History of Dryden

A Chronology of Events at Dryden

For many hundreds of years the Dryden area was populated sparsely by the aboriginal people. They travelled the paths and waterways in pursuit of the wild abundance of the area. Following the arrival of Europeans, they participated in the fur trade.


Survey crews arrived in the area, clearing a trail for the construction of the Transcontinental Railway.

The National Dream, P. Burton, page 153


A telegraph line was strung from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg, passing through the district along the right-of-way.

The National Dream, P. Burton, page 237


Lord Lorne, the Governor General of Canada, toured west to Winnipeg. The new railway from Thunder Bay ended at the station at Wabigoon. Construction was in progress west of there. A small steamboat took Lorne’s party across Wabigoon Lake to the west arm, where they portaged over to Eagle Lake, and near Eagle River were able to entrain again for Winnipeg.

The Days of Lorne, page 85


The railway from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay was completed. There was not yet a station at the future site of Dryden, nor were there any other buildings or any residents.

With almost no development occurring in the district, it was brought to the attention of the Ontario Minister of Agriculture, the Hon. John Dryden, that a fertile tract of land existed along Wabigoon and Eagle Lakes, known as the "Wabigoon Country".

Thunder Bay Sentinal, Sept. 1, 1893


In January of 1895, the Hon. John Dryden announced that the province would establish a "Pioneer Farm" in the "Wabigoon Country". This was to prove the land was arable, and be an encouragement to potential settlers.

The Farmer’s Advocate, Jan. 15, 1895

By spring surveyors had laid out the Townships of Van Horne and Wainwright.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 5


John Dryden chose the farm site in person, which was on the east end of the Wabigoon Bridge, on the north side of the tracks.

The Daily Journal, P. A. June 13, 1895

A house and barn were built, and the ground broken and a first crop planted that year. The farm was a 320 acre tract with 10 acres at the east end reserved for a future agricultural ground, and a 9 acre tract reserved for a future cemetery at the northwest corner.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 6

The farm was operated by Andrew Ellsworth Annis and his wife Eunice. Annis not only worked the farm, but as Crown Land Agent, he welcomed new settlers to the area and directed them to their new homesteads. A. E. Annis was our first citizen and our first civil servant.

Ibid, page 6 and 10

A promotional brochure on the potential of the "Wabigoon Country" was published by the province and circulated through eastern Ontario. Soon settlers began to arrive at the Pioneer Farm.

Ibid, page 5


The first baby born in the new settlement was to Mr. & Mrs. Wm. Fisher. The baby boy was named James Wainwright Fisher.

Ibid, page 21

The first hotel, the Bay View, was built by Andrew Hutchison at the corner of Earl and Duke Streets.

Ibid, page 92

The first postmaster was Mr. David Smith, who lived and had the post office on King Street.

Ibid, page 48

By 1896, three shafts were sunk on gold mining claims on the Upper Manitou Lake. This started a gold rush that brought many people to the area. The Village of Wabigoon was the main recipient of the rush, but Dryden also prospered from the mining interest.

Yellow Brick Roads to Gold Rock, H. Fulford, page 2

The first road construction was begun from the east end of the C.P.R. bridge, northwest to the west side of the Pioneer Farm, then north past the future cemetery.

Memoirs of a Pioneer Resident J. Crerar


By 1897, a small village had grown up on the south side of the tracks from the Pioneer Farm. There were about two dozen families, a hotel, several stores, and Skene’s saw mill at work. About a dozen families had settled on homesteads in the rural area.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 14 and 15

The number of school age children grew, and in May of 1897 a Board of the School Section of Van Horne and Wainwright Townships was formed. A little red schoolhouse was built on Duke Street.

Ibid, page 68 and 69

The Hon. John Dryden wanted to call the village "New Prospect", but the C.P.R. had named the station "Dryden" to honour him.

Ft. William Weekly Times-Journal, Feb. 4, 1904

A meeting at the settlers decided to adopt the station name and call the village "Dryden". It has been called Dryden for over a hundred years.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 12 and 13

The first organized church was the Methodists, and services were held in the school.

Ibid, page 28

As the little red school was soon too small, a second school was built on the site of the present City of Dryden municipal offices on Van Horne Street.

Ibid, page 70

The first bridge over the Wabigoon River, other than the C.P.R. bridge, was built below the falls at the foot of Duke Street.

Ibid, page 50

When postmaster David Smith died suddenly, his became the community’s first death, and the first burial in the new cemetery.

