Below is an excerpt from The Fossmill Story: Life
in a Railway lumbering village on the edge of Algonquin Park.
Prologue: Day Of Rest
Sunday, August 26, 1934, started out as an ordinary day of work in
the lumber mill at Fossmill, Ontario. The mill workers and their families
pursued their leisure time in various ways. After going to church, sport
was a favourite pastime for many. The mosquito and blackfly season was
finally over, and some of the workers played a game of baseball in a field
west of the village.
In the 1920s, the company had cleared an area and built the ball diamond
for its workers. “I played centre field,” remembers Donat Huneault. “My
brother Lawrence was on first base. Old man Staniforth bought us all uniforms.
They were white with a black stripe. We played Chiswick, Alderdale, and
Wasing—we had a pretty good team!”
“The Wasing boys and girls played the Fossmill gang,” recalls Doreen
Smith, who played on the team from the nearby community of Wasing. “Could
Alderic Bergeron ever pitch! By the time you got the bat up, the ball was
Because of the Depression there was little money for uniforms now, but
some players still wore their old uniforms with Fassett Lumber Corporation
embroidered across the chest.
The people of Fossmill were thankful the men were still working, because
the Depression had crippled the lumber industry. Many mills had closed
down permanently. Their company, the Fassett Lumber Corporation, had laid
off workers temporarily when the mill was closed for short periods. Fassett’s
timber limits were primarily in Algonquin Provincial Park, and the previous
year Fassett was the only company to set up camps and cut logs in the Park.
There was apprehension about the future as unsold lumber piled up in the
So far, 1934 had been an eventful year: a motion picture company from
England came to Fossmill to make a movie about the company; the pulp cutters
in South River went on strike; a CNR train, carrying dynamite, derailed
in the centre of Fossmill, killing a transient rider and almost forcing
the evacuation of the village; it snowed in July, and Elzire Dionne from
nearby Corbeil gave birth to quintuplets.
August was a slow month in the lumber industry. By early July the company
had cut and stored its prized hardwood for drying, and the winter cutting
season would not begin until September. On this Sunday, Woods Manager Jack
McGibbon and his family were on vacation in Quebec, and Mill Manager Tom
Howard was visiting North Bay.
Around five o’clock someone at the ball game saw black smoke rising
from the direction of Fossmill. The players heard the shrill sound of the
mill’s steam whistle over the
crack of the bat and the shouts of encouragement from onlookers. Soon
everyone was looking toward the village at a cloud of smoke billowing over
the tops of the trees. Something was on fire! Was it the lumberyard, or
the forest—again—or one of their houses—or even the mill?
Thirteen-year-old Margaret Gleason was watching the game that day. “Somebody
happened to look up and saw all this big smoke and they said, ‘Oh my God,
something is burning at Fossmill.’ Then they said, ‘The Mill!’—we all beat
They scooped up the bats, balls and gloves, and abandoned the close
game. Alderic Bergeron senior’s car sped past on the gravel road, a day
of fishing quickly forgotten. When the villagers rounded the bend to the
CNR crossing, they saw in the valley—beyond the row of houses, the school,
and the church—the mill engulfed in flames. One hundred jobs in the mill,
two to four hundred jobs in the bush and a decade of work building a new
life and community in that isolated river valley were threatened that day.
Thumbnail view of pages from this part of the book
Among the stunned crowd were people who, ten years earlier, came from
Fassett, Quebec to Fossmill. The Fassett Lumber Corporation moved to Fossmill
after clearcutting its entire timber limits in the mountains behind Fassett.
The workers who wanted to keep their jobs were forced to move with the
Nora Gleason recalls the day she arrived with her family on the train
from Quebec. “When we got to Fossmill we thought it was a God-Almighty
place. Fassett was a good sized town. We had running water and stuff like
that—things to do. There was none of that at Fossmill. There was nothing,
absolutely nothing—except mosquitoes and blackflies. None of us were happy
to move, but in those days a job was a job.”
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