Spruce Falls, now Rayonier Advanced Materials, is the location of our first stop. The mill has a long history going as far back as the 1920s.
Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company, Limited operated its own railway in Northern Ontario for many years. Known as the Smoky Line, it was a non-common carrier railway running some 50 miles north from Kapuskasing to a power plant in Smoky Falls built to serve their paper mill.
The New York Times journal
To ensure a steady supply of newsprint for The Times and business for Kimberly-Clark, makers of Kleenex, the companies dammed the Mattagami River at Smoky Falls, harnessing the river’s power through four gigantic turbines. They forged a 50-mile railroad, constructed an enormous mill, and leased the cutting rights to 4,300 square miles of boreal forest.
Thousands of tons of newsprint left Kapuskasing each year, much of it bound for the loading docks of The Times’s headquarters off Times Square. Each roll was capped by a label with the silhouette of a spruce branch and the name of the joint venture, Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company.
Their $30 million investment, equivalent to roughly $400 million today, led to the development of what was originally a speck of a stop called MacPherson on the National Transcontinental Railway, into an established company town.
Kapuskasing in the 1920s
The people of Kapuskasing had a different name for the company: Uncle Spruce. Due to the generosity of this generous “uncle”, Kapuskasing had a hospital, a community clubhouse, riverfront parkland, curling and skating rinks, a public school for 400 students, apartment buildings and hundreds of new houses. It also boasted paved streets, power, water and sewer systems and a hotel worthy of a princess and her prince.
By 1951, the population of Kapuskasing had reached 5,000. Spruce Falls employed 1,500 workers and produced 750 tons of newsprint daily, half of which was consumed by The Times, the rest sold to other consumers. The company’s cutting rights had expanded to 6,360 square miles and by the 1970s, as many as 12,500 people lived in the community.
In 1991 the town's economy was threatened when Spruce Falls Pulp & Paper announced it was going to reduce its workforce by 80%. Unwilling to invest the money needed to bring an aging, stand-alone plant up to par, The Times and Kimberly-Clark gave the community an ultimatum, either find new owners or the employees would be reduced by 1,000.
Change of owners
Fearing that the mill would close, a consortium of employees, Tembec Inc (a Québec Crown corporation) and local residents purchased the company, thus creating Spruce Falls Inc. A $360 Million modernization quickly followed and by 1997 the mill's annual paper production totalled 371 000 tonnes. In March 1997, Spruce Falls Inc. became a subsidiary of Tembec Inc. which operated the mill as an integrated newsprint operation exporting most of its output to the US.
In 2017, Rayonier Advanced Materials acquired Tembec and is still the owner of the Kapuskasing mill. Since its establishment, the pulp and paper mill has played a major role in the development of the community.