MATABITCHUAN GENERATING STATION
PLANT GROUP: Northeast Plant Group
DRAINAGE BASIN: Ottawa River
NEAREST POPULATION CENTRE: North Cobalt (39 KM (24 Miles) Northwest)
IN SERVICE DATE: 1910
ACQUIRED BY HYDRO-ELECTRIC POWER COMMISSION OF ONTARIO: November 30, 1944
FROM: Northern Ontario Power Company
Asset Transferred to Ontario Power Generation: April 1, 1999
NUMBER OF UNITS: 4
CONTROL: Remote from Porcupine TS
The Matabitchuan River runs almost parallel with the Montreal River, merging with it at the western shore of Lake Temiskaming. In earlier times the two rivers did not meet at the lake. Huge sand bars extended out into the lake, and it is said that travel from Ontario to Quebec on the sand bars was possible, and as well, was often accomplished. Meadow Island is situated in Lake Temiskaming at the mouths of the rivers. It is interesting to note that "Matabitchuan" means "the meeting of the waters", and is therefore a literal description of the geographical situation.
Rivers were the original highways and byways of the vast hinterland of Northern Ontario. The Hudson Bay Post was established at what was known as "the narrows", as well as "The Old Fort", and a Jesuit Mission was located on the Ontario side of the river.
Recorded history of the River Matabitchuan dates back to 1688. The fort was utilized as a stop-over by Chevalier de Troyes during his 1686 expedition. He was accompanied by Lieutenant St. Helene, Pierre LeMoyne d'Iberville, Father Sylvie Chaplain, thirty regular soldiers and seventy Canadians. The expedition was led by an Indian, Coignac.
The earliest settlers located at the mouth of the Matabitchuan River. In the 1870's, "The Farm" was established. Being a lumber operation, the farm was used to raise feed and to pasture their teams in summer. During the winter months it became a depot for travellers. Logs were floated on the two rivers and were taken in booms by tugboats down Lake Temiskaming to the Ottawa River and then to the mills. The shout of the riverman was a familiar ring in the lives of these isolated settlers. Of historical interest, one of the largest jams of logs ever known in the area was located above the "Knotch". (Now known as the notch). In 1907 lumber camps were located in the valley, in what was known as "Elliot's garden".
Subsequently ownership of the operations changed hands and in a modernization program, a landing was built about 1.6 km (1 mile) up the river for docking supply boats. It was later found necessary to build a wharf and a log bridge across the "Knotch" at the top of the gorge. The north, then a prospector's dream, lured men from far and wide, and the Montreal and Matabitchuan Rivers were not forgotten in the quest for minerals. Land was staked for miles along both rivers, and Silver Centre was to become another boom town to fall, and rise again.
The first Post Office was established at "The Farm", but a year later was moved to where the boats landed. Mail was carried by foot and canoe from Temagami.
In 1909 a fire swept through the valley, and three boatloads of dynamite were floated down the river to the lake. And this year of 1909 was destined to be an important year to the rugged men and women who had made their homes here, for all of those interested in the north were not involved only in timber operations nor in the search for mineral wealth. About this time E.A. Walberg recognized the potential of the rivers as a source of hydroelectric power, and on his initiative construction commenced on the Matabitchuan powerhouse in 1910. The plant was privately owned and operated by the Mines Power Company and the British Canadian Power Company and supplied power to the Keely mine at Silver Centre.
Logging was still the major industry in the valley, and a steel log slide was constructed from the lake to the river in 1912. With the advent of hydro-power came the established of a permanent community, so in 1912 the school was built.
In 1917, the log foot-bridge was replaced over the gorge with a bridge sturdy enough for traffic. In later years a bridge was constructed below the gorge, and then in 1947 another bridge was built by contract to replace the earlier rudimentary structures.
Meadow Island was occupied by a family until the building of a dam at South Temiskaming raised the level of the lake considerably and the family moved to the mainland to what was later known as Bonin's farm.
Modes of travel improved with the years. In the early days horse teams traversed the rugged terrain, and canoes plied the lakes and streams. Then came the "Temiskaming" and "Meteor", "the big boats" which brought civilization to the wilderness. The power company provided a team to pick up the mail and it was then delivered to Bonin's landing where the boats called.
1922 saw the Rabbit Lake dam re-built and new machinery installed at the powerhouse. In 1923 fire again struck the valley, destroying the livery stable and two teams, and taking the life of one person. In 1931 a road from Loon Lake, 1.6 km (1 mile) below Silver Centre, to the "Knotch" was started and completed in 1932.
With the takeover of the Northern Ontario Power Company by Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario in 1944 and the increased demand for hydro power in the post war years, the doors of the colony were at last opening. Although the outside world was creeping in, by the 1950's the colony world was going out. In 1952, the Matabitchuan school closed for lack of pupils. The completely automated Lower Notch station was opened in 1972 and under the waters of the Montreal River lie the farmlands, the relics of homes and the fields where children played.