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Edward Wellington Backus

“In 1925, Ober learned of a plan by Edward Wellington Backus, a powerful industrialist who happened to be Ober's neighbor on Rainy Lake. Backus's plan was to build a series of dams along the Minnesota-Ontario border that would turn the boundary waters into a vast storage basin for industrial water power. For the next five years, Ober led a campaign to defeat the plan and to win greater protection for an area he considered one of the most beautiful regions on earth.”

Lumber baron and industrialist Edward Wellington Backus financed construction of the dam at Koochiching—now International Falls—to provide waterpower for his Minnesota and Ontario Power Company (later called the Minnesota and Ontario Paper Company). The dam, completed in 1909, was to be the first in a series of dams creating storage basins for waterpower that would affect parts of what is now the Superior National Forest, Voyageurs National Park, Quetico Provincial Park, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. When Ober learned of the plan in 1925, Backus's paper mills were the second largest in the world in terms of total production. Ober led the successful five-year fight against the plan, which was finally defeated with the passage of Shipstead-Newton-Nolan Act in 1930.

In 1931, after years of preoccupation with the conflict over his waterpower plan and after major investments to expand his paper mills during a period of economic downturn, Backus's business went into receivership. In October 29, 1934, Edward Wellington Backus, the last of the great lumber barons, died at the age of 73 of a heart attack in his rooms at the Vanderbilt Hotel in New York City.

Of his death Ober wrote, “So tragically alone at the end . . . without the comfort of real friends. I know the sadness of it . . . and what great qualities he had. His lonely death makes his life, with all its triumphs, seem pathetically hollow. I will miss E. W. One cannot be in harness with a team mate for so long without missing him.”


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