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August 3, 2001

Fire causes chaos at 
Kiosk in 1973

The Staniforth Lumber Company mill at Kiosk, from across Lake Kioshkoqui.

At Kiosk in Algonquin Park on Friday the 13th, in July 1973, Amedee Laferriere, the Staniforth Lumber and Veneer Company saw filer and town barber, retired after 47 years at Fossmill and Kiosk. While celebrating with friends and neighbours, the fire whistle at the mill began to blast, and everyone ran to see what was happening. Ninety minutes later, the ten-acre Staniforth complex had burned to the ground. A row of metal boxcars that happened to be between the mill and the town, glowed red hot and saved some homes. It took a few months to sink in, but the fire was the beginning of the end for the 600 residents of the largest community and industrial complex in Algonquin Park history.

There was the usual shock, disbelief, anger, and finally-in most cases-acceptance of the circumstances. Most loved their community and wanted to retire and spend the rest of their lives there. The dozens of men and women from Kiosk and the surrounding area, who worked in the mill and bush, were the main economic base for a huge area.

Sawmill fire

The fire at Kiosk on Friday the 13th, July 1973.

There was considerable anxiety in Kiosk in the years before the fire. The Master Plan for Algonquin Park (1974) was in its final stages of development, and there were indications that logging would continue in the park, but that mills would not be allowed. The Kiosk Union put up a good fight to be heard and tried to save the community. There were suggestions that Kiosk, just 3 km inside the park, might be exchanged for other land for the park, so the community could continue. At one point there was talk of a survey of the town site so the leased land could be purchased by the homeowners: but this did not materialize. The biggest thing in the town's favour was the size of the town. About the only thing that could move it was a fire, and it happened. Some people still believe that there was a conspiracy to burn the mill.

There were other changes at Kiosk prior to the fire. The three Staniforth brothers sold the mill to Universal Oil Products, and the mill became the Goodman-Staniforth Company. The Staniforths had taken over the management of the J.R. Booth operation in Tee Lake, Quebec in 1963 and later the Booth operation at Lachute, Quebec. They remained as advisors at Kiosk. There were also rumours that, in spite of a conscientious program of "sustainable cutting," the lease on the Staniforth limits might not be renewed by the government; financial viability became a question for the Staniforths.

After the fire there was a brief hope that the mill would be rebuilt, but this soon faded. The union fought for severance and retraining. Some work was found cleaning up the site and removing the remaining logs and lumber. Trees levelled in a tornado near Lake Manitou provided some work. Like Fossmill, some families left right away and others hung in, trying to get some compensation for their homes. The government finally came through with a reasonable offer, and gave a 1996 deadline for all to leave. There was nothing left at Kiosk well before that date.

airphoto of lumber town

The town of Kiosk from the air, showing the mill and town site on both sides of the Amable du Fond River. 

Kiosk was unincorporated but had a municipal association that played a significant role in acquiring the compensation for the homes that the workers had built or purchased. The school soon did not have enough students to maintain itself, and the children began to be bussed to Mattawa, adding to the frustration of the parents.

Universal Oil Products built a veneer mill at Rutherglen after the fire, and some Kiosk workers got work there. It was sold to G.W. Marten, and after his death in a plane crash in 1984, it was bought by Columbia Forest Products. Some Kiosk men went with the Staniforths to Tee Lake, where some remain today.

It is interesting to note that Amedee Laferriere, mentioned above, married Rachel Denis, whose father came from Fassett Quebec to Fossmill and later to Kiosk. Amedee and Rachel's son Gilles and his son Guy, continue to work at Columbia Forest Products today, providing almost 100 years of continuous service in the lumber industry.

At the management level, Sydney Staniforth's father was a lumberman in Quebec before the turn of the century, where a lake is named after him. Sydney's son Donald has a son Robert, who works out of Vermont for Columbia Forest Products, and like the Laferrrieres, continues four generations of the family in the business.

The Kiosk story would not be complete without mentioning that many former residents still remain good friends and meet annually for a Kiosk reunion, where they play golf, enjoy a good meal and a dance, and reminisce. I have attended several of these events and will again on August 18th in Mattawa, where I will be showing slides and talking about an upcoming book my son and I are preparing on Kiosk.

The recent revision of the Algonquin Park Master Plan (1998) proposes improved and expanded camping sites and some educational programming at Kiosk. A 43-hectare developmental zone has been established for future use. There have been rumours about the development of a small interpretation centre there to preserve some of the long history of Kiosk. The old CNR rail bed has potential as a walking trail for future visitors to the park. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Next week I will proceed further down the old CNR line to Brent, and will provide details on Heritage Days there, August 15th and 16th at the old ranger's cabin.  

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