomas Elliott was the village shoemaker. An American born carpenter, Joseph Sloan, went on to open a sash, door and chair factory. Eventually the community grew to add two churches and a school.
Things really began to heat up in 1895 when William Hogg arrived from Toronto with the intention harnessing the power of the falls to build an electrical plant. He achieved modest success and his 70 kW plant was able to generate enough electricity to provide lights to both Eugenia Falls and Flesherton as well as power to one chopping mill. Unfortunately Hogg died at the beginning of the 20th century without being able to attract any additional interest in his plant.
A few years after Hogg's death, a consortium called the GBPC (Georgian Bay Power Company) arrived with a far more novel plan. After purchasing the land and all the power rights above and below the falls, they built a 264 metre long and 2.5 metre wide turbine tunnel through solid rock, running from the top of the falls right down to its base. The intent was to divert the river in the hope of creating sufficient fall to generate power. The tunnel was completed in 1907, however construction had diverted so much cash out of GBPC's hands that they went bankrupt and abandoned the tunnel before their grand plan was realized.
In 1914, the publicly owned Ontario Hydro purchased 10,125 hectares of surrounding forest and farm. After constructing a dam to create a water reservoir, they were able to generate 4500kW of power. The plant was upgraded in 1988 and now produces a continuous 6.3 MW of power.
The town of Eugenia, beset by one piece of bad luck after another, finally gave up after the railways bypassed the town in favour of Flesherton, several kilometres to the south. The waterfall is now contained within a conservation area and remains a popular tourist attraction. The community continues to support a small population.