The First Pulp Mill in Newfoundland-Black River, Placentia Bay

Believe it or not, Grand Falls mill was not the first venture into pulp and paper manufacturing in Newfoundland.

When the Loggers Museum was open up at Beothuck Park, there was a rather mundane artifact attached to a wall. It was a simple old padlock. It hadn’t come from a logging camp, or even a building in Central Newfoundland. It came from Placentia Bay and was associated with the Black River Pulp Mill.

black-river-mill
Although built on a much smaller scale than the later mills in the Newfoundland, the Black River pulp mill was the first of its kind on the island. 

I am going to no doubt repeat myself and say that the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries was a time of great timber development and speculation all over Newfoundland. The railway had opened up the interior and opened many businessmen’s eyes to the vast tracts of largely unspoiled timber. Most of the lumber development took route in the central region, first on the coast at places like Botwoodville, Point Leamington, Halls Bay and Gander Bay and later in the interior as the railway made it possible to ship lumber and supply towns and camps by rail. White pine was the big commodity then, but the fact that the forests were mostly of black spruce and balsam fir could not be ignored. Those two most prevalent species are quite suited to the manufacture of pulp for newsprint.

In 1894 a consortium of well known St. John’s business elites including Harvey and Co, Moses Monroe and W.B Greive formed the Newfoundland Chemical Wood Pulp Company. It can be assumed that they intended to build a chemical pulp mill, this did not come to fruition and the word chemical was later dropped from the name. Harvey and Co. must have had controlling interest because most references refer to the mill as belonging to them. This company was successful, three years after its founding, in building a ground wood mill at Black River on the upper reaches of Placentia Bay.

According to contemporary accounts the mill at Black River was constructed during the summer of 1897. As Harvey and Company was one of the principal owners work was under the direction of Mr. E.F Harvey. The actual construction appears to have been a Mr. Knight. 200 men (400 also reported elseware) were employed in construction of the “pulp factory” and associated buildings. Besides the mill there was a shop, office, boarding house and managers house.[1]

black-river-must-be-a-hustler
“Must be a hustler”: Advertisement for the Black River mill, Evening Telegram, Circa 1898. I can’t say if the first pulpwood on the island was cut for Black River because the father or Grandfather of the late Mr. Jack Cater of Grand Falls had a contract to supply export pulpwood in the Gander Bay area around the same time. 

Black River was dammed with a concrete dam. This was to necessitate the harnessing of water power to power turbines to power  the mill machinery, which included grinders for turning the wood into pulp.  The wood used to build the dam had been cut the previous winter by local loggers.[2]

The mill was completed in November of that year.[3] The first shipment of pulp was ready in February of 1898 and 2000 tons was shipped to Great Britain. The next month 1400 tons of pulp were reported to have been shipped to Great Britain aboard the SS Regulus. Reportedly the mill was capable of producing 20 tons of pulp per day. [4]

To keep the mill in production there were 40 employees at the mill and another 200 employed in cutting pulpwood.

Initially the prospects for the company were pretty good. The few thousand tons of pulp produced were shipped to paper mills in England and turned out to be well suited for paper manufacture.

After the first year or so in operation the mill seems to fade away from the press reports, though it was still in operation. It operated for six years.

According to most reports the Black River mill was plagued with problems related to the water levels on Black River. It was apparently s struggle to keep enough water backed up to power the machinery. From what I can gather from some of the newspaper pieces related to the mill there may have been issue in securing wood nearby. There are a number of refereces to pulpwood having to have been shipped in from other areas, including Clode Sound.

Black River may not have been a success as a long term operation, but it was successful as an experiment, an experiment that proved that pulp could be produced in Newfoundland. Around the same time the Newfoundland Wood Pulp Company shut down operations at Black River there were rumblings and negotiations going on elsewhere dealing with larger mills on larger rivers in Central and Western Newfoundland.

After the mill shut down it remained standing for a number of years it burned down in September of 1920. The managers house was also dismantled (one report points to it having been burned down or “razed” by its owners in the 1950s before they left the village) at some point and leaving only the lock and key.[5]

The story goes that the last manger, a Mr. Harnett gave the house to a Mr. Silk who remained as caretaker of the site. Silk later gave the house to his Daughter and Son in law a Mr. Tom Barrington. In central Newfoundland there is a history with the Barrington family of Micmacs frequenting the area since the 1800’s, to the best of my knowledge that family at one point did come from Piper’s Hole, which is very close to Black River. Later the Barrington’s son Rudolph gave the lock and key to “the authorities” in Grand Falls.[6] And so it came to be that that relic came to reside in at the loggers museum.

Surprisingly there is quite of bit remaining to the Black River Pulp Mill. I was under the impression that the tides of fire, time and alders had obliterated any trace of the old mill but there is quite a bit of machinery and concrete still remaining over 110 years after the mill shut down and over 95 since it burned down.

[1] Evening Telegram 1897-07-13 Black River Pulp Factory

[2] Ibid

[3] http://www.hiddennewfoundland.ca/black-river-pulp-mill

[4] Ibid

[5] http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cannf/pbbrpulp2.htm

[6] Ibid

Advertisements

2 comments

  1. Very interesting, Bryan. We’re having a launch of a project on the Merchants of Main St. On Sat. Mar. 4. You should come home for the weekend and join us.
    Audrey

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s