Ibid, page 47

The first railway station was actually the Barclay station which was hauled on a flatcar and moved to just east of the C.P.R. bridge.

Ibid, page 13

The first doctor was Dr. D. E. McGillivray, who only stayed at Dryden for one year.

Ibid, page 87


As the water levels on Lake Wabigoon and connecting lakes and rivers was too low for good steamboat travel, it was decided to build a dam at the first falls on the Wabigoon River, at the foot of Duke Street. This raised the lake level about five feet.

Ibid, page 53


Dr. H. L. Blair became the second doctor, having his office and dispensary at the corner of King and Whyte Streets.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 87

The first recorded marriage was between Mr. Alex Beatty and Miss Martha McPhail.

Ibid, page 46

Dryden’s second hotel was the Dryden House, built at the corner of Van Horne and Queen Streets.

Ibid, page 93

The third hotel began as Geo. Sheane’s boarding house in 1898. In 1900 it was purchased by

W. F. Kerney who built on a two story addition. This became the Central Hotel.

Ibid, page 94


The Presbyterian church was organized, and the Methodists built the first church building near the corner of Princess and Van Horne Streets.

Ibid, page 28

On April 15, 1899, the Municipality of Van Horne, in the District of Rainy River, organized. The Village of Dryden was the centre of this new municipality. The first Reeve was Dr. H. L. Blair.

Ibid, page 38 and 39

Dick Stevenson became the first police constable of the new municipality.

Ibid, page 19


A first attempt to start a board and paper mill was begun by Mr. Chas. Wright, Mr. Chas. Campbell and Mr. T. A. G. Gordon, who approached the Van Horne Council to obtain water power rights and a grant of spruce limits.

Ibid, page 17

A second bridge over the Wabigoon River at the foot of Duke Street was built over the dam, replacing the older bridge below the dam. This new bridge became part of Duke Street.

Ibid, page 57

A planing mill was built on the west side, just below the dam. Using a water powered turbine below the building, Mr. Ben Blair made doors, windows and furniture in the second story of the building. This building was the first industry at the site of the present paper mill.

Ibid, page 57


A presbyterian church was built on the northeast corner Van Horne and Princess streets, now the site of Patricia Gardens Care Home.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 29


An Anglican church was built at the southwest corner of Van Horne and Princess Streets.

Ibid, page 31


Van Horne’s first jail and Council Chambers were built on the site of the present King Street fire Hall.

Ibid, page 40


Construction for the double tracking of the C.P.R. proceeded through Dryden.

Ibid, page 151


The first telephones were installed between A. L. Orvis’s store and his residence.

Ibid, page 111

Swan Swanson, a contractor who would build a section of roadbed for the Grand Trunk Railway (later the C.N.R.)made Dryden his headquarters for men and supplies.

S. Swanson Biog., Part 2, "The Forgotten Army"

Mr. T. A. G. Gordon received permission from the Van Horne Council to cut timber where the present paper mill stands today. His company was organized as the Gordon Bros. Pulp and Paper Co.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 117


The Dryden Agricultural Society was organized.

Ibid, page 159

Dryden’s first bank was the privately owned Gordon Bros. Bank. The building still stands on King Street opposite the Baptist church.

Dryden Observer, April 18, 1907


The Gordon Bros. Pulp and Paper Co. built a large saw mill on the west bank of the river where the present paper mill pump house stands today.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 101

Merino Zentil’s Brickyard, located 1/4 mile west of the C.P.R. bridge, began producing bricks.

Ibid, page 115


The first electric power for lighting parts of the Village of Dryden was produced under contract from the Gordon Bros. little power house, located in the former planing mill.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 106

The third public school was built on the same site as the old school. With four large classrooms and a full basement, this building served for decades and is now part of the present Dryden City Hall.

Ibid, page 75


Construction work began on the Gordon Bros. Pulp and Paper mill, situated just west of the C.P.R. bridge, north of the tracks on a narrow strip of land along the river. Financial difficulties and construction mishaps delayed the completion of the project.

Ibid, page 118

Swan Swanson having finished his contract on the Grand Trunk roadbed, moved to Dryden permanently. He purchased the Pioneer Farm, and also built Dryden’s first business block, the Swanson Block at the southwest corner of King and Earl Streets. The building remains on that location.

S. Swanson Biog. Part 2, "The Forgotten Army"

Swanson not only built a large house for himself on the old Pioneer Farm, but had the western end of it surveyed into building lots for sale. It was known as the Swanson Addition, and was the beginning of town settlement on the north side of the tracks.


