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April 14, 2000

A visit to long-ago Powassan

These post card images of Powassan were captured many years ago. Above, King Street (now Main Street) looking southward in the early 1930s. Below, looking northward, some time befor 1914 and the days of the automobile.

*When this article appeared the municipalities of Trout Creek, South Himsworth and Powassan where autonomous but have been now amalgamated under the name Powassan.

With Powassan (population 1093), Trout Creek (660) and South Himsworth (1526) my nearest communities, I will start these perspectives reports with brief profiles of the history of each, beginning with Powassan.

When settlers came into the Northeast Parry Sound region in the 1870s, looking for land under the Free Land Grant Act, 1868, in several cases they chose locations near water falls on the South River, where water power could be developed.  Some of these settlers came up the sixty mile Rosseau-Nipissing Colonization Road, which was built to provide access to the north, or up the South River from Lake Nipissing, where Nipissing Village was already developing. 

The Fraser Lumber Company, J.R. Booth and others had already cut squared timber in the area and used the river to remove the logs.  The waterfalls usually had an accompanying dam and chute to allow for the control of logs.

One choice location was where the Ontario Hydro dam is now located on Highway 534, about two miles west of Powassan.  Around 1877, several families, including two branches of the pioneer Clark family, settled there with others and built a small community complete with a water powered grist mill, sawmill, blacksmith shop and other amenities.  Because of the bend in the South River at this spot, they called this settlement Powassan, a native word meaning “bend,” but it was more commonly referred to as “the chute.”

In the mid-1880s, the Northern and Pacific Junction Railway (later the Grand Trunk and the CNR) pushed north from Gravenhurst to North Bay.  The railway went through the forest where the town of Powassan is today.  Where the railway crossed Genessee Creek, a tributary of the South River, a small railway station was built and several shanties soon followed. 

The fast moving water just north of the station provided an ideal spot for a water powered sawmill and a dam.  Work became available for local men, and farmers had a place to sell their logs and tanbark for use in the tanning factories to the south. 

There are reports of lengthy lines of sleighs waiting to dispose of their loads at the entrances to town. 

W.F. Clark and Christopher Anderson had the original land grants where Powassan is, and they subdivided the area, donated land for churches and schools, and Powassan began to grow.  The community at “the chute” soon faded and the new community took the name “Powassan,” perhaps because of the bend in the Gennessee Creek.

Thriving centre established

Hotels, stores, schools, churches and houses were constructed along King St. (now Main Street) and a thriving centre for the wider area was established.  Porter and Company established a large business with the local farmers where they exchanged goods for produce, with no exchange of cash.  Several hotels were built, including the now restored Windsor Hotel, which is still active in the community.

The town eventually defined its boundaries within South Himsworth and incorporated in 1905 as an autonomous municipality.  In 1907 J.B. Lake founded The Powassan News newspaper which served the area until 1963. 

The town benefited from the business and convenience of highway 11 as it made its way north through Powassan in 1932 (the town was bypassed in 1972, and the highway was four-laned in 1998 with an overpass at mid-town). 

Powassan has always been an active sports community and had one of the earliest covered arenas in 1937.

With elementary schools in the area terminating at grade eight, there was no secondary education available.  A continuation school was established in 1930 and it eventually became a high school and district high school and remained until 1969.  A reunion is planned for June 16th and 17th this year. 

The main source of information on Powassan was their 50th and 75th anniversary publications, until a museum was established in the mid-1990s. 

The original home of W.F Clark, mentioned above, which was built around 1885, was preserved by later owners but was scheduled for demolition during the four-laning. 

In a very progressive move, the Powassan and Area Historical Society and the Powassan Council acquired the property, and the museum has since developed a good collection of artefacts and archival material.  The museum is open afternoons, Tuesday to Sunday, in the summer.

Many other fine old homes have been restored in Powassan.  For example, W.F. Clark’s son Daniel ran a brickworks and provided the material for many buildings, including the homes of lumbermen Monteith and Mitchell, and his own home on the corner of Clark and Edward Streets.

Also of interest is the small mountain on Powassan’s southeast corner, which for years has provided a walking trail for the locals.  It was reforested by the residents of the town’s House of Refuge back in the 1930s with beautiful pines that have now grown to maturity.  The hill was recently purchased by a group of enthusiastic walkers and preservationists with donated money and a generous grant from the North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority. 

The new Highland Trails group is affiliated with the Discovery Route Trails System and oversees the Powassan site. 

Three 2 km trails, including one to the lookout, have been created or improved with signage added.  The view of the Rift Valley to the West provides a fascinating panorama of the area between Powassan and beyond Lake Nipissing.  These trails are open to the public whenever walking them is possible. 
Powassan’s King Street (now Main Street) looking northward, some time before 1914 and the days of the automobile.

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