Making Paper for the Daily Mail in Britain’s Oldest Colony: The Development of the Grand Falls Project

Most of this originally appeared in a 2007 edition of the Quarterly Journal of the British Association of Paper Historians. 

In December of 1909 a cargo of paper departed the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company paper shed at Grand Falls, Newfoundland. The train was heading east to the port of St. John’s where the paper was to be put aboard the S.S Ulanda[i] and shipped across the Atlantic to England. The ultimate destination of the newsprint was the printing presses of the Daily Mail newspaper in London. This was a momentous history in the economic history of Newfoundland. Just five years previous; Grand Falls the present site of the newsprint had been an uninhabited stretch of forest situated along the Exploits River. Where five years ago there had been no roads, no buildings and no people now stood one of the largest communities in Newfoundland, and one of the largest pulp and paper complexes in the world. Five years previous Grand Falls existed only on paper, in agreements that were in the process of being finalized. These agreements were to give birth to the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company which would provide the capitol necessary to harness the water and trees of the wilderness for the production of pulp and paper.

Grand falls falls 1903
Grand Falls in 1903

In the five years between 1904 and 1909 much had transpired at the actual site of Grand Falls, but to truly explain the history of this development one has to go back to 1903 and even earlier.

Alfred and Harold Harmsworth; later Lords Northcliffe and Rothermere respectively were the owners of London’s Daily Mail family of newspapers. The Daily Mail had done much at spreading mass media at all sections of society. During the Boer War the already growing readership had skyrocketed. The surge in readership made it clear of the fact that war news was a seller of newspapers. With the clouds of a major European war gathering on the not so distant horizon, the Harmsworths began to thin ahead. In the event of a European war in which Britain and Germany would likely to be involved; the shipping lanes of the North Sea would be disrupted. This would serve to cut off the Harmsworths current supply of pulp and newsprint, which came from Scandinavia, or serve to make it very costly.

This put the Harmsworths in a tricky position, a war as previously noted would sell millions of newspapers, but at the same time cut off raw materials, thus driving the price up. Looking for a way around this the Harmsworths looked westward to North America. Initially they sent there employee Mayson M. Beeton who initially looked at sites on the North American mainland before settling on Newfoundland.

What the Harmsworths were looking for was a site with the most favorable of conditions: a source of trees suitable for pulping; water to power machinery and transport logs, a shipping to serve as an outlet for the paper, a population to be recruited as mill workers and loggers, and a government that would give them the best possible conditions. This they found in Newfoundland.[ii]

Located off the cost of Canada in the North Atlantic Newfoundland was a self-governing colony in desperate need of economic diversification and sought it at any cost. Traditionally and some may say chronically dependent upon the cod fishery, the well-being of the colony as a whole hinged on the success or failure of the fishery. The answer to the question of economic diversification appeared, to many, to be the construction of trans-insular railway. A railway it was believed would like the rest of North America open up the interior to forest, mineral and agricultural development. The route took 17 years to build with several stops and starts, until the Reid Newfoundland Company finally finished the route in 1898 after becoming one of the most powerful forces in Newfoundland. In exchange for finishing and operating the railway, the Reid were given hundreds of square miles in land grants in fee simple. These blocks of land which the Reids owned the timber and minerals would be known to this day as Reid Blocks.[iii]

Map_of_Newfoundland
Map of Newfoundland 1911 Showing Timber and Mining Grants. The original timber holdings of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company are shaded in yellow. The grey blocks are “Reid Blocks” including Reid Block 59-Grand Falls. (Memorial University)

The uneven terrain and climate worked against agricultural development, some mining did develop, though little of it actually as a result of the railway. Lumbering on the other hand did develop. Many mills sprung up, usually along the railway in the interior. Many investors from outside Newfoundland were drawn by the stands of unexploited timber; one such man was Scotsman Lewis Miller. Miller sent a survey team which came back with glowing results of the forests of white pine in Central Newfoundland. In 1900 Miller relocated his timber interests and a large number of staff to Red Indian Lake in Central Newfoundland.[iv]

Millertown Mill 1900
Lewis Miller Company sawmills at Millertown, Circa 1901. Within a few short seasons Miller found much of his timber holdings to be made up of over-mature pine, and black spruce and balsam fir that were more suited to pulp than lumber. 

