Planting a development seed

Danette Dooley
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Former mill manager suggests resource availability could still lead to local production

The former general manager of the AbitibiBowater pulp and paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor said a tissue-producing plant could possibly work for Central Newfoundland and could utilize the province’s tremendous forest resources.

“I’ve worked all over the world… and I’ve never, ever come across a fibre that’s as good as Newfoundland Black Spruce. Right now it’s only being used for newsprint in Corner Brook and that’s sad,” David Kerr said during a recent telephone interview.

“It’s inexpensive to convert and it’s a shame that that fibre is not being used. In my view, it’s the best fibre in the world,” Kerr added.

Kerr tosses out the idea of some clever engineers and businesspeople coming up with a plan to produce a product that is not in decline.

“I always think that tissue could have been something that could have been done, but that means there’s nothing that could have been done in the (old) mill. You would need to build a new mill.”

Kerr said there is a lot of birch and aspen in Newfoundland that could also be used to make tissue.

“Typically you would also put some softwood in so that would be the Newfoundland Black Spruce. So a mixture of softwood and hardwood in a small kraft mill would make sense,” he said.

While it might possibly make sense and there would be huge markets for such products, Kerr said, such a venture would be both costly and risky.

“You’d need a couple or three tissue machines with the converting plant to make some high end tissue grades, then sell all along the Eastern Seaboard… but, it’s very competitive … To build a mill like that would be expensive but certainly Newfoundland has the fibre resources to do something like that.”

As the former Abitibi-Bowater mill in Grand Falls-Windsor is under demolition, Kerr offered some thoughts on the demise of the facility.

The closure of AbitibiBowater in 2009 – after a century in operation - had nothing to do with its employees, Kerr said, rather advances in technology.

If somebody was to find a business solution for Grand Falls-Windsor, he said, they would have no trouble finding “excellent resources in the labour force.”

“People are clever. They know how to figure things out. That just comes from their background of working and living on an island ... So, if somebody was to come with a good business solution for tissue operations, I’m sure they’d be able to make it work with the labour force they have in Newfoundland.”


About David Kerr

Kerr managed the mill in Grand Falls for five years in the 1990s. He then moved on to manage other mills in Canada and the U.S. before heading to Asia where he spent over a decade working for different pulp and paper companies.

He is currently Vice President of Operations at Paper Excellence Canada Holdings Corp. Headquartered in Richmond, B.C. Paper Excellence owns seven mills in Canada as well as mills in France and Germany.

According to its website ( Paper Excellence employs about 2,600 people in Canada.

Kerr is responsible for four of those mills including Northern Resources in Nova Scotia. The mill, which the company bought in 2011, makes softwood kraft pulp that it sells to Asian markets where it’s turned into non-communication paper such as tissue, printing and writing paper and board.

The company has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the mill, Kerr said, having spent over 35M in the last two years in modern emission control equipment.


Writing on the wall

Because of the decline in the newsprint industry, Kerr doesn’t believe anything more could have been done to save the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor.


“We might have been able to buy a year or two with cost savings initiatives… but making the products that it was making, I think it’s doubtful that there would have been a long-term future for Grand Falls (mill).”

Newsprint mills are difficult to convert to non-communication type papers, he said.

“You can make value added grades of newsprint. You can make inserts but to get into board or tissue of packaging grades is next to impossible,” he said.

He believes the mill got caught up in the downturn of the newsprint industry as more people turned to the Internet for news, classifieds, business and other information.

He uses the horse and buggy analogy to reiterate why the mill’s life had run out.

“After the car was invented, you could never, ever make a better horse and buggy... You just could not compete with automobiles. So eventually the business of making buggies for horses just disappeared. That’s kind of the same thing we saw with newsprint versus the Internet.”

The mill in Grand Falls-Windsor is now being demolished. When asked if he felt any of the machines could be used for other purposes, Kerr doubted that could happen.

“That type of equipment is specialized for making newsprint. It’s difficult if not impossible to convert that equipment to other than paper products… So, unless somebody was able to find a business solution that would work on some paper grades, there’s nothing you can do with the equipment.”

Kerr spent over two decades living and working in Grand Falls-Windsor. It’s where his three children were born and grew up, he said.

“I miss Grand Falls. I get back every now and then… and get to talk to friends. When I go down and look at the mill, it’s sad to just see it just standing there, not running because I worked hard to help it have a future at a time when communication papers weren’t in jeopardy.”



