Grand Falls Sawmill

When the pulp and paper mill at Grand Falls closed back in 2009, I recall one of the justifications used in closing the operation was that it wasn’t an integrated or combined operation that produced both pulp and paper and lumber. Meaning that they didn’t maximize their profits by utilizing and processing all sizes of trees that they harvested.

In the wake of the closure of the Grand Falls mill there have been all kinds of rumblings as to how to utilize the forest resources of the central interior for the benefit of the residents of Central Newfoundland. Inevitably there has been the question: “why isn’t there a large sawmill in Grand Falls?”

Grand falls sawmill april 1907.jpg
Construction at Grand Falls April 1907 with sawmill in the background. The men in the foreground near the water tank give a better perspective of how large a building it was. (Memorial University Archives)

Once upon a time, there WAS a large sawmill at Grand Falls. As I have touched on before, the original machinery for the sawmill at Grand Falls was taken from the Lewis Miller Company Mill at Millertown. I speculate there may have been a smaller portable mill in place before they moved the machinery from the Millertown mill because Newfoundland Timber Estates was allowed to operate at Millertown up until October of 1905. The first sawmill at Grand Falls burned down quite soon after it was put in place, in 1905 or 1906, but it was quickly rebuilt.

Grand Falls Sawmill 1908
Sawmill and cutting up mill at Grand Falls circa 1908. The first log drive to come in to Grand Falls consisted of saw-logs for the sawmill.

The timber limits acquired by the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company had been worked for pine and understandably there would have been areas further from the river that still contained a considerable amount of that valuable wood.

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“A Little Pile of Sawdust” Grand Falls 1919.

Around 1919 the Disston Crucible reported that the lumber mill at Grand Falls sawed some 5 million feet (presumably this is cubic feet) of lumber each summer, which was mostly pine. To put this into a more fathomable perspective that would be around ten million 2x4x8’s. This is roughly what the largest lumber producers in the province produce per year today. This was  a considerable production for a side project to maximize timber resources and to provide material for local construction of the town and at the mill.

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Waste slabs from the sawmill being collected, circa 1919.

It appears that there was an increase in activity at the sawmill around the time of the First World War. The best pictures I have seen of the operation date from 1919 and show a fair bit of activity. At that time the War would have increased demand in just about everything, including lumber. Several projects being undertaken by the AND Company in the late war and immediate post war period would have required a considerable amount of lumber. Several new streets were built beginning in 1917 and into the 1920’s. At Botwood two large ocean going schooners were being built in by the Company in 1918-1919 and at Millertown the largest steamer to ever sail on freshwater in Newfoundland, the Fleetway, was constructed around 1921.

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Sorting lumber at the Grand Falls Sawmill, circa 1919.

I have yet to determine when sawmilling operations on the grounds of the Grand Falls Mill stopped. They appear to have gone on during the interwar period. There are people listed as working at the sawmill in the 1935 Newfoundland Census. The man in charge at the sawmill from 1910 to 1931 was the John Cater Sr. father of the late Jack Cater. In 1942 sawmill operations were started by the Company at Springdale as an emergency wartime measure, I believe at this point most of this wood was used as dunnage (packing material for paper shipments) for the shipping of paper. I am unsure if this Springdale operation was put in place because there wasn’t a sawmill in Grand Falls anymore. In the 1946 aerial photo I cannot tell if there is still a sawmill on the mill property at Grand Falls, although there appears to be piles of lumber.

disston Crucible Grand Falls page 2
From the Disston Crucible circa 1919.

Even after the large sawmill at Grand Falls fades into history the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company still maintained sawmilling operations in its woods divisions. In 1959 the Company was reported to have had seven sawmills in operation. There were stationary and portable mills listed as being operated at the Company. Most of the wood sawed into lumber was used for camp and dam building in the woods, a considerable amount was also used for sled runners. In many cases portable mills would be brought in and set up in areas where new dams and camps were being built. Specific places I know mills were set up included Tally Pond, Mill Pond in Badger Division and Burnt Pond or Hynes Lake in Bishop’s Falls Division. A portable mill was set up around 1960 when the dam was built on Three Angle Pond in Badger Division, the substantial timbers used in this dam were cut and milled on site. Portable mills were moved around and set up within the logging divisions as needed.  It is interesting to note that the mills they operated in the Terra Nova Division at Lake St. John and Gambo Pond were mainly sawing pine!

AND Co sawmills in opeation 1961.JPG
List of sawmills operated by the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company in 1959. “A” means lumber 1 is Spruce 5 is Pine and 7 is Balsam Fir. By this time the sawmill at the mill was long gone. It is my understanding that a considerable amount of birch was also sawed in some areas as “spoolwood” which I believe was used for the cores which the rolls of paper were wound. (List of Sawmills in the Atlantic Provinces 1959, Statistics Canada)

Within the next decades, the need for the Company to operate sawmills diminished. The Company had gotten out of the business of building the town of Grand Falls and in 1961 turned over the townsite to a council. Any expansion at the mill would be in the form of steel frame construction, the same fro any large commercial and public buildings. In the woods into the 1960’s most of the camps were of plywood panel construction and by the end of the decade there were dramatically less camps being operated. Eventually driving became less prevalent and was phased out in the 1990’s, though I have little doubt that portable mills may have been brought in for dam construction into the 1980’s.

The Grand Falls sawmill has long faded into history but there is little doubt that there are still houses around that were constructed from wood milled at the Anglo-Newfoundland Development sawmill on the old mill property.

-Bryan Marsh

One comment

  1. love your site, very informative. would you happen to have any information on Frank Herbert Hopson, he was my great uncle, he was married to Mary Rita Frew , May 1915. He worked for the Anglo-Newfoundland development company before the great war. all information would be greatly appreciated, sincerely and thank you Lyle Hopson

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