Historical commentary: Stéphane Tessier. Directing and filming for this video: Nicolas St-Germain.
Archive interview with Mr. Fred Oberlander: Société d’histoire d’Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Cité historia Fonds (early 1990s).
In the first part of the video, historian and cultural animator Stéphane Tessier (ST), talks to us about the arrival of the Milmont Fibreboards Company in Sault-au-Récollet, and the larger-than-life character that was Mr. Fred Oberlander (FO). In addition to being the company’s main shareholder, Mr. Oberlander had a previous career as an Olympic wrestler and sports organizer. As a Jew, he was a major participant in Israel’s Maccabiah Games. The second part is an excerpt from an interview conducted at his home by the Cité historia team, in the first half of the 1990s. He explains the various events that led to his arrival in Sault-au-Récollet, and the repurchase of the Back River Power Company.
ST [at the cider mill house] In the history of the mills site, he was a very important figure. This was toward the end of the site’s operation. The Back River Company was sold to a man named Fred Oberlander.
Fred Oberlander bought it to create the Milmont Company. “Mil,” short for “Milan,” because he had brought a staff of engineers and mechanics from Italy back with him.
So “Mil,” for “Milan.” “Mont,” for “Montreal.” “Milmont.”
And so, he set out to improve the quality of the cardboard produced here. This would be a new, waxed, water-resistant cardboard
Fred Oberlander was one of the last people to live—really take up residence—on the mill site, in what is currently “la maison du Meunier”.
Back then, the building was referred to as the “Oberlander house.”
Fred Oberlander also had a previous life as a Greco-Roman wrestler.
He was an accomplished athlete. He became champion in Austria,
in France, in England and, after he emigrated, even in Canada.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to compete in the Berlin Games in 1936, because of his Jewish origins and faith.
So Fred Oberlander stayed away from the arena for a while, until 1948, when he went on to compete in the Olympic Games, despite his relatively advanced age for an athlete.
But, his son would take up the torch, and become a Greco-Roman wrestler himself.
And Fred Oberlander served on the Canadian Olympic Committee during the 1976 Olympic Games.
So Fred Oberlander continued wrestling at the Forum, here and there, with athletes from the United States, and from all over the world.
We know he competed in a competition called the “Maccabiah Games.”
This event was open to Jewish athletes worldwide.
It was like a Zionist version of the Olympics, to promote the State of Israel.
So he competed in many tournaments between 1950 and 1953. In fact, in 1953, he was named “Outstanding Jewish World Athlete.”
He was a man of imposing stature.
People called him “Sir.”
FO [Excerpt from an interview conducted by Cité historia in the 1990s] In 1948, there were the Olympic Games. And so I was already too old.
My year should have been ’36, not ’48.
But I wanted to compete in the Olympic Games. So I did. I did what I could.
The day after the Olympics, I get a call from Mr. Brown. From Canada.
He says: “So, you’re done with the Olympics now? Can we talk?”
I said yes.
He said: “I want you to come here and consider doing something with the Back River Power Company. Modernize it, make it into something.”
So I said: “Fine, I’ll come. But before I come, I want you to come to Europe, to see what a truly modern fibre mill looks like, so that you’ll know what you need to do in Canada.”
So I brought him to Italy. And I got my Italian clients interested. They were suppliers.
The Italians said: “If you do something in Canada, we want to be in on it.”
So we founded a company called Milmont. Which means “Mil—” for “Milano” and “-mont,” for “Montreal.” Milmont.
Anyway we set up the whole thing. And we changed the name of the Back River Power Company to “Milmont.”
We received 500 horsepower of electricity for free, because we had given water to Hydro-Québec. This was all very complicated stuff!
Gradually we started manufacturing fibreboard products.
Shoe stiffeners and heels, and all kinds of other objects… Instead of just selling it in sheets, we decided to make something of it, and by the end we had up to 300 people working there.