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July 6, 2001

Lumberman William Mackey recalled

On our continuing trip east on the abandoned CNR line across the north side of Algonquin Park, I recently took a look at the Amable du Fond family and the Amable du Fond River, where the line crosses the river at Kiosk.

Today I am going to profile lumberman William Mackey, who worked for three decades between and around Eau Claire and Kiosk (he is no relation to me, but by coincidence my grandfather came from Ireland in 1851, and was also named William Mackey).

Little is known of Mackey, who was the first major lumberman working the Amable du Fond out of Eau Claire (Eau Claire was called Mackey's Mill at first) at the twin bridges. Before Calvin, Lauder and Pentland Townships were surveyed, Mackey had large limits along the river. When land was surveyed and became available for purchase, Mackey acquired many lots by virtue of having worked on the land. There is some documentation of Mackey working around Kiosk. There is considerable evidence of his presence at Eau Claire and at other locations to the south. Before looking at this, let's look at some of the Mackey family history.

The caption on this photo states "the surrounding bush limit was bought in 1859 by William Mackey for $800. It produced 53 rafts of squared timber, each raft consisting of 2,300 to 3,000 pieces or 240,000 cubic feet per raft. This limit was sold in 1903 to J.R. Booth for $655,000." 

William Mackey came to the Bytown (Ottawa) area from Ireland along with (at least) a sister Rosena. Rosena married the highly successful lumberman and Member of Parliament James Skead and had a large family. Skead had large lumber interests on the Madawaska River, where he developed his outstanding skill at building dams and slides. Skead's biography states that he worked with his brother in law William Mackey who had built a timber slide at the Chaudiere Falls on the Ottawa River.

A crown timber limit map from 1875 shows that William Mackey had two large timber limits on the Madawaska River and one on the Bonnechere. By then Mackey was also on the Amable du Fond, moving squared timber to Ottawa down the Mattawa-Ottawa River route. When the Canadian Pacific Railway went through Eau Claire in 1881, Mackey built a sawmill at the twin bridges and went into the lucrative lumber business.

To power his sawmill, he dug a channel-which still runs under the southern twin bridge-and installed two turbines. To provide the necessary water flow, he built a control dam on the Amable du Fond to direct water into his power channel. Wooden bridges were built across the Amable du Fond and the channel, creating what are now the two bridges. Some rocks remain, showing signs of this activity.

The Mackey mill at the twin bridges at Eau Claire

Mackey also built a spur rail line from the CPR north of the river across the river and across the power channel mentioned above, and on past the mill for easy loading of lumber. The spur extended past the mill and across where highway 630 runs today, and several hundred yards southwest towards the Amable du Fond. A large storage yard was located here for drying lumber and for shipping it when ready.

The Canada Lumberman newspaper described Mackey's mill in a May 15, 1885 article, stating that "about fifty men are around the mill. It is the most busy of scenes. All day logs climb in and all day the boards pass out." The mill is described as "complete, well adapted and thorough for its purposes." The author of the article went on to describe a Mackey farm part way on the road to Kiosk. He said there were three or four large buildings surrounding a large quadrangle. This may be the property later operated by J.R. Booth and was later owned by Bill Blais until he recently passed away. Mackey also had lumber camps along the way, where he housed and fed his men. The photo of the lumber camp at the Halfway Chute shows one of William's sons, Wallace, on the roof shadowboxing, and another relative Percy on the left in the forefront with the gun in his hand.

Mackey built lumber roads where necessary, especially along the east side of the Amable du Fond. According to the Calvin Township history book, Mackey also had a boarding house, post office, a home for himself and other buildings at Eau Claire. There was also a home for one of his senior men, Roderick Mackenzie, who built the log chute in the Eau Claire gorge in the 1870s and kept Mackey's books for years.

Living arrangements for William Mackey are vague over the approximately thirty years of his operation at Eau Claire. He apparently had a home in Ottawa but spent most of his time at Eau Claire in the house where his store and post office were located. This house, just over the second bridge going south, remains today and is owned by Barry Walters of Mattawa. Marks left by the spiked boots of the rivermen and by people picking up mail, can still be seen on the floors of the house.

There were seven Mackey children, all of whom spent some time at Eau Claire. John Mackey, known as Todd, and his wife Ida (Jones) ran the big boarding house for J.R. Booth until Todd left for parts unknown. Ida and the seven children moved to Mattawa. I recently talked to Jessie (the only remaining child) in North Bay where she lived close to her sister Margery (deceased). A few years ago the sisters received a call to ask them to bury their father in North Bay, even though they had not seen him for years. They did. Another one of William's children Beryl, married Walker Ryan, and their daughter Thelma continues to live in North Bay. Jessie has some knowledge of the rest of her aunts and uncles and their children. There are various Mackeys in many locations but no one appears to have written a definitive family history.

William Mackey's estate sold out to J.R. Booth in 1903, and Booth established himself in Eau Claire and Kiosk and stayed well into the 1920s. I will look at the Booth operation next week.

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