Organizations: AbitibiBowater, Paper Excellence Canada Holdings Corp. Headquartered

Geographic location: Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland, Corner Brook Grand Falls Canada Eastern Seaboard U.S. Asia Richmond France Germany.According Canada.Kerr Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • David Thompson
    January 09, 2016 - 10:22

    We need development in tha GFW area. We cannot rely on tourism as there is little revenue added to the towns coffers from that. And besides nobody will come in the wintertime. We need year round employment. Our forest resources are really good raw material we need to take advantage of that. And I know the mill area pretty good. From the forebay to the power canal to the gates to the short penstock to the generating station to the tail race to the access road is like 800 meters long and is a secure area no trespassing so even with the mill gone you cannot see the river except from the south side which has always been there so forget gettin tourists there all they will see is a fence when the mill is gone !!! Dave T.

  • bern
    January 06, 2016 - 18:31

    Why is it that I cannot stop laughing at such foolish commentary.

  • Jim Johnson
    January 05, 2016 - 18:27

    all you bleeding heart liberals have grand visions of hordes of tourists visiting the gorge behind the mil ??? Ha !! obviously you haven't even been to the site as I could take you right now to the salmon ladder area and you can see the exact same thing from across the river you dolts the demolition of the mill and the replacement with a field will not bring a single additional tourist to GFW im not saying kerrs exactly right I don't know with his tissue idea but I do know a a new mill will bring millions and millions into the region and it baffles me why anybody would be against this I'm Jimmy "Jack" Johnson and that is my real name and I'm not hiding behind some silly handle like citizen or resident and I approve this message !

    • resident
      January 06, 2016 - 07:56

      first of all I am not a bleeding heart liberal. I have been across the south side of that river many times the falls can't be seen from the north side so what I am saying is continue with the tear down and open up the beauty of the falls. what makes you think it will be an open field? as for the tissue mill, why not build in badger, bishop falls, or even botwood.

    • Paul
      January 06, 2016 - 13:16

      "Citizen" is dead on the money. That mill was built over 100 years ago when industry was the only bright light. This day and age such a development should never be built in such an area. As for tourism value? Its limitless with possibilities such as rafting, zip lining, a cable car, high end accomodations on and on...... Out with the old school and in with the new.....bleeding heart liberals or otherwise. Some of us have business other considerations when deciding to post our name. At least we are posting valuable "opinions" and looking to the future with everything considered.

  • Citizen
    January 04, 2016 - 21:53

    Tissue? Your kidding me! Just where I want the forest to be used. I guessed Dave Kerr was the past manager that suggested such nonsense as soon as I read the first few lines. He was probably the most disrespecteď manager ever to manage this mill and I am surprised but happer to read his high opionion of the workers. Most found him very rude.

  • Robert P. Alexander
    January 04, 2016 - 16:06

    What about the utilities at the mill is that all demolished yet. A tissue plant would need an electrical distribution system, water, steam, air, and also an effluent treatment system why can't those things at the mill be reused for a tissue paper mill. maybe this is all ruined and is disrepair its probably too late to salvage any of those systems. Bob

  • resident
    January 04, 2016 - 07:59

    forget about a tissue mill and keep knocking it down and open up the beauty of the exploits and the grandfalls that lies within. as for the land along the river, its so contaminated that it will take years to cleanup.

    • Fred Goodine
      January 04, 2016 - 08:37

      I don't agree with the "resident" he is old school that's what's wrong with some folks in town. We need to look at Developnent for Grand Falls Windsor and modern environmental equipment is available now so a tissue business can be done without any hazards. Freddy G.

    • paul
      January 04, 2016 - 21:46

      I think you have that backward Fred. The old school train of though is industry like the tissue idea. The new school is recoginizing the beauty and natural value in this unique gorge. We are one of the few gorge towns in the world so tear it down and clean it up and they will come......tourists that is.

    • resident
      January 05, 2016 - 07:52

      you must be drinking too much of that screech fred. OLD SCHOOL ? open up the beauty of the grandfalls which as been hidden for so long and like paul says, the tourist will come.

  • Candy Lewis
    January 04, 2016 - 05:43

    As David Kerr suggests we should look at making tissue from the poplar and birch and spruce we have here but better to put the mill in Botwood or Lewisport because then you don't need to truck it to a port it is already there. My father told me the only reason the mill ended up in Grand Falls was because in 1905 when construction started then did not know how to transmit electricity that far so they needed to put the mill right at the water falls. My dad worked at the mill for 37 years God love him and God rest his soul.

  • Candy Lewis
    January 04, 2016 - 05:41

    As David Kerr suggests we should look at making tissue from the poplar and birch and spruce we have here but better to put the mill in Botwood or Lewisport because then you don't need to truck it to a port it is already there. My father told me the only reason the mill ended up in Grand Falls was because in 1905 when construction started then did not know how to transmit electricity that far so they needed to put the mill right at the water falls. My dad worked at the mill for 37 years God love him and God rest his soul.