The Gordon Bros. Pulp and Paper Co. reorganized as the Dryden Timber and Power Co. The previous site was abandoned and the site of the present paper mill was chosen. The Gordons were operating a large sawmill there at the time.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 118

Some citizens felt that Dryden should not continue to be part of a rural community (Van Horne). Eventually this feeling prevailed and in 1910 the Town of Dryden was organized. Van Horne continues as a rural community.

Ibid, page 42

The first mayor of the new town was Alfred Pitt, merchant.

Ibid, page 45

The first police constable for the Town of Dryden was Robert Barker.

Ibid, page 19


The Dryden Timber and Power Co. built the present concrete dam just north of the Duke Street bridge.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 120

Dryden’s first motion picture theatre was the Coulter Building on south King Street. It was later purchased by the Paper Co. as a community hall.

Ibid, page 144

The second Presbyterian Church was built on the southeast corner of King and Van Horne Streets.

Ibid, page 29

The second floor of the new King Street Fire Hall was used for many years as the Town Council Chambers and as a Court Room. The new jail was in the basement.

Ibid, page 43


The now vacant old Presbyterian church became the Continuation (High) School.

Ibid, page 82

The paper mill was under construction, main machinery was installed, and a power house constructed north of the C.P.R. tracks.

Dryden Observer, Aug. 22, 1912


Late in this year the Dryden Timber and Power Co. began to manufacture pulp and sheathing.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 120


Some of the men in the Dryden district answered the call to arms in 1914 when World War I began. In 1915, many more joined the Dryden Unit of the 52nd Battalion to fight in France and Belgium.

Ibid, page 105


Dryden Council instituted a community telephone service with the first telephone exchange in the Gordon Block.

Ibid, page 113


The Dryden Timber and Power Co. was reincorporated as the Dryden Pulp and Paper Co. Ltd., and installed No. 2 paper machine. The production of Kraft paper began in 1919.

Ibid, page 120


Alfred Pitt, President of the Dryden Board of Trade began publicity and lobbying campaign to promote the building of a highway to connect Winnipeg to the Lakeland.

Observer and Star, Nov. 7, 1919

The Paper Co. instituted the eight-hour work day in their mill.

Observer and Star, Aug. 15, 1919

Dryden’s first hearse was a horse drawn unit purchased by Richard Trist’s Livery Service.

Observer and Star, Sept. 12, 1919


The Dryden Pulp and Paper Co. Ltd. was reincorporated as the Dryden Paper Company Ltd.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 121

Some rural townships were added to the Dryden telephone system.

Dryden Observer, April 30, 1920

A committee was formed to work toward acquiring a hospital for Dryden and District.

Dryden Observer, Nov. 19, 1920


Several gold mines opened in the Contact Bay area south of Dryden. Town businesses serviced these mines and local men were employed.

Dryden Observer, Feb. 25, 1921

Dryden’s first automobile garage was opened by Hal Dingwall to sell and service Ford cars.

Dryden Observer, Aug. 29, 1921

Dougald Kennedy, a Dryden potato farmer was nominated to run in the upcoming Federal election.

Dryden Observer, Oct. 16, 1921


Dougald Kennedy won his seat by a slim margin and became the only Federal Member of Parliament from the Town of Dryden.

Dryden Observer, Jan. 13, 1922

The need for a much bigger public school resulted in the purchase of a property and the construction of eight room Albert Street School.

Dryden Observer, June 2, 1922

A home made radio brought in the reception of the first public broadcasting programs to Dryden.

Dryden Observer, Oct. 19, 1922


The new Albert Street School opened in January.

Dryden Observer, Jan. 25, 1923

The Continuation School moved from the old Presbyterian church to the old Public School, now Dryden’s City Hall.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 83

With the opening of the Albert Street School, water service was needed. A pump house was built on the river at the west end of Arthur Street and pipes laid down Arthur to the school.

Dryden Observer, May 18, 1923

The new Red Cross Hospital was opened at the south end of Kirkpatrick Avenue.

Dryden Observer, Sept. 7, 1923

Installation of sewers to service the new school and new hospital began.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 45

The first skating rink had been on the ice of the river. A second rink had been run behind the Coulter Building. A third rink was built on the southwest corner of Arthur and Whyte, serviced by a special hydrant on Arthur Street.