After two seasons Miller found that the initial glowing reports from his surveyors had been the result of a superficial rather than thorough investigation. Much of the pine was over mature and unsuitable for manufacture into lumber. The balance of the wood besides pine was mostly black spruce and balsam fir, less suited for lumber. In 1903 Miller was looking for a way out.

Luckily for Miller at the same time Mayson Beeton was investigating possible sites for the Harmsworths and was settled on either the Exploits River in Central Newfoundland or Grand Lake in Western Newfoundland. In hopes of developing the former Beeton and secured an option on Millers properties.[v] Millers timber limits would serve as a source of raw materials for a mill on the Exploits River.[vi]

mayson beeton portrait
Mayson M. Beeton one of the principal architects of the Grand Falls project.

1903 and 1904 would be two years of negotiations and changes for the Harmsworths in relation to their Newfoundland project. Although they had secured an option on Millers holding in Central Newfoundland, Miller, in March of 1903 sold all of his Newfoundland interests to The Newfoundland Timber Estates Company.[vii] Under the guidance of manager Harry J. Crowe The Timber Estates Company were buying up the timber limits of numerous mills in the Central regions and consolidating them. Though Timber Estates still ran the mills and exported the lumber there ultimate plans were for pulp and paper development, or more precisely profiting from the sale of the timer limits for pulp and paper development.[viii]

 

Harry J Crowe
Timber Magnate Harry Judson Crowe. Crowe operated mills in Botwood, Badger and Point Leamington and was a driving force in attracting pulp and paper interests to Newfoundland.

Once again the Harmsworths were looking towards the Grand Lake development and entered into negotiations with the Reids (who owned much of the land and timber limits that were to be used) and the Government of Sir Robert Bond. Sometime in 1904 all of this changed as the Exploits River Development once again came to the fore. In the spring of 1904 Timber Estates was given an offer on their properties at Red Indian Lake and in September of the same year Alfred Harmsworth came to Newfoundland.[ix] Newfoundland’s first pulp and paper[x] was going to be on the Exploits River at Grand Falls. The Deal was finalized in late 1904. The Harmsworths bought the Red Indian Lake properties and Timber limits (which included a rail line which connected to the mainline) for $460,000.[xi]Deal with Timber Estates amounted for a large part of the Harmsworths acquisitions but in total in lands that were acquired from Timber Estates, The Reid’s, W. J Martin and the Crown amounted to 2,300 square miles. The lands were granted to the Harmsworths as part of a 99 year renewable lease and included exemption form municipal taxation as well as an exemption from duties on machinery necessary for the building of the mills.[xii]

On January 5th 1905 the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company Limited (A.N.D Co as it was known) was formed as a result of the Harmsworth deal. Negotiations were still on going with the government as many in the opposition saw the deal as being too favorable to the Harmsworths and worried that the deal would serve to cut of Newfoundlanders from a large portion of the Island. The legislation known as the Pulp and paper act was passed in June of 1905 after an amendment was added that allowed Newfoundlanders the rights to hunt and fish on the lands of the A.N.D Co.

Meanwhile during the late winter and spring surveyors had been sent to Grand Falls to monitor the ice conditions on the Exploits River.[xiii] The first workers started to arrive that summer and began clearing the area in which the mill and accompanying town was to be built. Most of the supervisory staff was acquired from a variety of sources, some men had been employed by the Reid Company and others had been employees of the Timber Estates Company and even Lewis Miller. For a large part these men came from the Canada, Great Britain and the United States. The labourers that poured in on the Railway came from all parts of the Island of Newfoundland. Those who came off the trains in those early weeks were truly witness to a frontier development, as almost nothing had been at the site prior to 1905.

