Working in the present while preserving the past for now and the future


JD McArthur

J.D. McArthur, Veteran Builder of West, Dead (obituary)

Source: The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, vol. 3 no. 8, 10 January 1927.

Submitted by Lorraine McIntosh, Lac du Bonnet




Passes Away in Private Car on Reaching City From Battle Creek Sanitarium


J.D. McArthur, president of the J.D. McArthur Co., Ltd., and vice-president of the Manitoba Paper Co., pioneer railway builder of Western Canada, died this morning in Winnipeg.


He had just returned in a special car on the Great Northern train from Battle Creek, Michigan, where he had been undergoing treatment for the past few weeks. Death overtook him in the special coach half an hour after the train pulled into the city, the scene of his activities for the past 47 years. He was in his 74th year.


For some time Mr. McArthur had been suffering from acute anaemia. A few weeks ago he left for the sanitarium at Battle Creek. After a period of treatment there, hope for his recovery was given up. On Saturday morning, accompanied by Mrs. McArthur and a special nurse, he was placed on board a private car, provided by the Michigan Central Railway, to return to Winnipeg. At Chicago the car was transferred to the Great Northern train, which arrived here at 9:05 o’clock this morning.


When he left the sanitarium at Battle Creek it was with the understanding that everything possible had been done for him there. The body is now at Thomson’s Funeral Home. Arrangements have been made for the funeral Wednesday afternoon. A private service will be held at the family residence, 159 Mayfair avenue. At 2:30 o’clock a public service will be held at St. Augustine Church. Burial will be in St. John’s Cemetery.


His Life Work


John Duncan McArthur is generally believed to have built more miles of railroad than any other man in the history of Canada. Besides building about 250 miles of the then Grand Trunk Pacific between Winnipeg and Lake Superior Junction, some of his other large contracts included about 500 miles for the Canadian Pacific Railway and a long stretch of the then Canadian Northern Railway between Portage la Prairie and Edmonton. He alone was responsible for putting the entire Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway system on the map, an enterprise which entailed laying over 900 miles of trackage. He also built the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway and all but the last section of the Hudson Bay Railway.


Many Interests


He was interested in many business enterprises, being, besides president of the company which bears his name, vice-president of the Manitoba Paper Co., president of the Northwest Lumber Co., president of the McArthur Land Co., director of the Western Trust Co., president of the McArthur Lumber ad Fuel Co., and director of the Beaver Lumber Co.


Although most of his contracts were for railroad work he also erected some very fine buildings, the biggest being the McArthur building here, which he built in 1909–1910 at a cost of $750,000. Other buildings in Winnipeg which he put up are a wholesale warehouse on McDermot ave., 1898; the Breadalbane Apts., 1909; and the Glengarry Block, 1911.


Far Seeing


Mr. McArthur was a big man, not only physically, but in his mental outlook. Where others saw only flat, uninteresting prairie, he saw the future home of countless happy settlers; where others saw forests and streams simply as possible fishing haunts or vacation grounds, he saw thousands of uncut railroad ties, millions of feet of lumber which might be used in the building of a nation. He was a man of vision, an empire builder who loved the country he was born in and spent his life developing its natural resources, bringing vast areas of it within the borders of civilization, and trying by every means within his power to make it great and prosperous.


He was a man of unbounded energy and unswerving purpose, he never once failed to fulfil a contract, he never started anything without carrying it through. So great was the confidence he inspired in others, that it is said that he could go into a bank and borrow a million dollars quicker than any other man in Canada.


He was, what he himself termed, “a one-man plunger,” he never had any partners on his big enterprises, he never asked or allowed other people to invest money in his development scheme. Consequently if they failed, as they sometimes did, no one lost a cent except J.D. McArthur, and he was the last man to worry about such a trifle as losing money.


His heart was just as large as his vision, and he gave away hundreds of thousands for charitable purposes on the distinct understanding that his name was not to be mentioned in any way. He was a great admirer of Sir William MacKenzie, and his one ambition in life was to develop the natural resources of Canada.


He made millions of dollars during the course of his lifetime, but money was merely incidental with him, it came as a result of his tremendous labors, and was at once put back into some development project. He did not put it safely away or convert it into gilt-edged securities. As he himself said, “Someone had to take a chance,” when it came to opening up new and untried commercial projects.


