Historic Sites of Manitoba: John Duncan McArthur Commemorative Plaque (Lac du Bonnet)
John Duncan McArthur was born on the family farm in Lancaster, Glengarry County, Canada West (Ontario after 1867) where he grew up, was educated and married Mary McIntosh. At age 25, he came west and, around 1880, was cutting logs in what is today the Riding Mountain National Park for his sawmill near Birtle, Manitoba, on the Birdtail River. He worked repairing the rail line of the Pembina branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and gained further experience working on other railways in western Canada. By 1889, he received his own contract to build the Red River Valley Railway from Emerson to Winnipeg.
On 24 February 1898, the Lac du Bonnet Mining, Developing and Manufacturing Company was incorporated and had commenced harvesting the local resources. In 1901, McArthur purchased the company and its holdings of 810 hectares (2,000 acres) of land and a brick manufacturing plant. He built a sawmill just north of what is now the Town of Lac du Bonnet and, in the following year, opened a logging camp near Old Pinawa.
Between 1898 and 1901, McArthur had assisted in the building of the CPR branch line from Molson to Lac du Bonnet which would enable bricks, lumber and fuelwood to be shipped to Winnipeg and beyond. He built the first commercial “high rise” building in Winnipeg, near Portage Avenue and Main Street, named the McArthur Building, later renamed the Childs Building, as well as other large structures in the city.
In 1905, McArthur contracted to build the transcontinental railway line 402 kilometers (250 miles) east from Winnipeg, then west to Edmonton, Albert and thence to the Peace River country. By 1910 he contracted to build, and later to operate, the Edmonto, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway from Edmonton to Grand Prairie and also the Alberta Great Waterways Railway from Edmonton to Fort McMurray on the Athabaska River. When several companies declared bankruptcy, McArthur lost $30 million outstanding on his contracts. In 1911, McArthur contracted to build the first 290 kilometers (180 miles) of the Hudson Bay Railway from The Pas to Thicket Portage in Manitoba.
In 1920, McArthur secured Pulpwood Berth #1 from the Dominion Government and a permit of the Pine Falls power site (Great Falls) on the Winnipeg River. By 1924, with the Canadian National Railway line being built to Pine Falls, he succeeded in buying the land to be occupied by the new paper mill. He then formed the Manitoba Pulp and Paper Company and became its first president.
At the time of his death, age 72, McArthur was President of the J. D. McArthur Company, the Northwest Lumber Company, the McArthur Land Company, and the McArthur Lumber and Fuel Company, Vice-President of the Manitoba Pulp and Paper Company, and a director of the Western Trust and the Beaver Lumber companies. He served as postmaster of Lac du Bonnet from 1 October 1906 to 6 September 1923. Considered one of Canada’s leading businessmen, John Duncan McArthur built more miles of railroad than any other Canadian contractor.
McArthur Falls on the Winnipeg River, and McArthur Street in the Town of Lac du Bonnet, are named in his memory.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 31 January 2021