There are two communities in Central Newfoundland named after one Scottish timber merchant. They are Lewisporte and Millertown. Despite this there is not a whole lot known about the man.
Grand Falls was started by two press Baron brothers who became English Lords. They were ridiculously wealthy. But Lewis Miller wasn’t any pauper and by all accounts he appears to have been quite wealthy, being well known and having his own large estate in Scotland.
Miller was born around the town of Crief in Scotland around 1848. He was the son of John Miller and Martha Livingstone. Miller’s father was a farmer and a timber merchant-albeit on a smaller scale than his son would be.[i] The Millers lived at a place called Balloch where a mill was located, presumably owned by the family in some way since all those that lived there were named Miller.
When Lewis was 15 his father died, by the age of 21 he had entered the timber trade himself.[ii] By 1873 he was a successful wood merchant and farmer and presided over a farm of some 68 acres. Millers fortunes further improved when in 1876 he married the daughter of a successful woolen manufacturer Annie McEwan. Soon his after marriage Miller started to acquire more lands.[iii]
For the next 30 years Miller became a driving force in the Scottish Timber Industry. Acquiring more and more lands and cutting more and more timber. Contrary to most lumbermen at the time Miller was a pioneer in the field of Silva culture and reforestation. One source states that for every tree that he cut down he planted three others.[iv] At some point during this period Miller turned his attentions to the forests of Norway and Sweden. Here Miller set up mills and cut and sawed millions of board feet of lumber which he then exported to Great Britain. Once his interests in Scandinavia appeared to be dwindling he turned his attentions across the Atlantic.[v]
As mentioned before Miller was from Creif, which was only about forty kilometers from Coupar Angus, birthplace of Robert Gillespie Reid; builder and owner of the Newfoundland Railway. By most accounts Miller and Reid were acquaintances from the old country. Reid, through completing the Newfoundland Railway, had acquired vast tracts of timber lands in the interior of the Island. No doubt Miller was regaled with stories of the vast forests of white pine that covered the interior, particularly in the area of Red Indian and Gander Lake. This was around 1898-99 and Reid had just completed the railway across the island the whole of the interior was largely unexploited.
So Miller sent his surveyor, who was a man by the name of Alex MacCombie. MacCombie was given the royal treatment by the Reid’s even being given a private Railway Car. The Royal treatment it has been said may have skewed his survey and made him embellish a little. Surveying the properties around Red Indian Lake would have been no small task. MacCombie would have had to slog from Joe Glodes Pond (Millertown Junction) down to Red Indian Lake. There is no doubt that he saw hundreds of square miles of mature white pine perfect for lumber. The problem for Miller was that much of the wood would turn out to be too mature.
Impressed by MacCombies report Miller decided to invest in Newfoundland. He entered into an agreement with the Reids where they would build two branch lines for his use: One to Red Indian Lake and the other to Burnt Bay, Notre Dame Bay. He also acquired an existing lumber operation at Glenwood on the Gander River. Miller had little problem securing the money since his current operations were worth hundreds of thousands of British pounds at the time.
In 1900 Miller brought his workers to Newfoundland and began building a mill at Red Indian Lake and expanding operations at Glenwood. To work at his mills and in the lumber woods Miller brought dozens of families from Sweden and Norway. He also ordered an Alligator winch boat from Ontario to tow his logs on Red Indian Lake.
Miller would only operate in Newfoundland for three years. At Millertown on Red Indian Lake the Lewis Miller Company built the biggest sawmill in Newfoundland: a massive affair with two mill building that employed hundreds of men. At Burnt Bay, no renamed Lewisporte, they built a shipping facility and lumberyard that covered many acres.
But Millers operations were marred by misfortune. Shortly after work began at Glenwood the mill there burned down. It was rebuilt but future misfortune met him further in the interior. A large percentage of the logs cut at Millertown were found to be over mature with the insides subject to heart rot. So much of this wood was culled. Much of the timber limits were found to contain much more fir and spruce than pine.
Miller also experienced a problem with his Swedish and Norwegian workers. The contract that they had agreed upon was pegged to the Swedish currency which and having been subject to a fluctuation was found to be unsatisfactory, so many of the Scandinavians left for greener pastures. A few stayed like Hagbert Hanson and O.G Johnson[vi] in Millertown and the Lindahls in Glenwood. Those that stayed in Newfoundland landed jobs with the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company.
Miller too began to look for a way out. He was the one that first contacted the Harmsworths about his holdings, though their interest waned briefly. At which point Miller sold out to a company known and Newfoundland Timber Estates. But Miller was not done with North America.
Newfoundland Timber Estates was controlled by some wealthy individuals from the Maritimes, some of whom were involved with the Dominion Lumber Company of Nova Scotia. It almost appears that Miller traded his mill and limits in Newfoundland for A mill and limits at Ingram Dock’s in Nova Scotia.[vii]
Miller was much more successful in Nova Scotia. The mill at Ingram Docks operated for over twenty years and shipped millions of board feet of lumber. Miller himself would only see a few years of success in Nova Scotia passing away in 1909. His sons took over after his death and continued to operate under the name of the Lewis Miller Lumber Company. The Nova Scotia operation produced around 14 million board feet of lumber a year.[viii] The Lewis Miller Company was much more successful in Nova Scotia, but the mill there met its end in a fire in the late 1920’s.
Operations at Millertown wound down in 1905-05 to the point where the place became a virtual ghost town, but activity in that little town exploded soon after when it became the logging headquarters for the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company.
On his death Miller was noted as a giant in the lumber industry and a pioneer in what was back then called afforestation-Silva culture, a method of forest sustainability that would not be seriously considered by his successors in Newfoundland until many years later. On his death his obituary was carried in a number of Newspapers and it appears that he was a very well-known and very wealthy timber merchant who had left his mark not only in Newfoundland but in Scotland, Scandinavia and Nova Scotia.
[vi] Johnson would become an important figure in early logging operations with the AND Co and he is known to have been the person that introduced show shoes foe horses. He later left AND Co to work for NPP and IPP logging for the Corner Brook Mill. Hanson became a high ranking person with he AND office in Grand Falls. One of his Children was the one of the first to be born in Grand Falls.
[vii] Some of the principal figures with Newfoundland Timber Estaates were also involved in the same way with the Dominion Lumber Company that owned the mill at Ingram Docks.