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Kapuskasing

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Dec 16, 2021

Kapuskasing, or just Kap, is a town of 8300 people (2016) in Northern Ontario. It is mostly a company town; the main industry is an enormous paper mill.

Town centre of Kapuskasing

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Kapuskasing (pronounced ka-pus-KAY-sing) gets its name from the Kapuskasing River, which was named long before the existence of the town. Kapuskasing is a word of Cree origin, and the meaning is unknown.

Kapuskasing lies in the heart of the Great Clay Belt. The topography of the region is very flat, dotted with numerous small lakes and muskeg bogs. Also in the heart of Canada’s boreal forest, the region is drained by rivers running north to James Bay. The district is heavily forested, mostly by thick stands of black spruce that have commercial value as pulpwood.

Wildlife is abundant. Species such as moose, black bear, lynx and red fox are commonly seen in the area. Lakes and rivers are well populated with walleye, northern pike and yellow perch. Fishing and hunting are very popular recreational activities locally.

The former Spruce Falls, now Tembec, pulp and paper mill is the town’s major employer.

Near the western edge of the Clay Belt of “New Ontario”, the town was founded in the early 20th century after the National Transcontinental Railway, forerunner of the Canadian National Railway, was built through the area in 1911.

An internment camp was set up at Bunk Houses in Kapuskasing from December 1914 to February 1920.

A scheme to settle veterans of the First World War in this vicinity was unsuccessful. It was not until the start of pulp and paper milling operations in the 1920s that Kapuskasing began to develop as an organized community.

Where the Canadian Northern Railway crossed the Kapuskasing River in 1910 there was an island in the centre of the river. Power and storage dams were built there in 1923.

In 1926, the Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company was incorporated under joint ownership of Kimberly-Clark and The New York Times, with rights to harvest timber over an area of 11,830 km², an area larger than Jamaica. It built a paper mill at Kapuskasing, a hydro-electric generating station at Smoky Falls and an 80-km railway and power line connecting the two. Since 1928, The New York Times has been printed entirely on Spruce Falls paper.

During World War I, the town was the site of one of the largest internment camps in Canada. The camp held over 1,300 German, Austrian, and Turkish prisoners, though the majority were Canadian residents of Ukrainian descent who had emigrated from the provinces of Bukovina and Galicia, in the first wave of Ukrainian emigration to Canada prior to 1914. Prisoners were employed in the construction of buildings and clearing of land for a government experimental farm on the west side of the Kapuskasing River. Isolation provided ideal security for the minimum security camp, as the railway was the only access to the remote location. Prisoners who attempted to escape into the bush were turned back by endless muskeg and clouds of mosquitoes or minus-40 °C/F temperatures in winter. In 1917, most were paroled to help relieve labour shortages. Afterwards, the camp was used briefly for prisoners of war and political radicals until its closure in 1920. A small cemetery is all that remains of the internment camp near the Kapuskasing Airport where victims of the 1918 influenza epidemic were laid to rest.

The area has long, very cold winters. The summer growing season is short and often punctuated by killing frosts. Visitors often comment on the deep blue of the sky during clear weather.

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