The Smokestack

There has been many tired Sunday mornings when I have looked over the horizon and saw the smokestack when coming home on the Sandy Badger Road. You could see it a few kilometers up in the woods, you knew you were close to home when you saw it.

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The mill smokestack from the south side of the Exploits near the Grand Falls. It hadn’t been used for man years when the mill shut down in 2009, but it was simply too big to take down when the mill was in operation.

It is not over a hundred years old as is thought by many. It like much of what was just demolished is not original to the mill as it was in 1909-1910. It, like the water tower, the paper sheds and the big machine room was a result of a later expansion.

During the 1920’s there was a push to increase production at the Grand Falls mill. Increased paper consumption in the United States had driven up the price of newsprint in the mid 1920’s, it was hoped that by the end of the decade production at the Grand Falls plant would surpass 100,000 tons annually.

To achieve this major expansions were carried out that included additional paper machines as well as an increase in steam generating capacity.The smokestack was part of this expansion program that included the installation of a 3rd machine room as well as the installation of Badenhausen (or Baden-Hausen)  Boiler and Taylor stoker.[i] It is very likely that the stack was built in conjunction with the new boiler.

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The best evidence of when the smokestack was built. August 1924. The same distinctively square brick seen here can also be seen in the pictures of the demolition.
part of the mill 1919
A much smaller smokestack was in place in this photo from 1919, although it is in almost the same location. The later stack was built to accommodate additional boiler and generator capacity.
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1910, another view of the original mill layout with the smaller original stack, the later 1924 stack dwarfed the original water tower and sulphite tower as evident in the photo below.(This photo is most likely a Hayward photo from the towns first photographer)
Smokestack Wilfred Howse.jpg
A man with an extensive knowledge of the history of the region, Wilfred Howse was on the same page as me and posted these two pictures when trying to figure out the date the smokestack was built. (Bishop photos via Wilfred House)

The steam was produced by the burning of coal and all of that coal smoke had to go somewhere. So in 1924 construction was carried out on a 230 foot brick smokestack. The height was to ensure that the smoke would be pumped high enough into the atmosphere to not blanket the town with soot. Both of the facts stated above are actually very qualified and very educated guesses, they are not concrete. I do recall at one point reading that the stack was that height and I have a picture of men laying brick for a smokestack for the AND Co dated 1924. I consulted three histories of the AND Company and Grand Falls and was unable to determine the exact height or the exact date. All the dates for the installation of machinery, they were all there, but the date of the erection of the highest part of the mill was nowhere to be seen.

I have no doubt that the brick for the smokestack came over as ballast in ships loading paper in Botwood. And if it was sourced from the same place as other brick used in the mill and in town, it came from Scottish brick yards.

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Scottish brick found down around the mill. This apparently came from one of the boilers that was rebuilt. It is very likely that the stack was constructed from brick brought over from Scotland, carried over as ballast in paper ships. I may be wrong, if any of the bricks from the stack are marked “Pelley” or “Pittman” they were locally produced, but as the stack needed fire brick it is unlikely that it was locally produced. (Author Photo)

This expansion program that included the building of the the smokestack  saw production at the mill rise from 69,000 tons in 1925 to 92,400 tons in 1928.[ii]

Every additional ton meant that more men were needed at the mill. Each additional ton of newsprint required roughly an additional cord of wood needed to be cut leading to an increase in employment in the lumber woods. Say a cord equaled a ton pf newsprint, a large camp of say 50 men would cut maybe 5000 cords so the additional capacity roughly meant 250 more men would be needed in the woods. Each additional ton impacted the economy of the long impoverished Dominion of Newfoundland.

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Grand Falls mill circa 1966-1967. This shot was taken from a helicopter and didn’t get the whole smokestack. Note how much taller it was than the old sulfite tower at left.(Helicopter Canada 1967, Netflix)

The smoke from the coal that went out of that smokestack meant prosperity. Prosperity that meant that although cuts in production were made, Grand Falls remained an island of prosperity during the Great depression. Many people from Grand Falls did not remember any ill effects of the depression on an island where people were close to starvation, subjected to beriberi and ravaged by tuberculosis.

The smokestack soldiered on as the mill converted to bunker c in the late 40’s. Soldiered on though countless renovations and expansions. It ceased being used many years before the mill closure and at some point there was a considerable chunk taken off the top of it. The stack stood firm though disused for years, but it stood. It stood defiant until the very end when at some point in the next couple of days it will be gone, almost the last piece of Lord Northcliffes bold endeavor still standing (the expansion was planned while he was still alive but was put on hiatus because of costs in the first years of the 1920’s).

During the first week of October, 2016, which ironically is the same week in which the mill opened 107 years before, the smokestack at the Grand Falls mill came down.

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Brick by brick, layer by layer the smokestack at the Grand Falls mill is demolished. Fearing damage to the dam the structure was not taken down with explosives. Instead a remote controlled jackhammer suspended from a crane was used. (Photo courtesy of Brian James)
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Photo courtesy of Brian James.

It was demolished by a man operating a remote controlled jack hammer, layer by layer, a contraption that would have awestruck the men that laid that same brick and mortar, layer by layer so many years before.

There are talks that some of the brick may be salvaged to use in some sort of memorial or landmark in the future.

-Bryan Marsh

[i] 50 Years of Progress at Grand Falls.

[ii] Unpublished typescript history of the AND Co attributed to George Hicks.

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2 Comments

  1. I too enjoyed this Bryan. When I was in Grade Eight at NDA, my classroom had a great, clear view of the stack. During that year, I remember what I think was a process of re-bricking the stack. For many months, we watched two half-doughnut shaped scaffolds rise slowly on each side of the stack as what I always assumed was a new layer of bricks being added to the outside of the stack. When finished the stack looked new.

    Like

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