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Aluminium History

Aluminium was first produced in France in 1854 and was only made in small quantities for decades afterwards. The first ingot in Canada was poured October 22, 1901, by the Pittsburgh Reduction Company at its smelter close to the Shawinigan Falls on the Saint-Maurice River. The electrolysis process used to manufacture aluminium requires a great deal of electric power, thus the choice to locate the smelter in this region of Quebec. Shawinigan Water & Power Co. supplied the electricity. In 1902 this Canadian operation became Northern Aluminum Company. In 1913 a kitchen utensil production plant and a foundry was opened in Toronto, and later a rolling mill was added. The Great War (WW I) caused a major growth in production.

In the spring of 1925 construction was started on the aluminium smelter named after the company's president, ARthur VIning DAvis. The Isle-Maligne hydro electric generating station, close to Alma, and another at Shipshaw close to Jonquiere were built to supply power. This gave birth to the city of Arvida (now part of the city of Saguenay) and brought about the rapid development of the entire Saguenay-Lac Saint Jean region including a major port and railway facilities. On July 8, 1925 the company was renamed Aluminum Company of Canada and a year later it began to produce aluminium on July 27, 1926.

In 1928, the Pittsburgh Reduction Company, parent of Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) created a new company, The Aluminum Company of Canada for the Canadian operation. However, it wasn't until March, 1945 that the trade name Alcan became official.

During World War Two (WW II) Alcan production greatly increased to supply Canada and the Allies' war effort. In 1939, the Arvida smelter was expanded, increasing capacity to 500,000 tonnes by 1943, 350,000 of which were produced by its own electricity including at a second station built at Shipshaw. Production peaked at 1,400 tonnes per day in March of 1944.

Following a brief respite after WW II production increased as domestic uses were found for aluminium.

A second aluminium producer showed up in Quebec in 1955 when the Canadian British Aluminum Company (later, Canadian Reynolds Metal Company) acquired part ownership in an aluminium plate rolling mill at Cap-de-la-Madeleine. Two years later it built a plant in Baie-Comeau. Reynolds expanded various times in the years that followed. So too did Alcan expand and grow with new smelters constructed 1977-78 in Ville-de La-Baie, the Grande-Baie smelter and in Chicoutimi, the Laterriere. In 1980, a secondary metal plant was added by Alcan in Guelph, Ontario.

In 1986, a new smelter, a joint venture, started production in Becancour and in June 1992 the Alouette smelter in Pointe-Noire began production by a consortium. Yet another plant began production in 1993 in Deschambault, near Quebec City.

Alcoa returned to Canada in July 1998 buying the smelter in Deschambault from Alumax along with its 25% share in the Becancour smelter. In 2000, Alcoa acquired the Canadian Reynolds Metal Co. which owned the Baie-Comeau smelter and 50% of the Becancour smelter along with other facilities.

In 1987 the name was changed to Alcan Aluminium Limited and in 2001 to Alcan Inc. Between 1998 and 2001, Alcan built a $3 Billion smelter at Alma. In 2004, Alcan acquired Pechiney Group, making it the aluminium industry world leader.

Ten of Canada's eleven smelters are in Quebec, one is in BC.

Wanting to develop its natural resources, British Columbia invited Alcan to build a smelter at Kitimat, a remote area across from the Queen Charlotte Islands. In 1951, Alcan began a $500 million project, the largest public-private partnership ever. In addition to the smelter which started up production in 1954, there was also a hydro-electric generating station at Kenamo. This also attracted other companies to locate in Kitimat.

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