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Waiting for something to happen: Impact of Grand Falls-Windsor mill closure still being felt across central Newfoundland

Courtesy of the Grand Falls-Windsor Heritage Society
#3 (Moby Joe) paper machine built in 1968.
Courtesy of the Grand Falls-Windsor Heritage Society #3 (Moby Joe) paper machine built in 1968. - Contributed

BOTWOOD, N.L. & GREEN BAY SOUTH, N.L. - Ten years ago, Glenn Peyton’s truck hauled the last load of pulpwood to the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor.

Today, the fourth-generation contracting company no longer exists.

“We were dedicated pulpwood contractors for Abitibi, and once the mill closed so did our relationship with the company,” he said.

In 2009, after the closure, Peyton turned his attention to supplying sawmills with logs and shipping some pulpwood to Corner Brook.

But it was just a temporary solution.

"Most of the employment in the logging side of operations affected communities from the Bonavista Peninsula to Springdale, because that’s where the wood fiber was sourced. The communities are coping, sure, but only because they got used to the fact that the mill is no longer in operation.”

-Glenn Peyton

“We did that for a couple of years, but for us it wasn’t a viable operation,” he said. “We did that while waiting on the sidelines for something bigger to happen.”

However, nothing materialized. After several failed attempts at revitalizing the forest industry in central Newfoundland, Peyton said reality set in and the decision to cease operation was made.

“We had a bit of equipment to move and we wanted to get out while the going was still good,” he said. “Within the last two-three years we have sold everything off.”

During its manual log cutting days, the company oversaw upwards of 125 loggers. The shift to mechanical harvesting in the late-‘90s provided between 30-35 jobs.


Botwood will welcome artists from around the world next Sept. 12 through 15 for the Global Mural Conference. Sceviour’s Sawmill by Caroline Noseworthy is one of the earlier efforts of the program that began in 2010.
Botwood will welcome artists from around the world next Sept. 12 through 15 for the Global Mural Conference. Sceviour’s Sawmill by Caroline Noseworthy is one of the earlier efforts of the program that began in 2010.

Impact

Operating as a dedicated contractor, the hiring was done through Abitibi, but Peyton said it meant area employment. When the closure took place, it created an economic impact in the central region that is still felt to this day, he said.

“You just don’t talk about how it impacted Grand Falls-Windsor, it equally impacted the number of people who cut wood in the surrounding communities. Most of the employment in the logging side of operations affected communities from the Bonavista Peninsula to Springdale, because that’s where the wood fiber was sourced,” he said. “The communities are coping, sure, but only because they got used to the fact that the mill is no longer in operation.”

Edmond Fudge, from Brighton, spent 31 seasons with AbitibiBowater in the silviculture sector, thinning and replanting forest.

It was a job he enjoyed dearly and still thinks about to this day.

“The last year I was there, I was trained as an excavator operator. I thought it was going to lead to a full-time job. In the back of our mind we figured something was going to work out, but come spring they shut everything down.”

-Edmond Fudge

“I thought I was going to retire at it,” he said. “But it never worked out that way.”

He remembers there being talk of a closure coming, but because it appeared to be business as usual, he never thought it was going to happen.

“The last year I was there, I was trained as an excavator operator. I thought it was going to lead to a full-time job,” Fudge recalled. “In the back of our mind we figured something was going to work out, but come spring they shut everything down.”

Fudge couldn’t say how many people were employed by the company in the Green Bay South area, but noted there were enough jobs to warrant a bus service for cutters.

Because his line of work was seasonal, Fudge said there wasn’t much in the way of severance, which meant it was time to move on rather quickly.

He said displaced workers either found work locally, took jobs out west or retired altogether.

As a result, Fudge said, the closure didn’t disrupt Green Bay South’s economy in a big way.

“It seems most everybody went on to very good jobs after and Grand Falls-Windsor still prospered,” he said.


The Abitibi shed is a sprawling 100,000-square-foot facility that has been a key piece of real estate in several proposed projects in Botwood.
The Abitibi shed is a sprawling 100,000-square-foot facility that has been a key piece of real estate in several proposed projects in Botwood.


Attempts

In Botwood, Mayor Scott Sceviour said his community saw between 200-300 people lose their jobs as a result of the closure. This employment was split between harvesting, the shipping of paper from Botwood’s waterfront, and working at the mill directly.

While the closure hasn’t resulted in a significant decline in the town’s population, holding at nearly 3,000 people, Sceviour said there hasn’t been any major investment to see it prosper.

And it’s not for a lack of trying.

“At the end of the day, in all fairness to all involved, some of these companies were coming here looking for money, wanted to get something for nothing or just wanted the timber allocation, and we weren’t interested in that.”

-Botwood Mayor Scott Sceviour

Sceviour said Botwood has seen six attempts at establishing timber projects, but all fell through. The last attempt, in 2018, was from Bulk Logistics, a company based in the United Kingdom, to chip and ship wood product to overseas markets.

Currently, a local sawmill company – Harold Sheppard Ltd. (HSL) – is set up at the mill’s former paper shed, but Sceviour didn’t specify the details of its intentions.

Too see such a long and dragged out process in revitalizing the industry has Sceviour feeling tired and frustrated.

“But you have to keep plugging away at it,” Sceviour said of the ongoing work. “At the end of the day, in all fairness to all involved, some of these companies were coming here looking for money, wanted to get something for nothing or just wanted the timber allocation, and we weren’t interested in that.”

Because at the end of the day, he said, the goal is to create a viable industry for central Newfoundland.

Investments

Being from Bishop’s Falls, Scott Simms, MP for Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame, knows what the mill meant to the area — his father worked there for 45 years.

Simms said the federal government assisted where it could, following the closure.

“I don’t know if we can make one investment to create as much employment as the mill,” he said.

Instead, Simms said investments have been made to support the re-education of displaced workers, along with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) investing in small business growth and new employment opportunities.

“I don’t know if we can make one investment to create as much employment as the mill.”

-Scott Simms, MP for Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame

One such investment he mentioned was ACOA’s supporting the establishment of a genomic-based Research and Development Centre for Hearing Science in Grand Falls-Windsor.

He still sees potential in wood fiber, particularly biofuel.

“Biofuel is a major part of western Europe,” he said. “There is a good export market that we could be getting into, I know the Great Northern Peninsula is taking advantage of it, and there is still some talk happening in Botwood.”

But it’s is something that has to be handled on the provincial level first.

“We come in after the fact, after a contract is signed,” he said. “We have agencies, like the export development corporation, to assist companies who are in the business of shipping overseas.”

Right now, as far as the forestry sector is concerned, Simms there is no direct involvement for the federal government.

Do you have a story to share about the mill or the people who worked there?

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