Construction and Deconstruction

 

 

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The water tower at the mill an iconic landmark in the latter half of the mills existence sits incongruously on its side after being taken down in the summer of 2016.

 

We finally really did it.  YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! AH, DAMN YOU! GOD DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!!!!-Charlton Heston-Planet of the Apes.

The quote from the Planet of the Apes came to mind the evening that I walked down Riverview Road and saw the mill water tank lying on its side on the ground. It was so incongruous and looked bigger than it had when it was perched on its legs in the sky. There an iconic part of the Grand Falls skyline lay crushed on itself amidst the rubble of the pulp and paper mill.

It was my second trip in since demolition had really ramped up and the second trip in since I started writing this particular piece, things had changed a lot from November to July. In November I had made the trip by myself on a fine and frosty November morning. In July I had come in though over 400 kilometers of downpour and fog bringing my family along with me. Strange parallel to many of the early pioneers who had come into work and then brought in their families after they realized that this leviathan that they were working on might actually be something permanent.

Grand Falls pulp and paper mill from a print circa 1910. At the time is was the biggest mill of its kind in the world. Over the years it only got bigger.

The GF Mill in 1919

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Back when it all started I can imagine a journalist or traveler making the same trip. Leaving the new railway station on water street and arriving at Grand Falls Station in the vicinity of ten hours later, but to get where I was going they would have had to stop and Badger and go by boat or canoe down the river with numerous portages. It was a different country then. The few pines that I passed between the road and the Exploits were vestiges, but they would have been smaller, younger vestiges then, by 1910 most of the pine near the Exploits had been cut. The forest would have covered everything save for the areas that had been burned over and no doubt there were acres of skeletal grey sticks in many places where the fires had swept unchecked by man until some form of nature could quell their flames.

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The water chute near Rushy Pond was one of the few signs of human activity in the area around Grand Falls prior to 1905. You will also be surprised to know that there were a couple of houses at a nearby railway siding back then too.

Here and there the only sign of man would have been logging camps, constructed out of the very timber they were cutting and chinched with the same moss that carpets the forest. Now there is one that lies abandoned, most of it having been carried off by scavengers in the six years since it was closed. Here and there on the same sites, on the ponds and on the brooks you will see the odd cabin, their owners the main reason the road is kept up at all.

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Empty forests as far as the eye could see. A similar scene would have greeted a visitor to Grand Falls at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

 

Mill workers at station 1906
Construction Workers at Grand Falls Station 1906. Hundreds of men and boys flocked to Grand Falls from the outports to take advantage of good paying construction jobs. What took over a thousand to build is now being destroyed by a handful of people and machines.
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Building the mill was labour intensive much of the work was pick and shovel work manpower with the aid of at least one locomotive, some steam donkey engines and winches and a few compressors. Machines are doing most of the demolition. One operator and one machine can undo the work that took a hundred men a couple of months to complete.
Dam coffer dam construction
During peak construction there were over 1000 men employed building the mill and dam at Grand Falls. The crib-work structure at top is the coffer dam built to hold back the river, it was built under the supervision of William “Billy” Dorrity of Maine. (CNS Archives) 

On the way back my counterpart in the last century would have gone to visit the “great pulp and paper works” that were being constructed. To stand in awe at the scale of the operation which had yet to be matched in Newfoundland at that time, The concrete and steel, the giant pen-stocks, the dam on the mighty river. The huge buildings that were to house the paper making machinery, hundreds of men toiling with pick and shovel, hammer and saw.

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It was no Muskrat Falls, but when it was built the main dam at Grand Falls was the largest that had been built in Newfoundland and was quite the operation in itself AND it was paid for by private capital!

What I saw was the opposite. Because what was built over the course of one hundred years is now coming down. The men that built the pulp and paper mill are only ghosts. Instead of hundreds toiling and working all I saw were machines. All I saw were Yellow machines tearing and smashing, scrapping, deconstructing. I watched as one man with a cutting torch cut steel beams into more manageable pieces, listened as excavators hauled drum de-barkers out from a building. The mill had always been noisy in production, now it was almost as noisy in destruction.

