Situated along the Petite-Nation River, 5 km north of Plaisance, the site of North-Nation Mills occupies a landscape both wild and pastoral. It is easily reached from highway 148, bordering the Ottawa River, by travelling north on Malo Range to Papineau Road or by taking exit 197 on highway 50.
First centre of industrialization in the Seigneury of La Petite-Nation, its history dates back to the very beginning of the 19th century when Joseph Papineau, lord of La Petite-Nation had a sawmill built in order to take advantage of the abundant forest resources offered by the valley.
His son, Louis-Joseph acquired the Seigneury in 1817, but chose to rent out the mill and earn an annuity on the logging activities. Several wood contractors succeeded each other on the site commonly called “La Réserve du Moulin”, notably Thomas Mears (1821–1834), Peter McGill (1835–1847) and Alanson Cooke
In 1852, Papineau decides to sell the property and Alanson Cooke becomes the new owner. Encumbered with debt, he is forced, two years later, to transfer ownership to the Allan Gilmour Company. The new owners see to the reconstruction of many buildings, among them a second sawmill. In 1866, the John A. Cameron Company takes over operations in North Nation Mills until 1882. The site is then sold to the W.C. Edwards Company, located in Rockland. During more than 30 years, the Edwards will oversee work in the village of some 300 souls.
The village included a general store which also served as a post and telegraph office, as well as a blacksmith and woodworker’s shop and a butter and cheese factory. Workers and their families lived in small houses, while forest workers lodged in the rooming house. Executives, for their part, lived in posh houses around the river bend. North-Nation Mills also had its Baptist school and church.
Around 1903, the faith of the village of North-Nation Mills is sealed. The sawmill, driving force of the regional economy, is dismantled and relocated, probably to “Ferme Sixes” in Bouchette, another property of the W.C. Edwards Company. The event marks the decline of the village.
In 1920, the Edwards property is sold to the Gatineau Power Company and the buildings are scheduled for removal or demolishing. Many are bought by Plaisance residents to be dismantled and rebuilt in the new village, closer to the Hull-Montreal road and railway.
Today the “Grand-Sault-de-la-Chaudière” site attracts many visitors. The spectacular waterfall, surrounded by an outstanding forest offers a picturesque site where one can reconnect with nature and the history of the region’s pioneers.
Joseph Papineau, new lord of La Petite-Nation, acquires the site.
Construction of the first sawmill
and flour mill.
Joseph Papineau sells the Seigneury to his son Louis-Joseph.
Alanson Cooke buys “La Réserve du Moulin”.
Cooke transfers ownership of the property to Allan Gilmour who undertakes the reconstruction of several buildings.
Ownership of the site is transferred to the John A. Cameron Company.
Opening of the post office.
W.C. Edwards and Company acquires the Cameron properties in La Petite-Nation.
Dismantling of the sawmill.
The site is sold to the Gatineau Power Corporation.
The village of North-Nation Mills is dismantled.
From 1983 to 1987, archaeological digs were conducted around Plaisance Falls. Findings allowed the exact localization of 14 buildings in the workers village. The heritage visit provides information about 11 of these buildings.
Stones forming a rectangle before you were part of the foundations of a section of the stable buildings in 19th century North Nation Mills. At the end of the foundation, you will also notice the remains of a well dug at that time. From 1983 to 1987 the municipality of Plaisance and Quebec’s Ministère de la Culture et des Communications undertook archaeological digs on the site of Plaisance Falls. Thousands of artifacts were found as well as the location of the different buildings making up this old workers’ village.
The North Nation Mills’ general store was a good source of profit for the company that owned this little industrial village. Mill employees were paid in company vouchers and consequently had no choice than to obtain their supplies from the store. It offered fabric, work clothes, shoes and hardware items. Supplies came from Montreal by train to the station at Plaisance and transported to North Nation Mills. In 1867, a post office was established. Mail came by cart, six days per week. The building also housed the People’s Telegraph Company office, used mainly for company business.
The “Old Saw Mills” was the first mill built at North Nation Mills in 1809, by the Lord Joseph Papineau. The mill was powered by hydraulic energy from the falls. Its location was known as “Côte du moulin de la Seigneurie de la Petite-Nation” (Mill Hill). Two saws were in operation to produce boards, staves, shakes and shingles. Logs processed at the mill came from logging camps along the Petite-Nation River. Boards and planks produced were intended for the local market or shipped to England.
