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Towns & Industry (1860-1880)

John Thomson's Silver Tea Urn

Thomson Tea Urn

Tea Urn presented to John Thomson in 1878

A shapeless ball of hardened pulpwood is all that remains from an 1862 experiment by John Thomson to create a pulp suitable for making paper. At this time, most paper was made from rags. For two years, John Thomson's trials had been unsuccessful, until one day his small boiler burst, and as he gathered the fragments of his experiment, he realized he had created suitable paper pulp. John Thomson's pulp wood ball marked the beginning of pulp based paper making in Canada. DISCOVER MOREReadmore Arrow

John Thomson, the son of papermaker James Thomson, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1837. The family immigrated to the United States in 1854, settling in Morristown, New Jersey, where John finished his apprenticeship as a papermaker. In 1860, John accompanied his father to Saint John, New Brunswick, working as a papermaker. He began his chemical wood pulp experiments, and successfully created chemical wood pulp in 1862.

While on route to Ottawa to patent his process, John took a contract installing a pulp works at Windsor, Quebec, with Angus Logan & Company, and never filed his patent. By 1864, large commercial quantities of pulp were being shipped to a paper mill at Sherbrooke, Quebec, which according to Mr. Thomson, produced beautiful paper. Although John Thomson never patented his process, he is credited with being the first in Canada to make paper from chemical wood pulp.

In 1872, John and his brother James built a new mill in Newburgh. The area around Newburgh was ideal for papermaking, having a large supply of trees for pulp. The best waterpower on the Napanee River was at Newburgh. At Newburgh, the Napanee River doubled, dividing into two branches which enclosed an island of about seven acres. The double river afforded thirteen good water privileges for industry within one third of a mile.

The Thomson mill was built on the island. Mill equipment, floated by barge to Napanee, was then carted to Newburgh. John built a second mill along the river at Napanee Mills (Strathcona) in 1873 for the Napanee Paper Company. After the Newburgh Mill was purchased by The Napanee Paper Company in 1878, the Thomson Brothers built another mill at Thomsonville, upstream from Newburgh at Camden East. A small community of workers cottages surrounded the mill. Today, only a few ruins remain of the Thomsonville cottages.

John Thomson retired as the superintendent of the Napanee Paper Mills in 1878. On May 15, he was presented with a silver plated tea urn from his employees, engraved to commemorate his service. Other features include a spout and burner. He remained active with the Thomsonville Mill until 1884 when he retired from the paper industry. James Thomson and his sons continued the Thomsonville business as the Thomson Paper Company until 1911. The mill operated under the direction of a series of owners until 1932, when it was dismantled and incorporated into the Strathcona plant.

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