An Industrial Town in the Central Interior.

I come from an industrial town in the Central Interior.

In Gander they call us “Barkwops.” Not Baywops, Barkwops.

They put out mulched bark on the garden beds outside of work. The smell reminds me of home. If you close your eyes when passing the mulch and the droning of some ventilation system, you might think you are back there.

For the first eighteen years of my life I could hear, see it, and smell it; the paper mill. The complex of the Abitibi (Price, Consolidated, Bowater) pulp and paper mill was located within a kilometer of the my parents house in Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland. Although neither of my parents worked there, it was the reason we were there, it was the reason the whole town was there. For all intents and purposes Grand Falls was a company townsite There had been no settlement there before the Harmsworth Brothers had decided on this particular site on the Exploits River as the place to manufacture newsprint for their ever increasing circulation of newspapers. Prosperity and opportunity had drawn both my paternal and maternal grandparents away from the coastal areas where their families had lived for generations, to the central interior, the headquarters of the famed Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company. My family came from Norte Dame and Trinity Bays where, despite the distance, the A.N.D Company was one of the largest employers. In fact the Marshs had only been on the island for one generation when the first of us went to work in the woods for the A.N.D. Almost a century before the “Alberta Turnaround” became a matter of life, each year hundreds of men from all over Newfoundland ventured into work camps in the interior to cut, haul and drive pulpwood for the Grand Falls Mill.

“Barkwop” Christmas tower.

In the summer of 2009 I sat in my parent’s backyard and listened. You could hear the river, you could hear it before, but you didn’t realize it, it was part of something bigger. The great cacophony of mill’s machinery had fallen silent that past winter. The drum barkers, the hum of thousands of other moving parts, even the beeping of heavy equipment feeding logs into the mill, now gone.

In October of 1959 the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company celebrated fifty years of paper making at Grand Falls. Full page advertisements in St. John’s papers feted their achievements, and this milestone, this great contribution to the province’s economy. A detailed history was published in cooperation between the Pulp and Paper Magazine of Canada, and A.N.D’s PR firm, Guardian Limited. It was called 50-Years of Progress at Grand Falls. The international market for newsprint was booming. That year some $61,411,000 worth of newsprint had been exported from the province’s two pulp and paper mills. Adjusted for inflation, that would be over $600 million. The value of salt cod exports in this great fishing province of ours for 1960 amounted to about $12 million (Historical Statistics of Newfoundland and Labrador)

The Mill in 1988. (Memorial University, Decks Awash)

Nothing like 50-Years of Progress was commissioned in October of 2009. Generations removed from the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company, Abitibi-Bowater had produced its last roll of paper the previous winter, and left hundreds out of work. The region was in shock, but realistically this was only a culmination of years of shut downs and downsizing that had seen the crumbling of one of the pillars of the 20th Century Newfoundland economy. Any honest assessment of the situation most likely would have been called 50-Years of Decline at Grand Falls. As I research I am struck by the the changes that occurred in those 50 years. There were probably more strikes in the last twenty years than there were in the first fifty! In total the job losses from the closure amount to about 700, including woods operations and shipping, a number which pales in comparison to the thousands of jobs that had been lost in the preceding decades.

Employment in the forest industries is incredibly difficult to quantify. Especially when one of dealing with the seasonal nature of logging prior to 1965. x-number of thousands may have been on the woods payroll during the run of a year, but the days that they worked might have varied between less than a day to perhaps well over 200. If you put a red dot on each community to represent a logger that worked to supply the Grand Falls mill and their hometown, a map of the Northeast Coast (and a pocket of the south) would be blood red. Their job losses were not sudden like the cod moratorium. The jobs in the woods eroded away, gradually, but there was a bit of a landslide during the 1960s. Lighter and faster chainsaws, skidders and slashers cut the woods work force dramatically. This was all before mechanical harvesters came on the scene, with even more displacement, those still operating chainsaws were likely still only there because of the collective agreements. Production grew, now with three paper mills, but employment didn’t. But at some point, demand for newsprint peaked. Where did the displaced loggers go? What about the mill workers? What about the communities built on the resources of the interior, not just the company town, but also the satellites, orbiting in a once valuable sea of forests, now seemingly worthless.

The history of the Central Interior poses many questions. If I don’t post anything here for a while it is mainly because I am trying to answer some of those questions.

Sources:

Price, F. A. Fifty Years of Progress at Grand Falls : The Impact of Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company Ltd. on the Economy of Newfoundland. St. John’s: [s.n., 1959.

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