Historic Sites of Manitoba: Pine Falls Paper Mill (Powerview-Pine Falls)
In 1921, lumber merchant John D. McArthur secured a forest-cutting license from the federal government to 718 square miles of forests in eastern Manitoba. By 1924, he bought the land on the bank of the Winnipeg River, near Fort Alexander, for a new paper mill. He formed the Manitoba Pulp and Paper Company and was its first President, later relinquishing control to the Spanish River Pulp and Paper Company of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. They built the coal-fueled mill through 1926 and the first paper was produced in January 1927. Later that year, two paper-making machines were fully operational, producing 250 tons of paper per day, with about 300 men at the mill and another 300-400 men in logging camps to supply the mill with wood. The Woods Department cut spruce, fir, and jack pine in the forests adjoining the river and floated timber downstream to the mill, at least hydro development blocked the passages of logs. The last “river drive” of timber occurred in 1956.
Through the late 1920s, the company built the town of Pine Falls for its workers, with company-owned homes with sewer, water and telephone service; store with groceries, dry goods, and hardware (later sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company), school, hospital, and golf course. In 1928, the mill became the property of the Abitibi Power and Paper Company (becoming the Abitibi-Price Company through merger in 1975). During the Great Depression, with reduced demand for newsprint, the mill was closed between 1932 and 1935.
By 1976, the mill (at that time the only newspaper-making facility on the prairies) was producing 480 tons per day, enough for a million 48-page newspapers. It consumed 3.75 billion gallons of water a year and 265,000 megawatt-hours of electricity (about 42% of the nearby hydro dam’s total output). Its timber supply came from a large area on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, over half-way up the lake, and also in the Interlake on the west side of the lake.
In 1994, the mill was sold to employees as the Pine Falls Paper Company which in turn sold it to Tembec in early 1998 (but continued to operate until around 2001 as PFPC). Tembec announced the town of Pine Falls would have to become self-sufficient and could no longer depend on company support. In 2005, Pine Falls amalgamated with the Village of Powerview to become Town of Powerview-Pine Falls.
As environmental regulation became tougher through the late 20th century, it became increasingly difficult for the aging mill to be compliant with its discharges into the air, soil and adjacent river. Between 1999 and 2001, the company built an industry-standard thermo-mechanical pulping (TMP) mill, at a cost of $125 million. This newer technology replaced two older pulping technologies: stone groundwood pulping and sulfite pulping. Closure of the old sulfite mill had an immediate positive effect: no more rotten-eggs smell in town. The new TMP mill gave off a more pleasant smell of wood shavings and produced so much waste heat that a heat recovery unit reduced the mill’s requirements for coal. Consequently, greenhouse gas emissions decreased by about 50%.
The paper mill closed in September 2009 due to the declining demand for newsprint, just a few years after its new TMP mill became fully operational, and demolition began in 2011. By the spring of 2014, the once-dominant paper mill was gone. The only remaining signs are some piles of scrap steel, a hydro substation erected in early 2000 when the TMP mill was built, an old steam locomotive on display, a newer diesel locomotive that stands abandoned because its railway line has been removed, and nearby Manitou Lodge hotel (now a residence) built in 1948.
Photos & Maps
“Spanish River official heads Man. Pulp Co.,” Winnipeg Tribune, 8 March 1926, page 1.
“Paper manufacturing plant at Pine Falls opens Monday,” Manitoba Free Press, 12 January 1927, page 1.
“Business men of Winnipeg witness newsprint being made at Manitoba plant,” Manitoba Free Press, 26 January 1927, page 1.
Early Days in Pine Falls, Abitibi Paper Company Limited, 1976. [Manitoba Legislative Library, F5649.P59 Ear]
“Paper mill’s future bright after upgrade,” Winnipeg Free Press, 13 January 2001, page 38.
The First Years: A Pine Falls History by George D. Bayly, 2002. [Manitoba Legislative Library, F5649.P59 Bay]
Takedown From Outside the Fence: Pine Falls, Manitoba 2011-2014 by Marcel R. Pitre. [Manitoba Legislative Library, F5649.P59 Pit]
We thank Diane Dube for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough and Brian Kotak.
Page revised: 6 August 2017