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Town of Atikokan
—  Township  —
Atikokan is located in Ontario
Coordinates: 48°44′59″N 91°37′0″W / 48.74972°N 91.616667°W / 48.74972; -91.616667
Country  Canada
Province  Ontario
Region Northwestern Ontario
District Rainy River District
Settled 1899
 - Mayor Dennis Brown
 - Land 316.75 km2 (122.3 sq mi)
Population (2006)
 - Total 3,293
 Density 10.4/km2 (26.9/sq mi)
Postal code P0T 1C0
Area code(s) 807
Website Township of Atikokan

Atikokan (Ojibwe for "caribou bones") is a township in the District of Rainy River in Northwestern Ontario, Canada. In 2006, the population was 3,293. The town is known locally as the "Canoeing Capital of Canada" and is one of the main points of entry into canoeing destination Quetico Provincial Park. Atikokan was originally established as a rail stop for the Canadian National Railway.




Early history

The original settlers to the Atikokan area were the "Oschekamega Wenenewak" (The people of the cross ridges). They lived by themselves until the arrival of Jacques de Noyon in 1688. His journey was critical for the expansion and exploration of the Atikokan area.

Within the short span of just 200 years, the population of the Natives was almost cut in half. With the diseases brought from the Europeans, and their rivals, the Sioux, being the main causes. Another major blow to the natives was the lackadaisical care of fire brought by the new explorers, which resulted in the destruction of moss, the caribous main food source. The lower caribou populations resulted in a struggle to find food sources for the native people.

1800s to mid 1900s

The road to Atikokan

Palliser Gladman-Hind suggested the first real road in the area, he intended for it to go as far as possible starting from Arrow Lake, and after the road's end travellers would take a waterway to Fort Frances. Simon Dawson, on the other hand, thought the road could go from Dog Lake, to Thunder Bay, then using a series of dams, would allow even the larger boats to travel along the route of Dog River, Savanne River, Lac des Mille Lacs, via Pickerel Lake and Sturgeon Lake.

The government, ignoring both plans, decided to build a road west of Lac des Mille Lacs, down the Seine River and finally into Rainy Lake. In 1859, Simon James Dawson was hired to begin the route, but the plan was held up due to poor economic conditions in the east. In 1867, after Confederation, there became an increased need for communication to the west. Construction of the Dawson Trail began in Prince Arthur's Landing in 1868. Construction was sped up in 1869 as the Riel Rebellion resulted in the need to transport troops.

The first residents

Tom Rawn and his wife were the first residents of Atikokan, arriving by canoe in 1899. Tom was lured to Atikokan by both the allure of gold in the area and because of plans by the Canadian National Railway to build a divisional point. Tom moved here because he had heard that there was need of shelter for the workers on the railway. Within a year of moving to Atikokan, Tom Rawn built the Pioneer Hotel, which had 18 rooms on its second story. In 1900, he was the first to strike a claim for iron ore in the Steep Rock area.

The beginning of the town

In 1937, when Julian Cross discovered ore, it seemed like Atikokan had some potential for becoming a real town. The first real showing was the construction of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce on Clark Street. Pitt Construction arrived later to construct roads. Their new way of making roads with machines amazed old-timers, who were used to making them using a pick, shovel and wheelbarrow. In 1950, the population had grown to 3,000 people.

The first businesses in Atikokan could buy lots on Main Street for only $10 an acre, but the prices soon skyrocketed to $100 per square foot! Even with the high costs, stores, restaurants, banks and other establishments sprang up very quickly. The second bank to open was the Toronto-Dominion, the third, the Royal Bank of Canada.

Economic history

The fur trade

The boom of the fur trade started after the explorations of de Noyon in 1688, de la Noue in 1717 and La Verendrye in 1731. The first English trading post was built on the shores of Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake. The first French post however was on Grand Portage, Minnesota. By 1741, the French fur trading posts had extended as far west as Saskatchewan, and were actually competing with the much larger Hudson's Bay Company.

Just as the French were poised to become the larger company, Great Britain conquered Canada, and the French trade disappeared with it. This caused an explosion in the number of independent traders, resulting in the trade becoming extremely violent. Some traders even succumbed to murder as a way for them to be the most profitable fur trader. In 1779, the independent traders put aside their differences to form a union of traders which would be called the North West Company in order to compete with the much larger Hudson's Bay Company. The North West Company made Grand Portage their headquarters, and using a route that skimmed the border, were able to compete with the Hudson's Bay Company for the fur.