It took a long time to build the mill at Grand Falls. Initially four and bit to build the first part of the mill and get it operational, then an expansion in 1912, If one took all the expansions into account it probably took more than a dozen years to build what is presently coming down. For years the complex was in some state of expansion, renovation or modernization: new paper machines, more grinders, new steam plant, new log handling system etc, etc. With every expansion at the mill, the town grew as well, additional construction and production meant there was a need for more workers both at the mill and in the woods. That was until modernization took hold in the 1960’s. Moby Joe when it was built dwarfed all the other buildings at the mill, but the big new paper machine also led to some of the first large scale layoffs in the mill, while at the same time skidders, trucks, chainsaws and slashers had slashed the labor force in the woods. By the end most of the woods work was being done by mechanical harvesters-which could level a football field sized forest in a matter of days.

grinder-feeding grinder.

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Near the mill what appears to be a small grindstone possibly from a “pocket grinder” a memento from earlier renovations and demolitions used as fill. (Author Photo)
Some panoramic views of construction of the mill and Dam. (50 Years of Progress at Grand Falls)
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Truth be told many of the original mill buildings have been gone for years. Most of the structures in this picture actually date from the 1920’s including the office building and the smokestack.

 

Installing the first two paper machines.
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Number 1 and 2 paper machines most likely in 1909 or 1910 right when they went into production. In 1970 number 1 was dismantled and shipped to Jamaica, I am not sure how successful the Jamaican pulp and paper industry became.(GFWHS)

 

By 1924 there were 6 paper machines at the Grand Falls pulp and paper complex. It was during this expansion that the iconic smoke stack was built.
Much later in the 1960’s No 7 Machine shed dominated the mill site. The Pictures below depict that machine “Moby Joe” in it’s prime and as it was after they opened up the mill during demolition.

The easiest of the operation seems to be the largest component: Number 7 paper machine. Moby Joe. Unlike much of the rest of the complex number 7 was housed in a steel framed 1960’s vintage building. Number 7 machine shed dominated the site since its erection in the late 1960’s and, to many people, along with the smoke stack and the water tower represented the structure. By luck I showed up just as they started to peel that building.

 

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November 2015-They started tearing down the big machine room for number 7 paper machine. The whole thing is now gone and the ground around it is leveled.(Author photo)
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Though the province under Premier Danny Williams unintentionally expropriated the pulp and paper mill. Delsan-AIM a Quebec based company was contracted for demolition. The sign out front kind of looks like they are trying to sell the mill. In fact they have salvaged most of the newer usable equipment and are selling it. (Author Photo)
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By July of 2016 this is all that is left of the big machine shed. (Author Photo)

I saw inside the mill for the first time, even though I had written countless pages on its operation. I saw the paper machines and the hoisting equipment. Inside the paper shed which looked as though it had been torn open by a howitzer I saw rolls of paper, which later turned out to be wrapper. The next day the machines began to peel the siding off that building exposing the skeleton and the organs inside. When they are done all that will be left is the heart, the hydroelectric plant and dam.

The massive brick chimney that dominates the skyline of downtown grand falls was built during an expansion in 1924 when another paper machine was added. It can be seen many miles into the woods depending on your elevation

One day soon enough the massive brick smokestack that has dominated the skyline since the 1920’s will be gone. By that point I don’t think there is going to be much left of the mill.

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Mill from across the river, summer 2015.
View of old Grand Falls from the hill by the Anglican Church sometime in the 1970’s. The steam and smoke indicate the reason that Grand Falls was once called the “industrial heartland of Newfoundland.”
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Defiant among the rubble. Grand Falls was a town built around a paper mill.


 That day I left town and went backwards. I made it as far as Trinity Bay from where my great grandfathers had come to work building the same mill I had just seen bring demolished. Long, long ago the central interior was untouched country that held great promise.

One day we will be able to look out over the river where the mill now stands and hopefully somebody, like those old English industrialists did, will see potential.

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3 Comments

  1. Sad day when the last vestiges of a once powerful enterprise are disappearing!
    As Georgie Thomas said to my Father in 1970 referring to a once great former SACorps and band that had ,like the mill , been one time exceptional,and something to be proud of,(and now in hindsight his words are very
    prophetic),
    ” never be a stir down there no more,
    Vern my son,
    Never be a stir.”

    Like

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