Ibid, page 138


Bylaw 180 was passed by the Town Council to establish a proper public library.

Dryden Observer, Dec. 26, 1924


The first long distance telephone call was received by Mayor Dingwall from the manager of the Fort William Utilities Dept.

Dryden Observer, Jan. 29, 1926


Sewer and water lines were installed on King and Whyte Streets.

Dryden Observer, July 22, 1927

Sewer and water services were installed in the basement of the Continuation School.

Dryden Observer, Sept. 16, 1927

Provincial liquor laws were changed and Dryden saw the opening of its first government liquor store.

Dryden Observer, Nov. 25, 1927


To provide water services beyond the downtown area, hydrant houses were built in several locations around town. Users paid 50 cents per month and were given a key to the hydrant. Pails were filled and carried home.

Dryden Observer, Oct. 12, 1928


Dryden’s first motorized fire truck was purchased from Durance Motors. It can still be seen at the Fire Hall.

Dryden Observer, Sept. 6, 1929

Dryden’s first Curling rink was built on the corner of Albert and Kirkpatrick Streets.

Carved From the Wilderness, G. Wice, page 141


The Province opened an "Illustration Farm" near Dryden for the benefit of local farmers.

Dryden Observer, July 3, 1930


Surveying was started to locate the Trans-Canada highway from Vermillion Bay to Waldolf, and improvements were made on the trunk road continuing into Dryden.

Dryden Observer, Sept. 14, 1931


The Strand Theatre on Earl Avenue began showing silent films around 1914. In the summer of 1932, the first talking film was shown in Dryden.

Dryden Observer, July 22, 1932

The depression had its effect in the Dryden District and a Dryden Town Relief office was opened to help those in need of financial aid.

Dryden Observer, Nov. 18, 1932


Unemployed men were recruited to work in government $5 per month camps for highway construction and the building of emergency airports at Amesdale and Vermillion Bay. Many Dryden men were hired.

Dryden Observer, June 16, 1933


The Pulp Mill Hall on King Street burned down.

Dryden Observer, April 13, 1934

The Trans-Canada Highway from Fort William to Dryden was completed.

Dryden Observer, July 20, 1934


The highway from Sioux Lookout to Dryden was completed.

Dryden Observer, Sept. 21, 1934

Dryden’s first motorized ambulance was put in service.

Dryden Observer, Nov. 30, 1934

The Dryden Paper Co. Ltd. rebuilt the Pulp Mill Hall. This building was Dryden’s main community hall for several decades.

Dryden Observer, Nov. 9, 1934


"Mac’s Cabins", Dryden’s first tourist camp was opened to the motoring tourist.

Dryden Observer, June 20, 1935

Daily air service from Dryden to Gold Rock was instituted by pilot Rex Kitely of Skylines Express. While of short duration, this was the first air service operated from Dryden.

Dryden Observer, May 21, 1937


The Town of Dryden business office, that had for some years been operated from J. E. Gibson’s Notary Public Office, was moved to a room above the Fire Hall.

Dryden Observer, June 10, 1938


Unemployment became so serious in Dryden that over 100 men were out of work due to the continuing depression.

Dryden Observer, Feb. 10, 1939

A Royal train carrying King George and Queen Elizabeth passed through Dryden on the first visit to Canada by a reigning British Monarch.

Dryden Observer, May 20, 1939

Canada declared war on Nazi Germany. Many local men enlisted in the armed forces.

Dryden Observer, Sept. 15, 1939

A new post office was opened on King Street.

Dryden Observer, Nov. 3, 1939


The local Legion Branch, the Red Cross, and many other local organizations were busily engaged in fundraising and collection of supplies for our soldiers overseas, aid to Britain, and for the war effort in general.

Dryden Observer, Mar. 15, 1940

All citizens had to register with the Federal government for wartime security reasons.

Dryden Observer, Aug. 2, 1940

A Chlorinator was installed at the Dryden pump house.

Dryden Observer, Oct. 4, 1940

Alex Wilson acquired ownership of the Dryden Observer.

Dryden Observer, Dec. 13, 1940


The Dryden Paper Co. added a steam turbine to increase its electrical power capacity, and power from the Ear Falls Hydro Station was received over the new power line.

Dryden Observer, Jan. 31, 1941

The Town and District was greatly taken up with the war effort. The Red Cross Committee sent shipments overseas of clothing, hospital supplies, and knitted items for refugees and servicemen. A War Savings campaign was underway, and scrap metal was being collected for recycling.