Iron mining

The potential for the Steep Rock iron mine was revealed in 1897 by a non-resident geologist named William McInnis. Nothing was done until the winter of 1929–1930, when Julian Cross started interviewing iron and steel companies to try to unlock Steep Rock’s potential. He finally convinced a company from Duluth, Minnesota, led by Robert Whiteside to take the job.

In 1932, Dr. McKenzie and Tom Rawn staked out the entire South East bay of Steep Rock. They then found a spot, sunk a shaft and found it was rich with high grade hematite. The mine was quickly abandoned as they had trouble keeping water out of it. In 1940, Tom sold 109 claims located west of Steep Rock to Midwest Iron Mining Corporation, and in March of that year, with 60 claims in his name, created Rawn Iron Mines Ltd. Four months later, on July 23, Rawn went out prospecting near Sapawe, and never returned. Parties searched for weeks, but his remains were never found. Edward Newman of Atikokan (current residence) and past Steep Rock Employee was a foreman back when he was working there from the years 1944-1979


Timber was first noticed in the area as early as 1886. There were 31 surveys, with 21 being in Quetico Provincial Park and 10 being in the Clearwater and White Otter Castle area. The first attempt at harvesting timber in the area was in the 1870s. A sawmill was located on the height of land east of the French Portage.

The strip between Lac La Croix and French Lake held great potential for logging of red and white pine, however, the barren shores around Saganaga show that there were many fires there, with approximately one sixth of the total area having been destroyed by fires. These forest fires were usually caused by the carelessness of troops that passed through the area years before on the Dawson Trail. Smith described the aftermath as "gigantic, half burned dead pines, which, towering in the air, add so much to the wildness and desolation of the scene" and "too often caused by the carelessness of explorers, prospectors, and hunters; The Indians are very careful to extinguish their fires during the dry season ... it is regretted that the fatal carelessness of the others cannot be checked." He noted that the pine in the unburnt area was excellent. The best trees were said to be found on Trout, Darkey, and Brent Lakes, and the farthest Southeast end of Sturgeon Lake.

Recent history

Before the 2nd World War, mineral exploration in the area determined the presence of a large, high grade, iron ore deposit at the bottom of Steep Rock Lake. After the war a large water diversion project on the Seine River system was undertaken to enable the draining and dredging of Steep Rock lake in order to develop open-pit mining operations.

Atikokan is in the Central Time Zone but observes Central Daylight Time year round. One explanation for this is that the late afternoon daylight in winter facilitated the loading of iron ore cars back when the mines were still in operation. The practice continues and makes for dark mornings in the depth of winter until about 8:30am.

Two large mines (Steep Rock Iron Mines and Caland Ore Co.) commenced operations in the late-1950s and continued for more than 30 years. When the mines closed in the early-1980s the town of Atikokan suffered economically but continued to survive on natural resource-based industries and tourism.

In 1994, a 10 megawatt hydroelectric generating station (Valerie Falls Power) was developed on the Seine River diversion that facilitated the opening of the mines 40 years earlier.[1]


Atikokan's main employers are an Ontario Power Generation thermal power plant located 20 kilometres north of the community, and the general hospital. Recently, two forest product mills—Fibratech and Atikokan Forest Products (Located 30 kilometres east in Sapawe) were closed indefinitely due to the downturn in the wood industry.


The town is located off Highway 11, between Thunder Bay and Fort Frances. CN Rail runs through the town and operates a small rail yard south of the town. Atikokan Municipal Airport is located to the northwest of the town. When Atikokan opened its first rail line, fares were $15. The train ride however was a very bumpy and uncomfortable experience, due to rutty roads.


Atikokan was selected as the host site for the 2003 edition of Raid the North Extreme, a televised 6-day multi-sport expedition race that visits incredible wilderness locations across Canada. A key factor in the selection was the proximity to the incredible paddling presented by Quetico Provincial Park.[2]


Atikokan is served by one elementary school, one separate school and one high school. Public Schools are administered by the Rainy River District School Board, St. Patrick's School is administered by the Rainy River District Separate School Board.

  • Public Schools
    • North Star Community School
    • Atikokan High School
  • Separate School
    • St. Patrick's Separate School



External links


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