Embrun was founded in 1845 as Saint Augustine-de-Catherine. The first industry in the town was lumbering. The town was largely isolated in the first few years of its existence. For three years the only means of transport in and out of the town was by boat. Boats traveled on the Castor River to the South Nation River and north to the Ottawa River and then west to Hull, Quebec. A small dock stood at the shore of the Castor River. Every Tuesday boats would set out from the dock and arrive at Hull in about 6 and a half hours. Every Thursday boats from Hull would arrive at Saint Augustine-de-Catherine.
The town grew very slowly, and by 1848, three years after the town was established, the population was 58, an increase of just 2 people from 1845. The lumber industry thrived, as trees were abundant. Despite this, however, no sawmill existed in the town. Lumber was carried out on boats to Hull, where lumber was sold. However, in 1848, a road was built from Bytown (now Ottawa) to Saint Augustine-de-Catherine, called the Saint Augustine-de-Catherine road. While the boats continued to travel to Hull until 1854, the road became the primary means of exporting lumber. It was in the early 1850s that the population started to grow. By 1853, the population of Saint Augustine-de-Catherine was 145. A schoolhouse was built in that year. And the Saint Augustine-de-Catherine road was rebuilt to make it of better quality.
Originally, most of the town was situated a few kilometres north from the Castor River, as that location was much closer to the lumber supply. However, as the town grew, more buildings were being placed closer to the river, and it was this that started a major problem. Flooding, which was common within 600 metres of the Castor River in late March and April, submerged part of the dock. To get around this problem, the dock was built with two stories, and during the flood season boats would depart from an extra large window on the second story.
However, now that the town was creeping closer to the river, flooding became a terrible problem. For 100 years (trenching, dikes and valves built in the 1950s prevent floods from occurring now) families living close to the river would have to evacuate the area during the flood season. Because of this, the houses near the river were where the poorer people of the town lived. In 1856, the Église St. Jacques was built, and it still stands to this day. Before then, a small chapel handled religious ceremonies. The very same day the church was built (May 15, 1856), the town of Saint Augustine-de-Catherine renamed herself to Embrun, after the town of Embrun in the Hautes-Alpes region of France.
Residents of Embrun celebrated both events in the 150th celebrations. Signs saying "150" were abundant in the town in May and June 2006.
When Saint-Augustine-de-Catherine changed her name to Embrun, she had a population of 201 people. The flooding was the only problem with life in the town in 1856, and the floodwaters that came in late March and April still only reached one-third of the town. The lumber industry was still going strong. A full-sized church and a schoolhouse graced the town. By 1860, deforestation to the north of the town had become very prominent, and it was a 5 kilometer distance from the northernmost edge of the town to the trees. So, in 1861, the town relocated its lumber camps to the forests to the south of the town, which had virtually not been touched. The forests to the south of the town were across the Castor River, so a bridge was built across the river. This bridge still exists today on St. Jacques Street.
The 1860s brought about a positive turn of events. The Saint Augustine-de-Catherine road (which still kept its original name despite the name change of the town) was rebuilt once more to be of even better quality in 1864. In 1866, the town's population had reached 1,000. However, the town's role as the only town in the area had vanished as the town of Casselman grew. From the 1860s onward, Embrun and Casselman had a rivalry. In 1867, when Canada achieved independence from Britain, control over the lumber industry reverted from governmental control to corporate control. Two companies controlled the lumber industry: Embrun Lumber Company and Embrun Forestry Corporation. Both ended up competing for complete control over the Embrun lumber industry.
When the Embrun Lumber Company went bankrupt in 1871, the Embrun Forestry Corporation bought out the Embrun Lumber Company and took complete control over the Embrun lumber industry. The Embrun Forestry Corporation soon competed with Casselman Forest Products Incorporated. Embrun Forestry Corporation started buying land in the direction of Casselman, and Casselman Forest Products Incorporated started buying land in the direction of Embrun. The two companies finally met each other 6.5 kilometers from Embrun and 9.6 kilometers from Casselman. This boundary became known as the Embrun-Casselman Lumber Front. Each company bought land to the north and south of the front. The Embrun-Casselman Lumber Front remained at the same meridian 5 kilometres north and 4 kilometres south of the initial meeting point. To the north, Embrun managed to push the line 2 kilometres closer to Casselman. The area where Embrun pushed forward eventually became Limoges. To the south, however, Casselman managed to push the line 3 kilometres closer to Embrun. Whenever either company tried to buy out a section of the other's territory, the answer was almost always rejected, even with offers of up to $40,000. However, Embrun managed to buy back the land to the south where Casselman pushed forward in 1875.