Dryden Observer, Mar. 14 & 21, 1941

A Scout Hall was built near the river (later to become the Youth Centre).

Dryden Observer, April 4, 1941

A new skating rink location was authorized by Town Council at the corner of Whyte and Albert (the present Arena site).

Dryden Observer, June 6, 1941

The Wartime Machineshop Board asked the Dryden Paper Co. to take on production of certain war materials. Increased production and men joining the services created a shortage of workers.

Dryden Observer, Oct. 3, 1941

All Dryden and District businesses had to be licenced by the War Time Prices and Trade Board.

Dryden Observer, Oct. 17, 1941


The war caused shortages of materials that prohibited the Municipality from starting new projects and from providing some services and repairs.

Dryden Observer, Mar. 6, 1942

Rationing of gasoline began in the district.

Dryden Observer, Mar. 27, 1942

Recruiting of men intensified as all armed services began to expand.

Dryden Observer, April 3, 1942

The Dryden Paper Co. machine shop was now producing war parts.

Dryden Observer, April 10, 1942

Blood donations were made by local residents for the first time. The plasma was used in the local hospital.

Dryden Observer, May 15, 1942

A new section of town was opened up when Whyte Ave. was extended south from Arthur Street to Victoria Street. St. Charles Street was extended west from Van Horne to join the Whyte Ave. extension. Pitt and Holland Streets were surveyed.

Dryden Observer, June 5, 1942

A deep swimming pool was created in the river at the corner of Earl and Duke.

Dryden Observer, Aug. 14, 1942


Due to wartime shortages, rationing of certain food items was begun. A local Rationing Board of citizen volunteers was established.

Dryden Observer, Jan. 8, 1943

National Conscription of all single men between the ages of 20 and 40 was instituted.

Dryden Observer, Jan. 22, 1943

The growing of Victory Gardens was promoted by the Town setting aside vacant lots for gardening.

Dryden Observer, April 25, 1943

Due to the shortage of coal, the Province allowed the Town the use of a wooded area, and citizens could cut their own winter fuel supply of wood.

Dryden Observer, May 1, 1943

A summer Youth Camp for Dryden Boys and Girls at Amesdale was organized by Rev. Russell Peden, supported by the local churches and the Rotary Club.

Dryden Observer, Aug. 3, 1943


William Wigle became the first Drydenite to receive a medical degree.

Dryden Observer, Aug. 13, 1943

A Roman Catholic Separate School was opened on Arthur Street.

Dryden Observer, Nov. 19, 1943

Two additional classrooms were built onto Albert Street School.

Dryden Observer, Dec. 31, 1943


The Scout Hall by the river became the Youth Centre under the auspices of the Jaycees.

Dryden Observer, Jan. 14, 1944

The new classrooms at Albert Street School were opened for student use.

Dryden Observer, Feb. 11, 1944

Army Cadet Corps training became compulsory in Ontario High Schools.

Dryden Observer, Sept. 8, 1944

The Scrap Metal Salvage campaign waged successfully by the Jaycees for several years was ended as war production reached its zenith.

Dryden Observer, Dec. 15, 1944


A new Recovery Plant was built at the Dryden Paper Co.

Dryden Observer, Mar. 9, 1945

With the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, the Victory in Europe Day (V-E) Day was celebrated in Dryden and the District.

Dryden Observer, May 11, 1945

Alterations to the Town section of Highway 17, cut across the S.W. corner of the Agricultural Exhibition Grounds to effect a better junction with the subway entrance.

Dryden Observer, July 13, 1945

The home for the Sisters of St. Joseph’s on Arthur Street was completed.

Dryden Observer, Aug. 31, 1945

The war against Japan ended. However, aid to war-torn Europe continued. Groups such as the Jaycees collected clothing for shipment overseas.

Dryden Observer, Nov. 2, 1945

Local servicemen returned home from Europe and Asia. Many were honoured with a Welcome Home banquet at the Legion Hall.

Dryden Observer, Nov. 16, 1945

In the period 1895 to 1945, Dryden had existed as a place of residence for 50 years. It grew from a pioneer outpost with no services or facilities, to a town with all the basic services, and assisted by a great variety of citizens organizations and individuals who strove to improve their town, better the lot of its residents and serve their country in two World Wars. The population rose from a single family in 1895 to around 2000 Residents in 1945. With the return of the enlisted men and women to civilian life, Drydenites looked forward to an even brighter future for their town.

Gerrie Noble

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