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Osaquan

History

Town site photo

The Indian Lake Lumber Company in Osaquan.

Source: Mrs. E.A. Lunam

The community of Osaquan was founded in 1909 when David Low Mather transferred his lumber mill from Gull River to Camp Lake. A few years earlier, Mather had left his father's business to start the Indian Lake Lumber Company.

The firm built a planning mill, a bunk house, cook house, mill office, blacksmith shop, and company store. They also constructed a neatly planned residential area, nearby the lake, with numerous homes for their employees. A half-mile spur line was built between the mill and the main Canadian Pacific Railway line.

The mill operations ran smoothly until the First World War. The company took great pride in their employees' war contributions. By 1916 they reported that 43 of their 46 employees had enlisted. Only three remained and 11 had been reported wounded.

On a more, sour note, Indian Lumber Co. suffered a number of setbacks. The first was the planning mill that burnt down in 1911. Two years later, the main dam burst, flooding some areas and damaging other dams. Logs remained trapped in muddy creek beds, with no place to go. If that wasn't enough, the tie mill also caught fire and burned to the ground in 1915.

With the exception of the small narrow gauge railway and alligators, the mill was largely dependent on manual tools and power. Axes, horses, and saws were the norm. Jobbers walked to their camps. However by the mid 1920's a modernization program effectively upgraded and enhanced mill productivity and efficiency. The company replaced the horses with Lin Hauler tractors that could pull ten times more timber than a team of horses. They also operated three alligators, the Mudhen, Matilda and the Osaquan. A dam system was in place to raise the water levels of the lakes and adjoining streams to effectively float the lumber down to Camp Lake and feed the mill.

At peak times during the mill's history three to four lumber camps were actively cutting timber for the mill. The cookhouse would usually feed 150 men every morning. Jobbers were charged $30.00 a month for room and board. There was no transportation. Jobbers still had the luxury of walking to the camps and were even forbidden to bring a rifle for own their protection.

The mill's self-sufficiency was one of the more positive aspects of its operation. The company store "imported" all provisions that couldn't be produced locally. The store, which included a post office, had a wide selection of items generally not found in most company stores. However management seriously frowned on most outside orders or "unnecessary" purchases from outside the store, especially if the item was found at the store.

On a local level, the company established a vegetable garden, raised pigs and even operated a commercial fishery. They obtained a fishery licence to fish on Lake Mamegwessi and the catch helped supply the void created by war time meat rationing. Over 1000 lbs. of fish were caught and prepared daily. The firm maintained a dock, boathouse, stables, icehouse, and sheds. Local Natives supplied wild game and a variety of picked fruits, the most popular being blueberries. During the summer months 250 baskets of blueberries, were sent off by rail at Osaquan Station every day, all destined for export.

At its inception the Osaquan properties were established under Ignace's tax roll. As a result Mather received two separate allocations in 1910 and again the following year totalling the modest sum of 150 dollars for road improvements between Camp Lake and the station. The main street, known as Sawdust Alley, remained the only road link to Ignace. The Government commented on the road's roughness in 1916. In 1922, even after road improvements, the five mile ride to Ignace still took over forty minutes to travel.

Since Osaquan was isolated, attendance at the Ignace Consolidated school wasn't realistic. Finally, in 1921, a schoolhouse was built in Osaquan. Edwin Bradwin became an educational figurehead in the community. He was a Frontier College teacher who laboured in the mill and helped anyone who wanted a little more education at night.

The summer of 1930 was particularly dry and numerous bush fires popped up around the settlement. Conditions deteriorated and the fires combined to form a devastating inferno that threatened the settlement. Women and children were evacuated to Ignace, while the men stayed behind to fight the fires. Luckily the town was spared, but the mill wasn't so fortunate. Mather was already in a bad financial situation. His limits were depleted and the fire-damaged timber was found to be useless, but he rebuilt the mill. Although Mather did the right thing for the community, it cost him everything in the end. His mill closed in 1931.

The community itself was entirely dependent on lumber. By the time the mill burnt in 1930, time was already running short for Mather. Unfortunately he was far too over-extended by the expenses from his 'modernization' program of a few years earlier. The depression hindered all lumber operations throughout Ontario resulting in the survival of the fittest. Mather's operation became a victim of the times.

Even though there were strong memories and tremendous community spirit, most residents left immediately, with the exception of a few who remained hoping the mill would reopen. By 1936 it was evident the mill wasn't reopening when it was sold and carted away. The post office had already closed a year earlier. The remaining families left, and Osaquan lay deserted. The buildings were subsequently salvaged or burnt on the spot.