The area was settled primarily as the site of a sawmill for the St. Anthony Lumber Company, of Minnesota, and is named for the general manager of that firm, Edwin Canfield Whitney. Whitney, who was born near Morrisburg, Ontario, had moved to the Midwestern United States shortly after the Civil War. Working in the lumber trade, he became manager of the St. Anthony Lumber Company in Minneapolis.
By 1892 work had commenced on the Ottawa, Arnprior & Parry Sound Railway (later the Canada Atlantic Railway), by Ottawa lumberman John Rudolphus Booth. Booth’s sawmill at the Chaudière Falls in Ottawa, was considered to be one of the largest in North America, second only to a mill in Minneapolis. At the end of 1892, Booth arranged a takeover of the adjacent Perley and Pattee mill, from the estate of his former colleague William Goodhue Perley.
Timber berths on the upper Madawaska River, in the townships of Airy and Nightingale, belonging to the Perley & Pattee Lumber Company, were sold in 1894, to the St. Anthony Lumber Company, of Minneapolis. As the OA&PS Railway was being constructed to access this area, Whitney persuaded the management of the St. Anthony firm to purchase the timber berths.
About a year after the Whitney sawmill was built, Fowler and Hill sold the Minneapolis mill and associated timber limits to Frederick Weyerhaeuser of St. Paul. Whitney who had large timber holdings near Brainerd, Minnesota, sold these to Weyerhaeuser as well, making enough profit that he was able to purchase his partners’ interests in the Whitney concern and continue its operation on his own.
In the fall of 1964 the cast and crew of the CBC Television show The Forest Rangers came to Whitney to film three episodes. They needed the use of a rapids in a large river with easy access. The Madawaska River’s rapids here suited their demands perfectly. Higher water levels were necessary, and that was the case, since later in the year the water levels are raised. They searched, as well, for expert canoeists in the area who could run these rapids to get the necessary footage required for the final scenes.
The Canadian National Railway Renfrew Subdivision was abandoned between Whitney and Renfrew in 1983.
Unsolved Murder of Jack Billings and his guide
Ontario Game Warden John (Jack) Billings circa 1916
On the morning of January 8, 1925, Jack Billings of Barry’s Bay (a game warden) left Barry’s Bay with his guide, Joe Stringer, on board the westbound train for Whitney. They were searching for a Whitney trapper who had been poaching in the area just south of there. They expected to be gone three or four days. After a week, they had not returned. On January 2, 1925, a search party struck out from Whitney and soon discovered a burnt cabin on Birch Creek (about 13 miles south of Whitney). In the cabin, they discovered charred human remains. Items found on the scene were later identified as belonging to the two missing men. A shell casing, of the same type that had been sold by a local shopkeeper to the illegal trapper, was also found in the ruins. Footprints led to another cabin a few miles away, at Hay Lake. A native trapper in the area said he’d seen flames on the night of January 9. Police arrested the wanted trapper six days later. He claimed he’d been in Whitney on the day of the deaths and his story was corroborated by his grandmother and uncle.
John (Jack) Billings’ remains (a few bones and a couple of teeth) were buried in a wooden cigar box, interred at the family plot in St Lawrence O’Toole Cemetery. The cause of his death remains a mystery.
The full story of the distinguished career of this colourful gentleman is online at: http://ocoa.ca/tributes/fallen-officers/game-warden-john-billings/