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Carbide Mill, November 14, 2002
© CMCC, photo: Harry Foster, no. D2005-00061

Carbide Mill
Victoria Island

This photo shows the old Carbide Mill on Victoria Island as it stands today. Thomas "Carbide" Wilson established this mill in 1904. Born in 1860 in Ontario, Thomas Leopold Wilson invented an important process for producing calcium carbide and acetylene gas. He sold the American patent for the process (to a firm which later became the Union Carbide Company), and returned to Canada to establish the Ottawa Carbide Company, building this large stone mill on Victoria Island to produce calcium carbide. The buildings escaped the fire of 1900, but were damaged by fires in 1975 and 1978. The National Capital Commission, which owns the buildings, hopes the buildings will one day be part of a revitalized Victoria Island that will help explain the very interesting history of the site.

Here was produced carbide, a class of chemical compound in which carbon is combined with a metallic or semi-metallic element that when mixed with water produces a very bright flame; when this is combined with a reflector, it makes a very efficient light source. With over 60 patents to his name Wilson made a fortune. One patent, for mixing oxygen and acetylene, resulted in a torch that would cut through heavy steel and would revolutionize the industrial world. Another important patent was for a new type of navigational marker, which effectively functioned as a mini-carbide-acetylene factory. It generated its own light and never had to be refilled. Wilson's company, the Marine Signal Company, filled orders from all around the world.

See another view.

Latitude North 45.42127  Longitude West   75.71255

Carbide Mill earlier in the twentieth century
Photo: From the National Capital Commission plaque near the building