The site of the Grand Falls paper mill was located about two kilometers from the Newfoundland Railway and initially supplies and materials had to be carried down a rough dirt road to the site where the mill and town was being built. To further necessitate transport to the mill site a rail spur was built along the two kilometers from the mainline. The early labourers lived in shacks located along the rails.  A sawmill was built and a town sprung up in the first months at Grand Falls.[xiv] Besides the necessity of building a town for the workers and their families the first thing needed to be done after the initial clearing of the forests was the erection of a dam across the Exploits River.

Grand Falls Sawmill 1908
Sawmill and cutting up mill at Grand Falls circa 1908.

The dam was to be 882 feet long, and was intended to harness the Exploit River into generating 20,000 horsepower.[xv] Construction of the dam was started in the spring of 1907 and was to be done in conjunction with the excavation of the mill site at the same time. The first concrete for the Grand falls mill was poured in June of 1907[xvi]and th cornerstone lain on June 3 by Lady Macgregor the wife of the governor of Newfoundland.[xvii] Despite some setbacks that caused a delay of some months construction on the dam continued in the spring of 1908 and was completed by September of that year. Meanwhile massive penstocks were installed to bring the water into the powerhouse.[xviii] These pen stocks were 15 feet in diameter and 1500 feet long, and were built by a Massachusetts firm. By the end of 1908 work was progressing at an immense pace and it was projected that construction would be finished by the fall of 1909. Under the deal the Harmsworths had signed with the government they had been entitled to spend $250,000 within the first four years, buy the fall of 1908 they had spent over $2,000,000 on the Grand Falls project, the monthly payroll alone amounted to $45,000.[xix]

IMG_0569
Various stages of construction on the Grand Falls project.
img_2861
Early view of the mill complex.

1909 would see the mill taking shape. In the forests the wood was cut in preparation for the making of paper and was driven down river in the spring. A railway was built to Botwood which was to serve as the A.N.D Company’s hipping port for much of the year and work was carried on here in the building of piers and storage facilities.[xx] As projected the Grand Falls mill was ready to open in the fall. On October 9, 1909 a crowd of over 400 dignitaries gathered for a formal dinner in the mills finishing room.[xxi] Lord Northcliffe had come from England and other dignitaries had come from across the island to witness this momentous even. The Switches were pulled at 8:30pm by Lady Williams (Wife of the Governor), Lady Northcliffe and Mrs Beeton (wife of Mayson M. Beeton). In a speech prior to the pulling of the switches Northcliffe had reflected on his accomplishment.

For as many years as I can remember, this country has been regarded as a land of Industrial misfortune. We read in our newspapers of the failure of the fishery or the failure of sealing. I remember as a young man, gloomy reports about the Banks and a great fire. Well, Newfoundland as had some better than times in late years, and I believe that Grand Falls will help, not only by our efforts but by our example.”[xxii]

Northcliffe was right when he said that Grand Falls would help. The mill buildings themselves were huge in comparison with other buildings on the island and consisted of: a Grinder room, that housed three pocket grinders capable of producing 180 tons of pulp per day, a sulphide mill with a tower 200 feet high and a digester room 75feet long, 32 feet wide and 112 feet high, a machine room that housed the three Bagsley and Sewel paper machines that was 234 feet long and 60 feet wide, a finishing room measuring 210 by 60, all in addition to an array of barking equipment, boilers, woods conveyors, slashers, sawmill, train sheds, storage facilities and other associated mill buildings. On scale with any other industrial venture it was truly enormous.

img_2852
Installation of the pen-stocks for the hydro-electric plant. 

img_0559

IMG_0566
Installation of the first two paper machines. 
paper machine finished roll 1910
The paper machines at Grand Falls, circa 1909.

