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Fossmill

History

Town site photo

The site of a managerial home

©Copyright: Yvan Charbonneau

Fossmill was located on the north shore of the Wasi River, about 25 kilometres east of Powassan. Activity commenced as early as 1891 when Robert Thompson established a depot site to supply his camps in the area. In 1902, the depot was flourishing with activity when Bill Foster purchased the property and built his fourth sawmill in the township. The mill ran on timber harvested in small timber berths of 6.5 square miles (9 square kilometres).

The spot was renamed Foster's Mill. In 1915, after the Canadian Northern Railway (later CN) passed through, a small pre-fab station was dropped off, and J.R.Booth capitalized by building a siding at Foster's Mill to facilitate the transport of saw logs from his limits in and around the north-eastern section of Algonquin Park.

The community consisted of a small mill, office, blacksmith shop, and store. A private boarding house was operated by Mrs. Short. A small number of crudely built homes were also established by a number of workers.

In the meantime, the Fasset Lumber Co., established in Fassettville, Quebec, not far from Montebello on the North shore of the Ottawa River, became increasingly concerned about their depleting limits and set forth to find new limits to harvest. In 1922-23, the firm was transferred to Canadian interests in the name of Charles Dale as president, and Sydney Staniforth as his vice president.

After negotiations with Foster and Booth, the property was sold to Fassett Lumber. In 1924, Fossmill was rebuilt and enlarged, with the help of former Fassettville employees. Two large houses were constructed for managers, Tom Howard and Jack MacGibbon, and Fossmill's new station was built directly opposite the houses across the tracks. Behind the station they built a bunkhouse with a maximum capacity for 50 to 60 lodgers. The company store was renovated and grew to encompass the post office. For additional services the store offered a gas pump, the town's only phone and a number of hotel rooms upstairs.

The mill itself was radically changed. The small mill was replaced with a larger one.  A lath and picket mill was added to reduce waste. The hot pond was enlarged and stables were constructed to house the work horses. A narrow gauge railway that stretched 8 kilometres to Tea Lake (since renamed Fassett Lake) was built to facilitate the haulage of logs. Known as the Fossmill Logging Railway it also had a large garage and machine shop for the maintenance of the two shay locomotives.

To solve the housing needs of the new workforce, a residential area that included 17 homes was built west of the mill.  Later a new "subdivision" of seven houses and a fire ranger's cabin were added farther east of the mill, by the lumber yards. The houses were roughly built and had no sewage or water. The only exceptions were the company buildings and the two management homes, which included the luxury of both electric lights and hot water piped in from the hot pond.

In 1925, the company petitioned for and received from the government a schoolhouse known as Chisholm S.S.#4b. Before that children had to walk a few miles to Wasing's rural schoolhouse (Chisholm S.S.#4).  A simple Catholic church was built with the co-ordination of Father Joseph Gravelle and the generous support Gordon MacDonald, who ironically, was Chisholm's chief Orangeman. Additional services in town included those of a carpenter, a part time barber and a shoe cobbler. One local resident kept a number of cows and provided milk for the entire settlement. Fossmill prospered, and at peak times when lumber jacks left or returned from camps the population would grow to over 250 hundred people. During regular seasons an average of 175 residents called Fossmill home.

Tragedy struck with a devastating series of fires that began in 1929. The first, sparked by a company locomotive around Tea Lake, took 11 days to burn out.  It ravaged 4,100 acres of prime timber within its southern limits. The second fire caused either by a carelessly tossed cigarette or by one of the small Shay locomotives, started in the lumberyard on September 30, 1931. The fire-fighters were mostly mill workers who required outside assistance from outlying communities. Flames reached heights of 200 to 300 feet and were visible from as far away as Bracebridge, 113 kilometres south. It was also reported the fire could be seen as far south as Orillia. The company lost about seven million board feet of sawed lumber, several hundred cords of slab wood, all of the yard's equipment which included trolleys, rails, docks and an employee's home. All were consumed during those terrifying 48 hours. Many believed the incident to be criminal in nature, which is still cause for debate to this very day.

In October 1929 the great depression had begun with the stock-market crash, and Fasset Lumber Company eventually began to feel the pinch.  The mill cut additional wood to stock up the yards and add residual value to the entire operation.  The lumber yards were fully stocked by 1930, but sales were drying up just as fast and in 1931 and a financial shortfall was inevitable.  However for Fassett, the worst was yet to come.

On August 26, 1934, at around 5:15 p.m. the mill caught on fire. Within 45 minutes the mill was nothing more than rubble. Lost in the fire was the engine house and one of the two locomotives. Partial damages were estimated at about $250,000. There was little justification for rebuilding the mill since the limits contained only 17 million board feet.

The town of Fossmill was effectively doomed.  Rather than allowing things to drag on for a lengthy period, Staniforth quickly went on to create the Staniforth Lumber Co., relocating it 23 kilometres east on Kioshkokwi Lake. A town site, known as Kiosk, slowly began to take form from 1938 onward. Fossmill's public school was closed in 1936 and replaced with a French speaking separate school.

Most of Fossmill's remaining residents moved to the new mill site in Kiosk, some bringing their homes with them.  The town was beginning to fade away to nothing. In 1947 the school and post office closed and later the station and siding were removed.  The last remaining permanent residents left in 1952, and the very last home was salvaged immediately. In 1996 CN removed its tracks and the trains no longer rumbled through.  Fossmill is now a quiet meadow, which is now being reclaimed by nature.

Today, nothing much remains. North of the tracks the site of the managers' homes can be discerned and beside it the old tennis court, which doubled as an ice rink in the winter. Much of the road system and narrow gauge way is now used as a trail system for ATVs. Where buildings once stood, holes now testify to the spot where people made their livelihoods. Some of the mill foundations can be found in the brush behind the pond besides the Wasi River. Further on, in the thicker bush area, where the main residential area was situated, ivy grows in a hole, and large rhubarb plants marks the site where a garden once stood. The north side of the tracks is now private property while the south side has reverted to Crown Land.  This is the final testament to Chisolm Township's largest community.

All black and white historical photos reproduced from the The Fossmill Story published by Past Forward Heritage Limited. A special thanks to Doug Mackey for permission to reproduce these photos.

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