He gambled thousands of dollars in schemes and never grumbled when he lost. His friends never tired of telling of his unflinching cheerfulness and courage in the face of adversity.


Was Poor Boy


Born in July 1853, at Lancaster, Ont., J.D. McArthur spent his boyhood on his father’s farm at that place, and was educated in the local school. He came west in 1879 as a young man of 25, and was soon started in the contracting business getting out ties for the old Manitoba and North-Western Railroad.


His first serious financial reverse came in the late ‘80’s when he was working on a tie contract for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He had by this time acquired the ownership of a saw mill at Birtle, Man., and was counting on sawing his ties and floating them to market down the Birdtail Creek. For some reason or other the creek dried up and young McArthur was left with the ties on his hands.


When he did eventually manage to get them to Brandon, the railway could not use them and he had to sell them to the citizens of Brandon as cordwood. However, he managed to get enough money to pay his debts and then he started in again.


How well he succeeded in getting another nest-egg may be judged from the fact that in Jan., 1889, he returned East and married his boyhood sweetheart, Mary McIntosh, of Lancaster.


Well Established

Sawmill 1912


By this time he was pretty well established as a railroad contractor, and in 1901 he started a saw mill and a brick factory at Lac du Bonnet. The former operated until 1918 and the latter until 1920.


It was at the beginning of the 20th century that he commenced going into the railroad contracting business on a large scale. In 1904 he built 500 miles of the C.N. main line between Portage la Prairie and Edmonton, he also built part of the Manitoba and North-Western, and the CPR Crow’s Nest branch.


In 1906 he built 20 miles of the CPR Teulon branch, 36 miles on the M & NW, and did other work for the CPR which included bringing the railroad from Saskatoon to Asquith, the completion of the Kirkella branch and the Wolseley branch, and extending the Winnipeg Beach line as far as Gimli.


Took on Big Job


It was in this year that he commenced work on 250 miles of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTP) from Winnipeg east to Superior Junction. This was considered one of the most difficult and costly sections of the whole line, running, as it does, through the most rugged and forbidding part of the Laurentian rock formation. He secured the contract in open bidding against strong opposition, and capable management, coupled with favorable circumstances, enabled him to complete it with a substantial profit.


In this year he opened a sawmill at Atikokan, which he ran for seven years, and then dismantled and sent the machinery to his mill in Edmonton. He also bought the Moyie Lumber Company’s interests at Moyie, B.C. but later sold them.


Having emerged successfully from the GTP contract in 1910, he embarked on another venture which eventually nearly wiped out his entire personal fortune, this being the building of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway. He had found himself with an immense and costly construction equipment on his hands, for which there was no work in sight. It was a period of rapid expansion, and money was available in large amounts for development purposes.


Given Charter


Some years before, a charter had been granted by the Dominion Parliament for a railway from the Pacific coast to Edmonton by way of Peace River. The name was the Pacific Northern and Ominica, and the usual cash subsidy had been voted for the first 100 miles, but no construction work had been done. After some negotiations a charter was given to Mr. McArthur under the name of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and B.C. Railway, and he commenced operations.


Notwithstanding the outbreak of the war, the rails reached Spirit River in the fall of 1915. Owing to the financial depression which began in 1913 and which was accentuated by the outbreak of the war, Mr. McArthur did not press his claim for the cash subsidy to which he was entitled as the builder of a colonization railway.


Subsidies were voted and paid to other railways in that period, but not to the ED & BC. Even the subsidy that had been voted for the first 100 miles of the Ominica Railway, to which he was entitled by his agreement, was never paid.


Difficult Times


It was decided that if the district was to be served adequately by the railway it must be extended across the Peace River. The cost of the bridge was nearly a million dollars. The bridge was finished in 1918, and a large part of the grading from the plateau to the west end of the bridge was completed the same year. This was the only piece of railroad construction in America in actual progress during the latter part of the war.


The Peace River crop of 1915 was a good one, but that of 1916 was a failure, yielding little traffic and discouraging development. The war had been in progress for two years, and the pioneers of the district had volunteered in such numbers that production was checked. Immigration, of course, stood still. The result to earnings was disastrous in the case of the ED & BC, as with other railroads. Interest had to be paid, and the earnings were not sufficient to pay it. To meet these liabilities, Mr. McArthur made provision from time to time out of his private means, always expecting that the cash subsidy to which he was entitled would eventually be paid. But this was never done.


