The last of the lumber barons

“As he nears 97, J.A. Mathieu Builds His 10th Sawmill” read the
Times’ headline of July 13, 1966.
The new Mathieu mill was out on Rainy Lake, five miles from downtown Fort Frances. This was the fourth mill erected on the Rainy Lake site.
Born in 1869 at Alma, Wis., J.A. Mathieu had entered into the logging
and sawmilling business at the age of 17. In 1902, he arrived in the
district as general manager of the Rainy River Lumber Company.
In 1912, sawmill interests moved to Fort Frances when the large Shevlin Clarke plant relocated to the site of our present day Sorting Gap Marina on the river along Front Street.
In 1921, Mathieu struck out on his own, establishing his first Rainy Lake mill—The Border Sawmill.
On Nov. 23, 1966, the death of J.A. Mathieu marked an end to an era in the logging and lumbering industry that would never be repeated.
James Arthur Mathieu was noted as a pioneer, lumberman, modern conservationist, public servant, public-spirited citizen, benefactor
of education, and philanthropist.
As a conservationist, he created a sanctuary west of Fort Frances known as Bonnieview. Man-made lakes provided nesting grounds for migratory waterfowl, deer, beaver, and even swans and peacocks were included.
He undertook the first large-scale reforestation project in the district
in 1951.
As a public servant, J.A. Mathieu served as a member of the Ontario
Legislative Assembly from 1911-23 and 1926-29. As a public-minded citizen, he served as chairman for Victory Loan campaigns and was active with the Canadian Red Cross and Salvation Army.
As a benefactor of education, Mr. Mathieu organized the J.A. Mathieu Educational Foundation in 1945 to allow district boys and girls to continue their education. In recognition of his interests, the 1952
auditorium addition at the Fort Frances High School was named in his
As a philanthropist, Mr. Mathieu was noted for his financial support throughout the district. Churches of all denominations, hospitals, boys’ and girls’ clubs, annual fairs, agricultural associations, community centres, arenas, curling rinks, and athletic teams benefited from his support.
Described as larger than life, J.A. Mathieu was noted as usually a cheerful man with a chuckle that reminded everyone of Santa Claus.
Befitting his public-bestowed title of “lumber baron,” Mr. Mathieu drove a large Cadillac, wheeling it over lawns, golf courses, and beaver dams like a jeep on his daily inspections at his Bonnieview estate.
Stories even allude to his winning his first mill in a card game.
Perhaps J.A. Mathieu will walk the streets of Fort Frances again. Fort Frances Little Theatre plans to create “People of the Past” for the
centennial of Fort Frances.
More ideas for the centennial in 2003? Share them with us as we prepare to compile a calendar of events and funding applications.