Monday, December 08, 2008

Confessions of a Woodchuck - Remembering "The Mill"

In central Newfoundland the pulp and paper mill is part of the culture. "The Mill" can only mean the pulp and paper mill. A "sample" is a folded rectangle of paper often used to cover a floor when painting or given to a child to scribble on. "The Bark" was the area in Bishop's Falls with the best view of The Falls before the flood. It is as intrinsic to Central as the Fish Plant in Marystown.

Now they will be pulling up their grapnel and drifting into time. It brings to mind a song by "Green Day":

"Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road, Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go... It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right."

The song is subtitled "Time of Your Life" but more appropriately it's title is "Good Riddance".

A century of bark and wood debris that has paved the floor of the bay in Norris Arm a foot deep with de-oxygenated lifeless sludge. Good Riddance.

The industry has been given the great liberty of exclusive timber rights for the richest forests of the island and Labrador. Good Riddance.

Effluent pipes dumping into the river dyes, bleaches, and chemicals of various questionable origin. The other effluent pipe is hidden below the surface of the river. Good Riddance.

The once pine clad hills of Central Newfoundland are laid bare, from the air you can see a vast expanse of clearcut forest which inadequate silviculture has mostly failed to rebuild. Good Riddance.

Helicopters spray herbicides in areas to defoliate leaf-bearing trees to give an advantage to young evergreen growth. The very ecology of our boreal forest at battle with the mainland pulp and paper industry. Good Riddance.

Poor management and maintenance of infrastructure at the Bishop's Falls mill contributed to the flood of 1983 with the loss of homes and the subsequent loss of a life in the aftermath. Good Riddance.

The Exploits River is one of the premier rivers for the Altantic Salmon in the world. Salmon enhancement projects have always had to work with the facilities of the pulp and paper mill, controlling water levels and maintaining salmon ladders, often taking a back seat to the concerns of ABITIBI. Good Riddance.

Electrical power produced by Bishop's Falls and other hydro damns have provided a good reliable source of cheap/free power to the Pulp and Paper industry for decades. Time to use it for better developments. To ABITIBI: Good Riddance.

My grandfather worked for pennys in that mill. Woods workers slept on lice infested boughes in the freezing cold to build that industry for the next generations. Only since the union has a reasonable life for workers existed. Good Riddance.

The Mill has long given up it's upper echelon to executives from Quebec who have skimmed the cream off the top. Good Riddance.

For a century it has been essential to the very definition of being a Central Newfoundlander. The story of building The Mill is a story of taming a vast rich Central Newfoundland wilderness, of a strong and resilient people. Faced with uncertainty there is a confidence among the communities that the very strength of the land, the rivers, the ponds and forests that have sustained them since before the Beothuck, will continue to sustain. Bravely they defied the final attempts of "The Company" to suck the last bit of blood from them. Their strength remains.

My Grandfather, my uncles, my father made a good life off The Mill. It was likely if things remained the same I too would have made my living there. So I am apologetic to them in being critical of our bread and butter for so many years. It is with this same perspective though that I say to the greedy CEOs that have sucked the life from us and the land for so long: Good Riddance, you came here with nothing, you can leave with the same.

1 comment:

NL-ExPatriate said...

Cooking the books and turning the tables on the workers has failed. As long as we stand united we will prevail.
Just finished reading the Danger tree where it goes into detail about the start up of that mill. I read a while ago that book written by a cookie about the woods industry in NL from the beginning up till today. What you have written here is spot on.
Now we just need to either entice capital for a new venture like Dacron material mill or some other economies of scale fitting the area. maybe wind farming with the hydro used as a storage vessel for the energy. I guess even energy wouldn't be much good as long as it remains stranded to the province unless we can convert it into some form of shippable commodity like hydrogen?

Always keeping in mind the essentials food and shelter what with there being 6.5 billion people in the world.