No Improvement


Through meeting the losses of successive years nearly all of his personal income was absorbed by the railroad. The condition of the road gradually deteriorated and there came to be a question as to the advisability of operating it any longer. While matters were nearing a crisis, Hon. Sir George Foster, acting premier, in response to an appeal from Mr. McArthur, wrote saying the government was prepared to buy the road.


Mr. McArthur at once started negotiations for the sale of it, but without result. At last came a time when the condition of the road was such that a complete breakdown was imminent.


Obituary from Another Source



July 25, 1854 – January 10, 1927


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 Moun¬tain 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 February 24, 1898, The Lac du Bonnet Mining, Developing and Manufacturing Co. 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 -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, Alberta and thence to the Peace River country. By 1910 he contracted to build, and later to operate, the Edmonton, 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 dollars 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 Birth #1 from the Dominion Government and a permit for 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 Co. and became its first president.


At the time of his death, age 72, McArthur was president of the J.D.McArthur Co., the Northwest Lumber Co,, the McArthur Land Co. and the McArthur Lumber and Fuel Co., vice-president of the Manitoba Pulp and Paper Co., and a director of the Western Trust and the Beaver Lumber Companies. He served as Post Master of Lac du Bonnet from October 1, 1906 to September 6, 1923. Considered one of Canada’s leading business men, 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.


Editorial Commentary


Lorraine McIntosh is the wife of Ramsay McIntosh. JD McArthur sold his holdings in Lac du Bonnet to his nephew, Alexander McIntosh who is the father of Ramsay McIntosh and Grandfather of Paul McIntosh of Lac du Bonnet.

Stories by Kathy Willis

Cooling Food in the Past
Ice House

Ice House


At one time, before electricity was available, cooling was not as easy as plugging in the refrigerator. We had an icehouse built of square logs near the shoreline and in the winter ice blocks were cut from the river ice and hauled on a sled pulled by horses and stored with sawdust liberally spread among them in the ice house. In the summer these blocks were used in a wooden ice box in the kitchen. The one ice box I remember was a lovely wooden cabinet with a shelf inside for the ice block and a compartment to store the milk and butter etc. When the ice melted the water ran down a pipe at the back and into a large metal tray on the floor under the unit. Occasionally, the ice would melt faster than anticipated and the water would run over the top of the tray at which time the floor would get a quick wipe down and the tray emptied. Mother, being an expert seamstress, used canvas to fashion a sturdy carrier for the ice blocks. This carrier was also used to haul ice blocks from Winnipeg’s Arctic Ice on Langside Street in the trunk of the car once the river supply was exhausted. I remember my Dad being approached by another customer asking where he could purchase such a carrier. Mom could have patented her idea! If this doesn’t sound too intriguing, remember that the ice blocks were cut with a hand saw – not a power chain saw!


Do You Remember……….The Summer Kitchen?


Do you have a summer kitchen on your property? Do you remember when it was an important part of summer life? Do you and your family still use your summer kitchen? We don’t and sometimes, I miss the experience. Ours was built by 13 year old Carl Arvid Erickson in l933 and the height of the original doorway indicated he wasn’t very tall. It’s amazing how well it’s stood the test of time.


At this time of year, in years gone by, my family would make a transition from the warm, wood stove heated house along a short path to a one room log summer kitchen. This structure, still standing, had an open ceiling, windows all around and couches, called Toronto couches, along two walls. There was a wood stove with an oven, but certainly not as large a wood stove as was in the house we had left behind. Many trips were made to transfer the condiments, the bread box, the cutlery, extra cooking utensils and spices to the summer kitchen.


In the morning, one would rise, dress and proceed to the summer kitchen. One corner had a washbasin and the toothbrushes and limited cosmetics had been transferred there as well. In the house, Mom was the chief cook and bottle washer but things changed when we “moved” to the summer kitchen. There, Dad took over and coffee would be perking on the stove, sometimes porridge cooking and on weekends, the aroma of bacon and eggs permeated the air as we arrived in the morning.


Many family discussions would take place at the large dining table during meals and plans for the day would be solidified. Water had to be heated on the wood stove before dishes could be washed and put away. You see, we had no electricity! Hence, no refrigeration or light switches. We kept the foods that needed to be cool in a small wooden ice box – a little cupboard with shelves in it and a large container underneath to catch the drips as the ice block melted. One family member had to remember to empty that container morning and evening or be prepared to wipe up the floor if it overflowed!


