John Rudolphus Booth 1827-1925
On his passing Michael Gratton O’Leary noted:
“Not the great magnate whose wealth is the envy of many and the wonder of more, but the great pioneer, the man whose genius and imagination tamed the wilderness . . . and above all, did more than any man of his time to build up this Ottawa Valley.”
Also at that time William Lyon Mackenzie King observed:
“Mr. Booth was indeed one of the fathers of Canada; it is not too much to say, that it is to men of such sterling worth and indomitable will as he possessed, more than aught else, that we owe the development of our Dominion.
Some settlers had come along the Opeongo Road to Madawaska from 1854-1865 and settled in the area, but not in the numbers that would have seen a community pop up.
The catalyst was the need for the huge white pine for ship building from the massive stands in the area and the coming of the railroad to transport timber, lumber and grain all the way from Georgian Bay to Ottawa. All of this was under the rule of J.R. Booth.
J.R Booth, white pine and railroads are two separate, but intertwined stories that let to the development of Madawaska. Settlers followed the lumbermen and the railroad-they moved in, cleared land, raised families, farmed, providing provisions for both the logging and railroad camps.
In 1867 J.R. Booth acquired the Egan Estate tract of land. An estate of 650 square kilometres abutting the area that Madawaska now occupies. As his logging operations increased he found the transportations systems inadequate and hence he became involved in railroad development.
With this railroad development came more settlers. The community grew on a site selected by engineers and surveyors, because of it’s flat terrain to become a divisional point for the railroad. Madawaska is almost exactly halfway between Ottawa and the huge grain elevators at Parry Sound on Georgian Bay. From here Booth also developed spur lines running north along McCauley Lake and another running toward Crotch Lake and into what is now Algonquin Park. The operation grew as the demand for more white pine timber grew.
At it’s peak, the railroad ran as many as 4 passenger trains daily, and as many freight trains as the line could handle; grain and boat freight from Georgian Bay, timber, pulpwood, ties, telephone poles from the area.
Four to five hundred men and 90 teams of horses sent load after load of J.R. Booth’s timber to Ottawa. As Booth prospered so did Madawaska.
But as the demand for timber decreased after WW1 the timber business slumped as did the community of Madawaska. By 1926 the boom was over.
But the community survives. Albeit certainly not as he hub it once was. But one thing is certain- without J.R. Booth, there would be no Madawaska.