The Mill Bridge-The Fixed Link

A while back a co-worker came to me to ask what somebody from GFW meant when they said “up behind the mill”

“But that is over 50 kilometers from Grand Falls”

“Yes, fifty odd kilometers up behind  the mill”

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Grand Falls Mill and the Exploits River. The bridge over the Exploits River allowed wood to be trucked directly the the Mill and for logging operations to be more easily reached and managed from Grand Falls (Photo Courtesy of Kenneth Stanley)

Up Behind the Mill also means Up Across the River. Until 1962 there was no easy way to get up across the river. People did it, they crossed in boats and on the ice in the winter. They went over there to hunt, fish and to pick berries. With little in the way of roads the area and being on foot, I don’t think that many went much further than the Stony and LeMottes area. Some people had small cabins up there too.

You certainly couldn’t get a car or a truck over there from Grand Falls. And if you got across there was nowhere to go, only a few portages around LeMotte’s, Stony and Sandy.

If you wanted to take a vehicle to the other side, there was a cable ferry or scow at Badger that served the “Sandy” area of the Badger logging division. In the dead of winter when the river would freeze, and vehicles could pass over the “ice bridge.”The road on the south side of the river went in the direction of Sandy Lake and looped to west to an area near Noel Paul’s Brook, there was no connection to any road of trail in the Grand Falls area.

In 1956 preliminary work on a bridge across the Exploits River near badger began at a place called Gull Rocks. There was some work done on the ground, with at least one of the approaches being graded, but at some point this whole project vanishes into history, and there is little knowledge about this project available.

Around the same time, the cutting plans for the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company began to focus on timber that was closer to Grand Falls. Additionally, at the same time the trucking of wood began to play a larger and larger role in how fiber supplies got to the mill. A decision was made to build a bridge over one of the narrowest, if not more treacherous places on the Exploits River, the gorge directly behind the Grand Falls mill.

Mill Bridge 1962
The Fixed Link! Although the Sir Robert Bond Bridge had been the first road bridge across the Exploits River a few years before, the steel bridge behind the Grand Falls mill was built to open up areas close to Grand Falls for logging and wood transportation.

Work on the bridge behind the mill in Grand Falls was started in August of 1961. The bridge is a Callender-Hamilton B-20 Steel Bridge, purchased from the Philips Electrical Construction Company of Brockville, Ontario. The bridge is 250′ feet long and was erected over a 100 foot gorge in the river. The installation of the bridge was contracted through the Foundation Company of Canada. During the peak of building there were 20 men employed in installing the bridge. As the frame for the bridge was all in one piece it was installed using an end launching method, with some sort framing used to support the bridge as it was eased to the other side of the river. The left over steel from this was reportedly used for the building of the Sandy Brook Bridge a few years later. There are unconfirmed reports that the bridge may have fallen into the river during one of the early attempts to get in across. All the company newsletter mentions that may allude to this is:

“Naturally, in a project of this type, there would be problems. The bridge did provide some headaches for the riggers and difficulties were encountered. Expert Bridge engineers and bridge building consultants, however, solved the problem and the new bridge is a monument to every man who had a part in its successful completion.” (News-Log August 1962)

The bridge appears to have been successfully placed in the spring of 1962 and was all of the work including the placement of heavy duty decking being completed by August of that year.

Near the bridge a gate and gatehouse was installed from where all traffic crossing the bridge was monitored. Even up until about 30 odd years ago a person using Company roads had to show proof of insurance before being let through the gate. The reason for the gate was mainly due to forest fire regulations. The Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company and its successors took these regulations very seriously. Rightfully so, seeing a large fire could ruin cutting plans and endanger production. During the fire season, people not on company business were only permitted to be in Company Timber Limits for a day at a time (too many forest fires had originated from trouter’s boil up fires), restrictions were relaxed during moose hunting season as moose hunting was actively encouraged by the Company because of the damage moose did to forest regrowth.

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Original gatehouse on the Exploits River Bridge. This building was later replaced by a portable logging camp, which was only demolished in recent years. 

In 1962 after the bridge was put across, the road on the other side had only been started and did, go very far. In fact, it would be three years before it would cross Sandy Brook and connect to the existing system of woods roads. Besides being used for logging operations, the bridge also helped in the development of the Sandy Brook Generating Station by Newfoundland Power. Beginning in the 1960’s a few cabins started to appear on the other side of the river, mostly belonging to mill workers and sometimes built from structures or materials salvaged from closed logging camps.

During this time period in the late 1960’s the bridge facilitated pulpwood cutting closer to the mill, and when I say close, I mean really close, only a few miles up from the bridge.

Over the decades, new roads would be built up across the river, especially as they moved away from moving pulpwood by water and became more reliant on trucking (even then the drive persisted until the early 1990’s because the cost of moving any wood by water was a mere fraction of the costs of trucking). In 1995-95 only a few years after the last log drive a good, well graded, ditched and engineered two-lane woods road was pushed all the way to Noel Paul’s Brook. From here hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of wood would be trucked directly from the woods to the mill yard.

Over time and even after the closure of the mill, that 250 foot bridge has had to have had some tonnage of wood and equipment go over it: tractors of all sorts, graders, dump trucks, wood trucks, hundreds of skidders, forwarders, harvesters, chippers and even slashers and even after 57 years, besides a few mishaps it is still in pretty good shape. I won’t even try to guess how many quarters of moose have gone over it!

I am not sure of where “Up behind the mill ends,” Noel Paul’s Brook? the Bay d’Espoir Highway, Great Rattling Brook? Millertown? The Meelpaeg!?  There is an awful lot of country up behind the mill, and to get to it you have to cross the bridge that was put there in the summer of 1962.

-Bryan Marsh

3 comments

  1. I remember just before going over the bridge from the town side, to the right, you could see all the moose jaw bones hanging on the fence. I do believe it was law at the time to do this, government collected these for research. Don’t know if Wildlife is still doing this.

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