Ontario Powder

Sunday, June 5, 2022

The town of Tweed is situated on the shores of Stoco Lake and business takes me there every two months. On my visit of April 24th, 2022 I had the opportunity to spend some time walking the Trans Canada Trail while I had my lunch. As I made my way along the trail I crossed the old CPR bridge, and stopped to admire the lake which was in a condition of high water.

A little further along the trail you come to a series of old ruins on the woods along the shore of the lake. They date back to 1883 when Ontario Powder was founded in town to produce dynamite.

Just two years later there was a tragic explosion when two workers were in the process of transporting dynamite from the factory to Burleigh Falls. No one is sure what happened but James Simmon and George Morton both lost their lives when a crater 70 feet across and 10 feet deep was blown in the ground. The blast could be heard as far away as Peterborough and only a few pieces of the men, their horses and the cart were recovered. It wasn’t until 2006 that a memorial plaque was placed at the site of the blast. The image below shows the remains of the water tower from the factory and is the largest remaining artifact from Ontario Powder.

By August 22, 1903 the factory was producing 750 pounds of dynamite per day but then an explosion occurred at the facility. It happened so suddenly that three workers lost their lives and others were injured because they couldn’t get away in time. Barrels of nitroglycerin were being stored on the site and they exploded causing a concussion that could be heard for 50 miles around.

The factory was rebuilt and this time additional precautions were taken. Ontario Powder purchased several neighbouring properties as well as five of the local islands in the lake. After building a tall fence around the property to contain shrapnel they planted the property with a heavy forest to help stop the effects of any future blasts.

The explosion of 1903 was expensive for the company because it cost $25,000 to rebuild and they paid $1000 in damages to the community. The rebuilt factory went back into production and in fact got even busier. Within 5 years they were producing 1500 pounds of dynamite every day. This wasn’t to last and disaster came again on the morning of February 4, 1908. Early that day the vats of nitroglycerine began to overflow onto the floor and a fire broke out. Workers in the mixing room ran out into the -35 degree weather and shouted for everyone to run for their lives. By the time they had reached the CPR bridge just down the tracks the factory blew up for a second time sending pieces of the building across the lake. The bottom of the lake is still littered with artifacts from the explosion.

All the buildings within 5 miles were rattled and windows were broken. You would think this should have been the end of Ontario Powder but they set out to rebuild the factory again. This time it was only used for storage of dynamite but public outcry meant that the trust was gone and local residents were happy when the business was bought out by a competitor. Most of the buildings were dismantled but a few were saved and relocated. The employee change house was moved to Louisa Street and converted into a residence. The office was dragged across the ice the following winter and put on an island in the middle of the lake to serve as a summer home.

The Tweed Heritage Centre has one picture of part of the Ontario Powder factory and along with the ruins featured above is all that remains of this industry in town.

Although its been gone for over a century, Ontario Powder has left its mark on the town of Tweed in the form of these crumbling ruins. Many of the older buildings in town still have structural bracing that was installed after the two explosions at the factory.

Also from Tweed is our feature on Tweed’s Tiny Jailhouse

For a list of our top 50 stories check out Back Tracks – 8 Years of Trails

Google Maps Link: Tweed

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