Today, the Embrun-Casselman Lumber Front forms part of the postal code boundary between Embrun and Casselman, with the exception of the part in the north, which became Limoges and the part in the south, which eventually formed St. Albert. Both companies were competing so badly that they used up much of the trees, and by 1877 the area was a sea of stumps. The lumber industry had more or less destroyed itself. Casselman Forest Products Incorporated went bankrupt, and although the Embrun Forestry Corporation took over that company, the Embrun Forestry Corporation went bankrupt just two months later.
Embrun turned its sights to agriculture. By 1878, grain growing was the largest industry. The town's population by 1880 was 3,000. By 1883, there were virtually no stumps in the area as they were pulled out of the ground. Today, the land around Embrun looks much like a prairie in the sense that few trees are visible and the land is flat. Grain was brought to one of the three flour mills in Embrun and made into flour, which was exported. The new flour industry became Embrun's main industry, and was until the 1950s. The 1880s brought about a period of great prosperity. By now, three schoolhouses existed. The town's population skyrocketed to 4,100 by 1890, an increase of 1100 in just 10 years. And the prosperity didn't stop there. In 1898, a railroad station was built in the town, which attracted even more people to Embrun. In 1900 the town had a population of almost 6,000.
During the First World War, almost half of the population of the town went to war. Subsequently, the town lost many of its residents. 10% of the town's people died in the war. The town had trouble recuperating from this. The 1920's, which had brought about prosperity for most of Canada, brought about a bleak period for Embrun. The town's population, already down to less then 5,500, went down to 4,300 by 1925. Even so, Embrun was incorporated as a city in 1926. See also City of Embrun (historic). The new Embrun nearly collapsed after the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Many of the new city's residents left for the big cities. By 1934, the town's population was only 3,000. In 1935, Embrun merged with the nearby communities of Russell, St. Onge and Felton (along with several other very small communities such as Brisson) into a municipality called Russell Township. This municipality exists to this day and Embrun remains part of this municipality, and to this day is unincorporated. This merger allowed Embrun to survive the rest of the Great Depression. Even so, the town's population went down to just 900 by the end of the depression.
When the Great Depression ended with World War II, many of the people that had left for the big cities returned to Embrun, which boosted the population back up to 3,000. However, the next few decades would bring a stagnant period, when the population neither climbed nor dropped. The population stayed at a fixed 3,000 for many years.
In the 1950s, the Castor River was trenched and dikes and valves were built, which stopped the annual floods. At this time, Embrun's major industry started to shift away from flour production, and by 1957, the three flour mills in Embrun had gone out of business and flour making had become a very obscure industry. By now, most people in Embrun had become commuters, working in other cities. In essence, Embrun had become a bedroom community.
The small town of St. Onge became part of Embrun in the early 1980s. This boosted Embrun's population slightly. At the same time, the Chantal Development was being built. When the development was finished in 1989, there were hundreds of new homes. This increased Embrun's population to 4,200. This new development and the boost of population brought Embrun out of its stagnant years. The population grew over the 1990s.
The 21st Century brought about prosperity that had not been seen for an entire century. By 2000, the population of Embrun had increased to 6,000, the highest in a century. By now, new houses were being built in the Eastern part of Embrun (this part of Embrun is still being expanded). This skyrocketed the population and caused it to double between 1999 and 2006. By 2006, the population of Embrun was 11,500 (estimation).
In very recent years, Embrun has slowly started to turn away from being a bedroom community as it is slowly expanding commerce and industry. By January 2006, 12% of the workforce population of Embrun had jobs within Embrun and did not have to commute to another town or city for work. While a town is considered a bedroom community until over 50% of its population works in the community, the amount of the workforce population of Embrun working in Embrun itself has doubled since 1999 (the 1999 statistic was 6%).
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