The Mill

 

Boxing Day soccer match, 2015
with the Mill as backdrop

Ask any long-time Powell River resident and you’ll soon hear that “it was the Mill that built this Town“. I have no doubt of that, as it forms the backdrop for, well, pretty much everything.

And its been there…
…for a long time…

But who owned the Mill?  And the lands surrounding it?

History
The Mill as seen from Valentine Mountain, circa 1915 - Rod LeMay (Powell River Historical Museum P03328)
Powell River Company Mill as seen from Valentine Mountain, circa 1915
– Rod LeMay (Powell River Historical Museum and Archives)

It’s an interesting story, with useful summaries to be found here, here and here, together with wonderful and nicely-captioned period photographs here and here.

So far I’ve been unable to accurately map the extent of the timber lease surrounding the original Tla’amin settlement of Tees’kwat that was granted to one R.P. Rithet in 1874.  One source describes the timber lease as being 15,000 acres in size – about 3 times the land area of the modern Municipality of Powell River.

The first of many rolls <i>- Catalyst Paper, Powell River Division </i> (Powell River Historical Museum and Archives Association P00167)
The first of many rolls
– Catalyst Paper (Powell River Historical Museum and Archives)

What is clear from the documents is that the extent of lands subsequently purchased by the same man in 1878 (that is, Lot 450) constituted 2,725 acres.  At the princely sum of a dollar an acre.

The Minnesota-based company of Brooks and Scanlan formed the Powell River Paper Company in 1909, becoming simply the Powell River Company in 1911.  Impressive engineering feats quickly followed.  The Powell River dam was constructed, the planned “garden city” of Townsite was constructed, and the new mill produced its very first rolls of newsprint in April of 1912.

Number #5 and #6 paper machines, circa 1926 (Powell River Historical Museum and Archives Association A27-13-1)
Number #5 and #6 paper machines, circa 1926
– Powell River Historical Museum and Archives

By the early 1920s the mill had become the largest paper mill in North America, by the 1960s it had become become one of the world’s largest.  The mill has changed ownership several times.

The original company merged with MacMillan Bloedel Ltd to become MacMillan Bloedel & Powell River Ltd in December of 1959.  The “Powell River” label was later abandoned and it became simply MacMillan Bloedel Ltd in 1966 – a name which was to last for several decades.

Restructuring

A major corporate restructuring led to  MacMillan Bloedel Ltd separating its milling and timber operations in 1998.

The Mill thereafter operated briefly as 558654 British Columbia Ltd and Pacifica Papers before being acquired by Norske Skog Canada in 2001.  More name changes ensued, becoming Norske Canada in 2002 and Catalyst Papers in 2005.

From my perspective, what is clear from all this is that from the time of its incorporation in 1955, the Municipality of Powell River was very much a “company town.”  This was visibly reflected in its land tenure.

This is what the "company town" of Powell River looked like at the time of its incorporation in 1955. Of course I've cheated here, by overlaying a map of historical tenure on a modern Google Earth image - but I find it impressive no less!
Here’s what the “company town” of Powell River looked like at the time of its incorporation in 1955. Of course I’ve cheated, by layering a map of historical tenure on a modern Google Earth image – but I find it impressive no less!