The Building of the mill had been an enormous boost to the economy of Newfoundland. During construction there had been around 1200 men employed at Grand Falls, with additional men working at Botwood and Millertown. When the mill went into production it employed 500 men permanently and another 300 during the summer months as the logs arrived at the mill, and the operation was in peak production. In addition to the 800 men employed at Grand Falls there was by 1914 1500 men employed seasonally cutting, hauling and driving pulpwood in the woodlands.[xxiii] The Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company prior to the outbreak of the Great War employed approximately 2500 men in various capacities during the year, held thousands of square miles in timber limits, owned and operated a railroad, two or more steamers on Red Indian Lake, and ran the towns of Grand Falls, Badger, Millertown and Botwood.[xxiv]

Newsprint from Grand Falls 1910
Newsprint from Newfoundland on its way to the presses of Fleet Street.

As tensions brewed during the summer of 1914 Vincent S. Jones manager at Grand Falls was ordered by Lord Northcliffe to ship much paper to England as was possible. In August of 1914 the European war that Northcliffe had predicted over ten years ago came, and in his warehouses were stockpiles of paper, not from Scandinavia but from Newfoundland. The venture which had seemed so risky seemed to have paid off, for both the Harmsworths and for Newfoundland.


Sources:

[i]

Grand Falls Centennial Commitee Grand Falls the Place and its People. (Grand Falls-Windsor, NL, Centennial Committee, 2005)p71

[ii]

Price, F.A 50 Years of Progress at Grand Falls: The impact of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company Limited on the Economy of Newfoundland. (St. John’s ,Guardian, 1959) pg. 1

[iii]

Penny, A.R; Kennedy, Fabian.A History of the Newfoundland Railway(St. John’s, Harry Cuff Publications, 2003)

[iv]

Goodyear,Roland C. Lewis Miller and Harry Crowe.(Typescript manuscript, Center for Newfoundland Studies Archives Collection 261)

[v]

Hiller

[vi]

The source of the Exploits River is Red Indian Lake, where Miller had his mill.

[vii]

Free Press March 25, 1903

[viii]

Hiller, J.K The Newfoundland Forest Industry to 1914: A Preliminary Survey. (Paper Presented to the Atlantic Canada Studies Conference 1980)

[ix]

Free Press 1904

[x]

There mad been a small pulp mill built at Black River, Placentia Bay in 1897, it only manufactured pulp and was closed by 1903.

[xi]

Free Press and Hiller.

[xii]

Hiller, p.19-23

[xiii]

Grand Falls. p56

[xiv]

 

Price p.9

[xv]

Grand Falls p.59

[xvi]

Ibid.

[xvii]

Grand Falls: The Place and its People ( Grand Falls, Centennial committee, 2005). p.59

[xviii]

Price. p.12

[xix]

Telegram to Sir Robert Bond from Alex Wood of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company.

(Center for Newfoundland Studies Archives Coll’ 237. 4.03.)

[xx]

This was a joint project with the Albert E. Reed Company which was building a pulp mill at nearby Bishop’s Falls. The route was built on a 75% to 25% basis with A.N.D being responsible for the larger figure.

[xxi]

Interestingly Sir Robert Bond, the Prime Minister who had done so much in getting the project under way was absent; he had been defeated in an election earlier that year and declined the invite.

[xxii]

Price p. 16 Northcliffe in this speech Northcliffe refers to the Great Fire of 1892 in which much of the capitol city of St. John’s was burned and of the Bank Crash of 1894 in which the major banks of Newfoundland went into financial ruin.

[xxiii]

Jones, Vincent S; “Submission to the Dominions Royal Commission on Trade 1914”. (Located in the Center for Newfoundland Studies Archives in the files of the Newfoundland Lumbermen’s Association.)

[xxiv]

Between 1909 and 1914 the mill had been expanded with the addition of two more paper machines and the acquisition of more timber rights which would constitute the Badger Woods Division. This figure estimates the number of employees at the port in Botwood to be somewhere around 200 as it was over this number in 1959.

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