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When blueberries were the talk of the town

In this edition of Remember This, the Timmins Museum: National Exhibition Center looks back on blueberry picking in the north.
Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Northland (SIC) Railway Locomotive No. 101 was used for switching duties in the Timmins yards. It also pulled the local 'Blueberry Special' from Timmins to Cochrane and return, date unknown.

Summers in the north, although short, are plentiful! Blueberry season is almost here, so this week’s article looks back on the cash crop that was once the talk to the town – and province!

Blueberries have been a staple crop in the region for thousands of years. This fruit was introduced to newcomers by indigenous groups and eventually became sought after across the province. By the 1920s fruit suppliers in Toronto began to advertise in the papers that they wanted blueberries for the south. A six-quart basket would cost around 50 cents and an 11-quart basket was around 75 cents.

By the 1930s, hundreds of cars lined the bush eager to find berries. Many described it as a gold rush! In August 1932, around 3,000 pickers were counted harvesting the crop. Matheson was described as the Blueberry Centre of Canada. One popular picking site near Matheson was Blueberry Lake.  Because picking became a huge industry every summer, Blueberry Lake became a shantytown with huts built from birch poles and tarpaper. There was a store, barber shop, and police patrols.

The train pictured above is the Blueberry Special. It provided free transportation to all citizens who wanted to go north to pick the North’s most famous berry. Around 165 people made the trip in the summer of 1947. The train was sponsored and operated by the woods department of the Abitibi Power and Paper Company.

Each week, the Timmins Museum: National Exhibition Centre provides TimminsToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Timmins Museum has to offer here and look for more Remember This? columns here.