W.B. (William Bell) Plaunt Sr.

W.B. Plaunt Sr. - CKSO AM FM TV - Cambrian Broadcasting - Sudbury OntarioBirthplace
Vanbrugh Village, Ontario

April 7, 1879

October 23, 1960

Photo Credit
Andy Thomson (Plaunt Family Historian)

W.B. (William Bell) Plaunt Sr. was indeed a sharp and discerning businessman. He was a predominant player in the lumber business in Northern Ontario for the first half of the twentieth century. Family historian, Andy Thomson, describes him as assertive and very capable as a leader. As a strong family man, W.B. Plaunt Sr. demonstrated great care and enduring concern for his immediate family, but that concern extended beyond his family reaching out to those he felt his company was responsible for.

W.B. Plaunt was born on April 7, 1879 on the farm at Plaunt Mountain in Vanbrugh, a village which is all but considered to be a ghost town today. He was born to Francis Xavier Plaunt and Mary McMillan. Plaunt was an avid outdoors man. Growing up in a community dedicated to farming, just west of Renfrew, he worked with his father until the age of 19. Back in those days farming and lumbering were considered complimentary industries and so it would prove to be no surprise that in 1904 William Bell found himself immediately headed for work in lumbering with Eddy Brothers at Blind River. He remained there until 1909. Plaunt would then spend the next three years contracting for the Lake Superior Paper Company on the Algoma Central Railway, north of Sault Ste. Marie as well as in the Blind River area, until 1912.

It was on March 8, 1912 W.B. Plaunt married Mildred Martha Hicks of Sault Ste. Marie. Mildred had previously spent some time teaching in Thessalon and then went into nursing. She graduated in 1912 before they were married.

W.B. and Mildred moved to Renfrew where W.B. managed a munitions factory during the First World War. After the war, W.B. started contracting in the North Bay area for his cousin, Francis Xavier Plaunt (same name as W.B.’s father) of the Harris Tie and Timber Company headquartered in Ottawa.

By the year 1919 W.B. Plaunt established a new partnership with Ed White of Sudbury, providing their services to the Spanish River Pulp and Paper Company. White and Plaunt Ltd. cut pulp in six townships surrounding Duke Lake, the headwaters of the east branch of the Spanish River.

In 1925 Plaunt and his wife moved to Sudbury to be closer to his various businesses. In 1929 Plaunt looked for a mill site down the Spanish River where the jack pine could be driven to a mill site which was close to the CP line, bringing him to the stop at Wye, alongside the Spanish River where they could bring jack pine to be manufactured into railway ties.

As an entrepreneur and with his keen foresight Plaunt purchased the timber rights for the area, established a mill, logging camps and founded a village which included a school, store, homes for his employees and his office.

Business looked good and it seemed that prosperous times were just ahead, but then, the unexpected, the great stock market crash of 1929 occurred resulting in a severe economic downturn. When the Depression hit their business, Plaunt bought out White in 1932 as they had lost many of their contracts. Plaunt had managed to pull out of the stock market just prior to the crash and as a result remained financially independent. However, the CPR tie contract would be lost. Plaunt had an idea of approaching INCO in Sudbury hoping to sell his ties as mining timbers. INCO turned him down, but not being one to give up, Plaunt went to INCO’s head office in New York. As a result of his perseverance he returned with an even more lucrative contract.

In 1938, W.B. Plaunt’s son, W.B. (Bill) Plaunt, joined him in business. This enabled Plaunt Sr. to take a little time for himself and his family, and to explore other opportunities. With the 1943 loss of his son Donald during the war W.B. lost some of his spark and slowly receded from the lumber operation and he and Mildred moved to Victoria, British Columbia where they remained for 11 years. After a heart attack scare, they moved back to Sudbury to be closer to their family.

Not one to let grass grow under his feet, W.B. was active in Sudbury business circles including becoming involved with local media ownership. The Sudbury Star and CKSO AM Radio together were known as the voice of the north and owned by W.E. (William Edge) Mason. When Mason passed away on June 22, 1948, the conditions of his estate were published just two days following his funeral. The Mason Foundation was to be established holding over two million dollars and was to be used for charitable purposes including religious and educational endeavours. The Sudbury community at large became the beneficiary as funds were allocated to hospitals, libraries, schools and many charitable and sports organizations. The Foundation would eventually sell the newspaper and radio interests to W.B. Plaunt Sr., George Miller and Jim Cooper. The three men formed a new partnership in 1951. The newspaper division was soon sold to Thomson Newspapers, while the group retained its radio interests. This would be their stepping stone to launching Canada’s first privately owned television station in October of 1953.

W.B. Plaunt & James RalstonW.B. served as head of The Victory Loan Drive for the Sudbury region for the duration of World War II. William Bell received an award from the Minister of Defense, the Hon. James Ralston, for his contribution.

W.B. Plaunt died at his home in Sudbury on October 23, 1960 at age 81. Mildred survived him until August 18, 1969 when she passed away at the family residence. The Plaunt’s were predeceased by a son, Donald Cameron Plaunt who was killed in action with the RCAF on a bombing raid on Germany in March of 1943. Bill Plaunt Jr. and four daughters, Marion Isobel (Mahaffey), Katherine Frances (Thomson), Helen Mildred (Vollans) and Elizabeth Jean (Benness) survived the couple.

Andy Thomson wrote that his grandfather, William Bell, was known for some unique defining characteristics, one of which included his ‘mathematical acumen’, conducive in lumbering for accurately calculating amounts to cut within a limit. To some, W.B. may have appeared to be a paradox in that as a top-notch, shrewd businessman, he was expected to maintain a harsh, heavy-handed, competitive approach, as he continued to prove himself in his business ventures, but he was anything but callous! He would profit-share with his workers any amount made above what he predetermined he needed. The men’s bonuses often amounted to as much as their regular salaries would be. This approach engendered loyalty and W.B. could expect a 99% return in workforce of about 150.

Following W.B. Plaunt’s death, Bill Plaunt Jr. continued to carry on the family business interests in Sudbury.

With gratitude and appreciation extended to Andy Thomson, family historian for his invaluable assistance.
Visit Andy’s website, Andy Thomson Books, andythomsonbooks.ca.

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