Powell River officially started off as an industrial centre. Before that,
the area was part of the Tla'amin (Sliammon) First Nation's territory.
Today this upper Sunshine Coast community is best-known as an outdoor recreation mecca with a friendly, laidback vibe.
For thousands of years before the coming of Europeans, the Tla'amin (Sliammon) First Nation inhabited the upper Sunshine Coast, occupying traditional lands that covered 400sq km/154sq mi. Part of the larger Coast Salish people, they engaged in fishing, hunting, and trade, and were noted for their totem poles, cedar canoes, and unique language.
Powell River Name
Powell River was named after Dr. Israel Wood Powell, British Columbia's first superintendent of Indian Affairs (1872-89). He had originally come to BC in 1872 during the Cariboo gold rush and was instrumental in bringing British Columbia into Confederation. In 1881,
Powell was traveling up the BC coast in a ship named the Rocket, and when a short river draining a large lake was spotted on the coastline, it was decided that the site would be named in his honour. Hence, Powell River, and Powell Lake.
Pulp and Paper Bring Prosperity
The establishment of logging camps in the Powell River area in the 1880s was a precursor to greater economic things. Powell River became a regular stop for the ships of the Union Steamship Company. Between 1910 and 1912, a pulp and paper mill was built on the waterfront by the Brooks, Scanlon and O'Brien Company. After purchasing the pulp lease owned by the Canadian Industrial Company and the water rights of Powell Lake from the Pacific Coast Power Company, the Powell River Paper Company was formed in 1909 by Brooks and Scanlon. In 1910, the company was renamed the Powell River Company. The first roll of saleable newsprint went off Number One paper machine in April 1912. By 1930, the mill employed more than 2,000 workers, and had become the largest newsprint mill in the world.
Powell River's Early 20th-Century Boom
The early 20th century was a litany of firsts for this innovative community. Thanks to Dr. Andrew Henderson, Powell River became the first community in BC to have a medical plan for its citizens in 1910, deducting one dollar from each workman's paycheck to cover medical costs. Movie buffs rejoiced over the opening of the Patricia Theatre in 1913, which has shown films in its current location since 1928, and is Canada's oldest continuously operating movie theatre. Dial phones were introduced in 1921 and radio phones in 1930, again preceding other BC communities.
First Credit Union
On the eve of World War II, Powell River inaugurated the first credit union in BC in 1939. The lasting physical legacy of history's greatest war for this city would be the "Hulks," the ten dismantled warships and cargo boats that form the world's largest floating breakwater in front of the mill today.
Modern Powell River
The Powell River Townsite was designated by the Canadian federal government as a National Historic District in 1995. Powell River was also incorporated as a separate district municipality that year, and received full city status in 2005.
To learn more about the culture and history of Powell River, visit local museums such as the Powell River Historical Museum (4798 Marine Ave.) and the nearby Powell River Forestry Museum (4815 Marine Ave.).
The Townsite Heritage Society of Powell River offers self-guided and guided walking tours of the 400-odd heritage buildings near the mill. Pick up a brochure at the Powell River Visitor Centre (4760 Joyce Avenue).