This photo shows the second sawmill at North Nation Mills. In 1852, Louis-Joseph Papineau decides to sell the mill property and Alanson Cooke becomes the new owner. Encumbered with debt, he is forced, two years later, to transfer ownership to the Allan Gilmour Company. The new owners see to the reconstruction of several buildings in the workers’ village, including construction of the second sawmill, this one being steam powered.
Jim Allen built the house himself, in 1881, at the river bend. He was employed as manager of all the infrastructure in North Nation Mills at the time. The house attests to the wealth of the family by its great size compared to the workers’ houses, but also because of the water pump in the kitchen, a rarity at the time.
North Nation Mills’ church was somewhat withdrawn from the village and located on the institutional plateau. It was built in 1871 by W.C. Edwards and torn down in 1928. This church was accessible only to English Protestants. The village’s Catholic families could not attend mass, perform weddings or have their children baptized. Consequently, they had to wait for a Catholic priest who visited only a few times a year.
North Nation Mills’ Baptist School was located near the church on the institutional plateau. It was built in the same year as the church, in 1871
and torn down in 1928. Even if the village had a school, very few French-Canadians had access to schooling and could afford to attend the English school. Consequently the village’s French-Canadian population had little education. Being illiterate, they worked mostly as lumberjacks, log drivers, sawyers, blacksmiths or farmers.
The industrial village of North Nation Mills had its weighing station. A commercial scale was available in this building to determine the weight of dry goods such as flour, sugar, wheat… The weighing station was located close to the general store, at the entrance to the site.
North Nation Mills’ cheese factory is easily recognized by its semi-cylindrical roof. Products from the cheese factory were intended essentially for the local people but also for the logging camps and the neighbouring villages, such as Papineauville and Saint-André-Avellin. The milk processed into butter was essentially intended for local consumption.
The rooming house in North Nation Mills housed several workers from the surrounding area, including the log drivers, butter factory workers and farmhands. Gracia Fortier managed the house and could accommodate up to 40 people at mealtime. The house had a large kitchen offering three good meals a day. Anecdotal accounts suggest that workers were well fed. Sleeping accommodations were available in a nearby warehouse.
The warehouse at North Nation Mills was used as a bunkhouse for the boarding house. The photo shows North Nation Mills’ old wooden bridge. Following its collapse, it was replaced with the present bridge, a few years later in 1953. From this perspective one can see the general store, a few workers’ houses and, at the top of the hill, the Baptist School.
For nearly three decades, Patrimoine et Chutes de Plaisance (Corporation North Nation Mills inc.), a not-for-profit organization, will have managed the historic, recreational and tourism site at Plaisance Falls. Shortly, the site will become an extension of the Parc national de Plaisance who will assume full responsibility for its management.
Along with our partners and sponsors, we are pleased to pass on to the new management this inspiring venue, a heritage circuit comprised of interpretive panels recalling, in their own fashion, the history of the industrial village of North Nation Mills which stood here for a century. We thank the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs for allowing us to carry out this project.
The heritage circuit at Plaisance Falls offers the opportunity to add a historical dimension to your visit of this majestic site. We wish all visitors a moment of quiet and rewarding relaxation.
Project design : Pierre Bernier
Implementation : Pierre Bernier and
Graphic design : jldesign.ca
Production : Imprimerie Papineauville
Installation : The Municipality of Plaisance
© 2019, Patrimoine et Chutes de Plaisance
Lavoie,Lucien. Histoire de Plaisance et de North Nation Mills de 1801 à 1985. Buckingham, 1985.
Burroughs, André. North Nation Mills: Expertise archéologique (Été 1986) rapport final. Outremont, 1987.
Whitelock, Linda, and Leclerc, Louise. Recherche ethno historique et de potentiel archéologique du site North Nation Mills. Hull, 1984.
Corporation « North Nation Mills Inc. », and Centre d’interprétation de Plaisance. North Nation Mills— survol d’un village.
Rapport d’interventions archéologique du site de North Nation Mills dans la municipalité de Plaisance (BjFs-3). Laroche,Daniel comp. Québec, 1985.
ParCOURS d’EAU – Récits des vallées de la Petite-Nation et de la Lièvre « La naissance des villages de la Petite-Nation » in Virtual Museum of Canada
(http://www.museevirtuel.ca/). Centre d’interprétation de Plaisance.
Centre d’interprétation de Plaisance. Plaisance, les trois villages. Cahier de réalisation préliminaire de l’exposition permanente. Idéation Communications, 1994.
Ruth Proudfoot fund
(Photo of the cheese and butter factory)