The Powell River Company
The Powell River Company was built on traditional Tla'amin Nation land, called tiskʷat, which was inhabited by the Tla'amin people long before European contact. Following the sale of Lot 450 and Governmental Surveys, the Tla'amin people were forced to relocate to the Sliammon Creek Village (IR#1). Read more on Lot 450 here.
In 1885, Alfred Carmichael surveyed possible BC power sites for paper mills and in 1989, Powell River with its water potential (snow melt into Powell Lake) was recommended to the province of British Columbia as a site for a paper mill.
In 1901, the BC Government issued 21-year pulp leases to encourage industrial development in the province. The Canadian Industrial Company then purchased the Powell River leases.
In 1908, Dwight and Anson Brooks, with M.J. Scanlon, from Minnesota, purchased the leases held by the Canadian Industrial Company, A year later, they incorporated the Powell River Company and in 1912, the PR Co. No. 1 Paper Machine produced the first salable newsprint produced in BC.
Excerpts from the Powell River Mill Story by Bill Thompson, 2001
In 1908 a paper mill in B.C. was deemed a risky pioneering venture: the population was small; political conditions were unsettled; major markets were far away and there was no Panama Canal. But Dwight F. and Anson Brooks, with M.J. Scanlon, saw possibilities. Brooks and Scanlon had operated a large sawmill in Minnesota since 1901. They purchased the 134,551 acre leases held by the Canadian Industrial Company and, the following year, incorporated the Powell River Paper Company with an initial capital of $ 1 million.
While the Brooks Scanlon interests were logging in the Stillwater area, 13 miles south of Powell River, Dr. Brooks and M.J. Scanlon recognized the potential of the Powell River and Powell Lake system as a power site. Loggers were already on the scene—the Michigan and Puget Sound Company’s railroad ran through what is now the Powell River Townsite.
Dr. Brooks and his associates secured power rights at Powell River in 1910. Late in that year, construction workers were on the job, clearing the stumps left by loggers and slashing away the thick growth of small timber on the proposed paper mill site. A portable sawmill was installed to cut the trees cleared from the mill site into lumber for construction.
The mill would be a first for B.C. Others had tried, but none had succeeded—not a single roll of newsprint had yet been produced in the province. Machinery and supplies had to be brought in. Thousands of tons of construction materials arrived, and the most urgent need was for a substantial wharf. Its construction was begun immediately and extended several times, being finally completed in 1913. Passengers and freight for the entire district arrived at that dock until the 1st of May 1946, when the Westview wharf was completed.
Throughout 1910 and 1911, and into the spring of 1912, the huge project at Powell River took form: the site was cleared; production buildings were erected; heavy machinery was imported and installed; a power dam was constructed. Powell River had a state-of-the-art newsprint mill.
As plant construction proceeded, the Company realized that the planned two-machine mill would not meet their needs, and the design was doubled. More financing was necessary and, in February 1910, the Powell River Company Limited, with $4 million capital, replaced the Powell River Paper Company. To ensure a constant supply of logs for the mill, the Company purchased extensive timber holdings on the mainland, on Vancouver Island and north to the Queen Charlotte Islands. Those reserves would be increased as the mill expanded.
A great deal of power is required to drive a paper mill. Development of the Powell Lake potential required building a dam across Powell River. The project would need to be completed in time to supply power when the first paper machine was ready for operation. There was a waterfall at the site. Alfred Carmichael had measured its height as 118.6 feet above sea level. The location, for hydro-electric development, was unusually favorable. The narrow-necked Powell River extended from the lake into the new Townsite. Natural rock formations at the narrow point made a perfect dam site. Construction of the dam began in 1910.
The Company suffered two major disasters related to the hydro power development: In October 1911, No. 1 Penstock burst, damaging property and delaying construction; in March 1912, the concrete canal carrying water from the dam, which had been an expensive and major construction project, collapsed, causing suspension of all work. These two mishaps caused considerable damage to the mill. There were some who thought the Company should cut its losses and abandon the entire venture, but the management refused to quit.
No. 1 Machine was ready for warming up in April 1912. It started at 604 feet per minute, faster than any other paper machine, anywhere, had ever started. Almost at the end of that month, one of the horses powering the mill’s narrow gauge railway hauled the first drag of Powell River newsprint to the wharf storage.
In May of the same year, No. 2 Machine was also making paper. It was somewhat larger than No. 1, and produced a sheet 145 inches wide. It operated at the same speed as No. 1. At that time, the two machines were rated among the fastest in the world. They were not at full capacity, but they were making paper. In that same month of May, the first roll of newsprint produced in British Columbia was shipped from the Company wharf, carrying the Powell River Company label. Before the end of 1912, the Company entered the overseas market with a shipment of newsprint to the Western Pacific Herald, at Suva in the Fiji Islands.