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Austin, Nicholson Ltd.
Austin Lumber (Dalton) Ltd.
Dalton, and Nicholson, Ontario

Austin Lumber 101 acq. 4/22 (ex CPR 6028 CP 9/1896) Dalton Mills June 24, 1948

Logs were loaded at Bertrand's on the CPR Heron Bay Subdivision and brought to Dalton on the CPR White River Sub. Shown (above and below) arriving at Dalton Mills, three miles south of the CPR, June 1, 1947.

Three above photos by R.A.C.Richardson/Brian Westhouse Collection

Austin Lumber was not a logging railway in the proper sense of the word but, it did handle logs on its short non-common carrier railway to deliver them to their mill in Dalton Mills.

Ties for the CPR

Brian Westhouse

In the 1890’s James McNeice Austin, a Chapleau general merchant, took tie cutting and delivery contracts from the CPR. Hand hewn axe-ties were cut by permit at specified areas along the CPR, like Ridout, Nemegos, Como and Pardee. Cutting was done by foremen such as Picard, Bertrand, Latremouille, Beaudry, and Roussy.

In those early years the railways would not accept sawn ties, the kerf of the saw left the fibers of the wood exposed and more likely to absorb moisture, causing premature rot.

Loading axe-ties on the Wayland Spur about 1910 (CPR White River Sub. mile 27.6)

Locomotive engineer, George B. Nicholson who had worked part time for Austin, left the CPR in 1901, to enter into partnership with J.M. Austin and become full time manager of the tie cutting operations. Austin and Nicholson began negotiating with Canadian Pacific Railway for a long term tie contract. In the autumn of 1902 the railway agreed to a three year contract by which the Austin, Nicholson Company guaranteed to deliver two hundred thousand ties per year for three years. The firm had exclusive rights to provide ties to the CPR, throughout the area, as far west as Port Arthur, however, it was up to the partners to arrange with the Ontario government to obtain the permits necessary to cut the timber in the specified locations.

In the spring of 1903 Austin and Nicholson began construction of their first mill, on a point of land between Windermere Lake and the CPR, 22 miles west of Chapleau. The town of Nicholson developed at this site including boarding houses, cottages, warehouses and other structures necessary to support the logging operations of the company.

Lumber from the Nicholson mill was stored on the outer edge of the peninsula. A horse was used to draw the fresh cut lumber out to the piling grounds, where it was required to season for several months to a year. The rails to the lumber storage area were inclined so cars placed for loading, with release of the brakes, were allowed to coast back towards Nicholson Siding for pickup. Ties from the mill were loaded directly onto waiting cars for immediate delivery.

Two horsepower switcher hard at work!

A planer was added to the mill in 1914 and the mill was reconstructed the following year. Sometime after 1921 a new planing mill was erected separate from the sawmill.

In 1920 the company began to plan for a second mill to satisfy CPR’s increasing demand for sawn ties. A new creosote plant was being established exclusively for the CPR. It was located along the Webwood Sub. 2 miles west of Sudbury.

Dalton, 21 ½ miles west of Nicholson, had been the site of earlier axe-tie loading operations. The new plant at Dalton Mills was located on Shikwamkwa Lake, 3 miles south of the CPR and linked to it with a private railway. The lumber storage yard along side of the CPR main line had a capacity of up to 50 million feet.

In order to meet CPR’s insatiable demands for sawn ties to supply the new creosote plant, Austin, Nicholson Ltd. added two portable mills in 1924. Contractor Dan Eaton of Chelmsford set up one mill at Sultan, while the Cole’s of Pakesley contracted for the company with a mill at Bertrand’s Siding, near Mobert, on the Heron Bay Sub. This mill was poorly managed and taken over as a company mill.

The Devon mill, purchased by Austin and Nicholson in 1921, was organized as the McNaught Lumber Co. division. It operated at its original location, six miles east of Chapleau, until it closed in 1927, when it was dismantled and moved to Sultan.

Aerial view Nicholson 1931

Booms of logs in Windermere Lake wait their turn to go through the saws of the Austin, Nicholson sawmill
(in center of photograph), CPR to Chapleau at bottom, to White River at top right. Ontario Archives

The company had fairly good safety record. The first recorded encounter of fire was on the 3rd of August 1926, when over a million feet of lumber was destroyed at the Devon yard. To control the blaze, the CPR fire brigade was called out from Chapleau.

CPR 662 a D-10 class Ten Wheeler with Chapleau Fire Train at Mc.Naught Lumber Co. yard fire.
August 3, 1926, Devon, Ontario. Alton Morse/Ontario Archives Morse-Plaunt Collection

NOTE: CPR had another fire train stationed at White River while the GTR kept one at Algonquin Park.

In the early hours of Sunday September 13th 1931, night watchman Sullivan noticed flames leaping up from the roof of the Nicholson sawmill. The Chapleau branch of the Ontario Forestry corps who with pumps and fire fighting equipment and the CPR fire Car, were quickly dispatched to the scene. Fanned by a very high wind, glowing embers were hurled across the lumber piles to the station buildings an eighth of a mile away, setting alight the wooden platform, damage to the latter being negligible owing to the prompt action of volunteer workers.

As soon as the aroused workers were on the scene a bucket brigade was organized, the women folk courageously taking their places among the men, braving the fierce heat and dense smoke in a desperate endeavor to protect home and employment. Gradually beaten back from the mill they were terrified to see the flames lay hold of first one warehouse, then another, until all three buildings were a mass of flames and the mill supplies and camp equipment which they contained rendered a smoldering heap of ruins.

The Nicholson mill was not rebuilt. Although the sawmill at Dalton didn’t operate the following year, Nicholson remained as an outpost to supply the logging camps that served Dalton. The planer mill spared from the blaze remained operational at Nicholson until 1934 when it was relocated to the lumber yard at Dalton Station.

The McNaught Lumber Co. division was sold in 1933, leaving only the Dalton mill and the portable mill at Bertrand’s, which remained intact, but shut down during the depression, to be used as required.

Then in 1934, disaster struck at Dalton.

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