The monument at Reesor Siding©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
Situated on the National Transcontinental Railway (later CN) at mileage point 101, this little community should not be confused with its larger neighbour Reesor, situated 2.8 kilometres west. Reesor Siding was a separate community which at its peak contained nearly 100 residents. Originally destined to be a mere siding, a number of Mennonite, and French Canadians took land nearby the railway not long after the railways construction in 1915. A vague crossroad community had begun to emerge.
Reesor Siding's first road began at the station and was eventually pushed three miles north. A dozen settlers took land around this area effectively turned Reesor Siding into a long three mile ribbon settlement.
Some services were dispensed in the settlement. In 1924 David Frost opened his store at the siding on the north side of the tracks. A little farther east, a small sawmill, owned by the government, operated during summer months to process lumber for the settlers use. The Mennonite community founded and built a church and cemetery situated on Lot 26, Con II, McGowan Township, in 1935, and stood about three miles north of the siding. Prior to construction of the church, services were held at various homes nearby the siding. A tennis court had also been built nearby the church, moved from Reesor.
A school was built in 1927 to service the outlying area, but the name caused some confusion. Reesor Siding stood a the corner of four townships; Eilbert, McGowan, Barker, and McCrea. The school was established near the siding on Lot 1, Con III, Barker Twp., and officially took the name of "McGowan, McCrea, Barker, and Eilbert Twps. School Section No.4." In reality the name board of the school carried the simplified name of McGowan S.S. #4.
As the residents tried their best to weather the depression years of the thirties, some families some left for greener pastures. A spur was built to reach some of the prime pulp wood left on the farms south of the track. Built in 1943 it had a good but temporary effect on the local economy. By the end of the decade however most of the land was abandoned. The Mennonite congregation had disbanded in 1948, soon followed by the school. By the time the tragic events of Reesor Siding occurred in 1963 only half dozen struggling farmsteads remained in the area.
The Reesor Siding Incident
The incident which occurred at Reesor Siding on the night of February 10 1963 shook many communities from Hearst to Smooth Rock Falls. It was one of the bloodiest labour disputes since the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, and one of Canada's darkest chapters in labour relations. It was an incident which fractured numerous communities, families, and friends within the Franco Ontarian community for decades to follow.
Initially the events that led to the Reesor Siding Incident had begun weeks earlier as an illegal strike by lumberjacks working for the Spruce Falls Pulp and Paper Company, in Kapuskasing. The labour dispute had first erupted when bush workers for the company attempted to get a higher price per cordwood produced. While the men stopped producing any pulpwood, the mill in Kaspuskasing could manage very well without them. The company's parent company, the New York Times, was also suffering a strike, incidentally the mill's largest customer. With a major drop in production in newsprint paper, the mill was able to sustain its meagre production with no major difficulty. The only lumber it needed for its current production was already assured by private contracts with local farmers for the sale of pulp wood from their land.
Tensions began to mount when the company relentlessly refused to negotiate with the strikers. This forced thousands of the striking bush workers to seek a way to reverse the impasse. The farmer's and contract harvesters, incidentally mostly composed of local farmers, would become the victim of violent intimidation and threats from striking union members. The strikers had begun to accuse the farmers of undercutting their rate by at least 1/3 of the usual bush workers rate. For the company bush workers this was a hard hit to take. For the farmers however, the long wait to fill their quotas of pulpwood was much too valuable for them to not to sell. For them it was the difference between barely subsisting, or simply starving. The situation was grim, and the stakes had become too high for anybody the back down.
On the night of February 10th 1963, 23 farmers and contract workers were out guarding one particular pulpwood pile at Reesor Siding. Rumours had spread the previous day that strikers were planning to scatter the piles of pulpwood. On the night in question the farmers were protected by only a dozen OPP officers and soon were confronted with 400 strikers. As the men began to advance on the police line, tensions grew, and a warning shot was fired by one of the farmers. The police line was quickly overrun, and the farmers in a sudden panic for their lives shot at the advancing mob. After the dust had settled, three strikers, Fernand Drouin, Irenee Fortier and Joseph Fortier, had been killed, and five more were wounded. Nothing had been resolved, and the bad blood would run for years to come.
Some of the men were charged, but after an intense trial they were found not guilty, under the grounds that the farmers' lives were in jeopardy. The incident forced the provincial government to deal with the issue directly and promptly. The government broke the stalemate and diffused the situation. In the end nobody won.
Thus was the legacy of the little settlement which had its name splattered in every Canadian newspaper. Today a monument has been erected nearby the site of the tragedy to commemorate the three fallen men.