History of Nobel
McDougall Township, adjacent to Parry Sound, was intended for farming, and settlers were lured to the area through the government's "Free Land Grant Policy" in the mid- to late- 1800's. Settlers soon found that the rock and scrub brush were not suitable for farming, and logging became their livelihood. In 1907, the rail line was extended and a small train station was built seven miles north of Parry Sound. The station was named Peart, and later, Ambo.
In 1912, Mr. F. Lankford began buying land around the station. Although the true purpose was kept secret, there were many rumours about the intended use of the land, including the construction of a major ranch, or a large goat farm. Once 5000 acres had been secured, it was announced that Canadian Explosives Limited (CXL) had been the purchaser and they were building a dynamite and gelatin production plant on the land.
The site was well chosen. Mining operations were increasing to the north of Sudbury, the rail line was open from Toronto to Sudbury and on, water was accessible from Simmes Lake, and Georgian Bay would provide access for shipping. Parry Sound was close enough to provide a labour force, but far enough away to be protected from any possible explosion at the plant. Another factor was the talk of the possibility of a canal being built, connecting the Ottawa River to Georgian Bay. Building the canal would require explosives, and the company realized that if they were close to the proposed route, they would have a greater chance of being chosen as the company that would provide the explosives. The canal, however, was never built.
By 1914 the plant was completed and producing dynamite, gelatin, and cordite. (Cordite is a gunpowder made from gun-cotton and nitroglycerine.) A village was started on company-owned land. Because the company owned the land, the town was not recognized as such. People living in the village paid rent to their landlord, CXL. The name of the town was changed from Ambo to Nobel, paying tribute to the inventor of dynamite, Swedish Scientist Alfred Bernard Nobel (1833-1896).
The plant thrived during wartime. Between 1915 and 1918, a gun-cotton plant, a shrapnel-loading plant, a cordite plant and a TNT plant were built. The shrapnel operation was closed shortly after it opened when an fire and explosion killed seven people. A second larger cordite plant, built across the highway from the main operations, was owned by British Cordite Limited, but operated by CXL. After the war, the cordite, gun-cotton and TNT plants were closed and the company concentrated on the production of dynamite and gelatin. In 1922 these remaining plants were closed.
In 1927 the plant reopened under the name of Canadian Industries Limited and began, once again, to produce dynamite. A new plant was constructed in 1939 on the site of the old British Cordite plant. Here Defence Industries Limited, a crown corporation operated by CIL employees, erected buildings for the production of nitroglycerine, TNT, gun-cotton, cordite, nitric acid and sulphuric acid. Up to 4300 people were employed at DIL. At the end of the war, the DIL buildings containing explosives were destroyed. War Assets Disposal Corporation took over the former DIL land. CIL continued its production of dynamite and gelatin on its original site.
A.V. Roe had taken over Victory Aircraft at Malton for its Canadian aircraft division, and then took over Turbo Research as the nucleus of a new Canadian gas turbine division. Since the town of Malton was too built up for noisy jet engine development testing, War Assets suggested that the DIL site had many advantages: a high voltage transmission line, abundant water supply from the CIL pumphouse, a steam plant, and a drive turbine and large air compressors. All components were essential for research and development of the key components in jet engines, for example, the axial flow compressors, the combustion chambers, and the turbines. Additionally, there were the wartime apartment buildings and houses to accommodate the inflow of trained technicians and engineers to Nobel.
The Chinook engine ran for the first time in March 1948 and the Orenda engine (for the CF 100) in February 1949. The Iroquois engine program for combustion and aerodynamics testing started at the end of 1953. Off-peak power was available at much reduced cost from midnight until 7 a.m. (noisy background for sleep in the village). In July 1954, the A.V. ROE Gas Turbine Division was incorporated as a new company, Orenda Engines Limited. At its peak, the Orenda Nobel Test Establishment employed 125 people. The Iroquois engines were scheduled to replace Pratt and Whitney engines in the Avro CF-105 Arrow by spring of 1959. With Iroquois jet engines the Arrow would have set a world speed and altitude record.
Prime Minister Diefenbaker canceled the Arrow/Iroquois contract February 20, 1959. The costs were much above budget, because production had accompanied development; the "black box" of high tech components ordered by the Canadian military was ahead of its time and very expensive; the Americans were pushing Bomarc missiles and refusing to acknowledge a Canadian success; and there was a personality clash between the A.V. Roe president and the Prime Minister....History would have treated Diefenbaker more kindly had he not ordered the destruction of all aircraft, engines and blueprints. (Malton employees did manage to hide an Iroquois engine and it is now on display at the National Aviation Museum in Ottawa.) As well as catastrophic losses to the Canadian aero industry, Parry Sound had lost its third largest payroll (after CP Rail and CIL).
Dynamite was being replaced by new products and CIL closed down in 1984. The picturesque train station was demolished, and the CPR, although still operating, no longer has a train rolling through Nobel every twenty minutes.