We used coal oil lamps – special ones for the summer kitchen – to light the small space if we stayed up past dark. Sometimes visitors would drop by and be entertained there as well. All of the windows had screens on them so it was most comfortable with a fresh breeze wafting in off the river. At bedtime, we’d blow out the lamps and walk the short path to the house, to find it was kept cool by being closed up all day.


Now and again a skunk family would decide that the space under the building could serve as a new home and of course, they had to be discouraged in whatever way necessary.


In later years, we were privileged to be the proud owners of a propane stove, complete with 3 burners and an oven and also a small propane refrigerator. We thought we were so modern!


When it came time to preserve the vegetables from the garden, blueberries, wild strawberries and raspberries and even fish if there was more than we could eat, the huge navy blue canner would come out and the perspiration would be evident on Mom’s brow. These canned goods would provide sustenance during the winter once we moved back to the house and left the summer kitchen behind for another year.


Unfortunately, once we had hydroelectricity installed in the house, the summer kitchen wasn’t as important and the moves seemed unnecessary because if it got warm in the house, a fan could be plugged in. Those precious memories are just that now as the summer kitchen seems to have become a storage site rather than a meeting place.


The Smoke House


Memories remain of a fire in the smoke house and golden skinned Goldeye hanging there in the heat. The smoking took a full day, after the fish had been scaled, cleaned, salted and put on hooks. The wood was very important – usually oak or some other hard wood, but well dried and definitely not green wood. The flavour depended on using the correct wood. Consistent temperature of the fire was key and on occasion, many of the fish would have to be rescued off of the shelf below the bar and hooks. Either way, the fish were still delicious and are a delicacy served to Queen Elizabeth. In later years, Mother became the expert and eventually taught us how to do the job.


Stories by Miriam Simoens

Trapping in the 1950’s


Jack Tuokko, my Father, became a trapper in order to supplement the farm family income.


His natural affinity for roughing it in the bush made this activity an adventure which he tried to instill in his children. We were all taught how to set and check traps and dress furs for sale. My older siblings would snare rabbits in winter along the bush trails to school. Dad learned how to handle guns while in the Finnish Army and passed that knowledge unto us as well.


Dad would start out on his trap line before day break with his backpack of supplies, compass and knife at his waist, and a rifle slung over his shoulder. It was understood that at times he would be too far down river to make it home at night. However, we were confident of his ability to survive alone in the wilderness. Trap lines criss-crossed somehow, and he would sometimes meet up with fellow trappers. They had an honor code to never steal from another’s traps. Shacks were set up along the way that would offer basic shelter from the storms and the night.


Once in late spring with a heavy pack of furs, he tried to take a shortcut home across Pinawa Bay and fell through the ice. He managed to use the sharp point of his knife to slowly pick his way back to safety. Once back on shore, he built a fire to regain his body heat and dry his clothes before continuing home with his pack of furs.


He was often proud of his catch and very good at dressing the skins. One day he arrived home quite excited because he managed to catch one of those elusive wolverines. Artfully hand-made wooden stretchers and forms were used to shape and dry the skins for sale. In spring the local fur man would come to barter for a best price of each piece and then cart them away to the bigger fur market in Winnipeg.


The older boys would accompany him on the trap line sometimes. Albert once decided to go on his own. The lake ice offered him safe passage heading out, then strong winds caught and moved the ice pack leaving him stranded on the far shore. As he waited for favorable weather he ate every morsel of food from his pack, so he staved off hunger by eating and enjoying the muskrats from his catch. We celebrated his safe return home a few days later.


None of us became trappers when we grew up, but that sense of outdoor adventure stuck with us.


Written by Miriam Simoens, and submitted to The Leader

The Lac du Bonnet & District Historical Society acknowledge that we are on Treaty 1 territory and that the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene Peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation.

Meeting Notices
Meetings: Second Monday of Every Month
Time: 7:00 PM
Where: St. Johns Church Hall

Interested in becoming a        Lac du Bonnet & District Historical Society member?

Membership Form 2020

Listening Room


For more information, visit: The Listening Room Facebook page

Upcoming Events
Logs and Lines
Travelling Exhibits

For information on our Travelling Trunk Exhibits, please go to: Outreach / Getting Involved

Latest Additions