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Home > History of Development > Early Industry: Case Studies > Forestry > Bow Valley Beginnings > Eau Claire

Early Industry Case Studies

Eau Claire

Eau Claire lumber mill, Calgary, Alberta The arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.) and the growing interest in lumber in the area had pushed the government into roughly delineating timber berths along the Bow, Spray, and Kananaskis rivers. Although some boundaries had been established, there were still questions about where certain berths began and ended. Fortunately, there were plenty of C.P.R. surveyors in the area more than happy to assist. Kerr even bumped into Sir Sandford Fleming, former chief engineer of the C.P.R., and George Grant, Principal of Queen's University, who were inspecting the progress of the C.P.R. and impatiently awaiting word of whether the surveyor Major Albert Rogers (of Rogers Pass fame) had found an alternative route through the mountains.

Interior of Eau Claire lumber millBy the end of September, Kerr and his companions had a sense of the quality and quantity of trees in the various berths they had inspected and were ready to make a formal application to the government for leases on the best of them.

Applying for timber berths in the 1880s was not exactly a straightforward affair, and Macfee's knowledge of Ottawa came in handy. Hector Langevin, the Minister of Public Works, was a key figure, and his name appears frequently in the correspondence of the Eau Claire people. Langevin's actual assistance was never clearly spelled out, but by 1884, the Eau Claire and Bow River Lumber Company (as the new Canadian entity was called) was able to secure title to 10 berths, with a total area of some 1238 square kilometres. The biggest lumbering interest in Alberta before 1930 was ready to begin operations.

As the Eau Claire mill continued to expand its operations and its place in the community, Kerr and Prince diversified their interests. In 1889, they created one of the first electric companies in Calgary. The mill had expanded its planning machinery and required a dependable source of energy to run the planners and other machinery. The fuel for the new generators was found in the mill's excess sawdust. The company discovered that it actually produced more power than it needed, and offered the extra power for sale to city residents. The Calgary Water Power Company was born.

The building and settlement boom of the 1890s helped propel the company forward, and its production increased until it became one of the largest suppliers of lumber to the Calgary area. At the height of production, the mill produced three carloads of lumber a day. By 1910 it employed over 150 men.

Of course, the golden years did not last forever. By the 1920s, the heyday of the Eau Claire company was over. The company was by no means bankrupt, but its timber berths were nearly bare. In 1928 the company was rechartered as a Canadian company over the name Eau Claire Sawmills. In 1956 the company was dissolved.

Kelly Buziak. Toiling in the Woods: Aspects of the Lumber Business in Alberta to 1930. n.p.: Friends of Reynolds-Alberta Museum Society and Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism, Historic Sites and Archives Service, 1992. With permission from
Friends of Reynolds-Alberta Museum



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