The expropriated AbitibiBowater forestry holdings are a far cry from the original land deal made between the Bond Government and the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company in 1905.
And none of the AND Company's holdings were free according to John A. Munro's PhD thesis (UBC, 1978).
Munro shows the AND Company's 1905 deal as 2314 sq miles, and that deal included the purchase of the Lewis Miller's operations from Newfoundland Timber Estates (Harry Crowe et al).
By 1933, AND Company limits had increased to 7479 sq miles with the purchases of holdings in Bishop's Falls, Glovertown and on the Northern Peninsula. Munro estimates the deals cost the AND Company $4.5 - $6.87 million. With the bulk purchased by 1933, the holdings are worth $84 - $113 million in today's dollars.
By 1962 the AND Company's final tally was 7577 sq miles, 3.27 times the original land deal or 3.4 - Prince Edward Islands.
Various explorers ventured up the Exploits in past times, and of special interest to us, now, is Alexander Murray and James P. Howley (Geological Survey of Newfoundland: Reports from 1864 to 1880; London 1881) who surveyed the Exploits River and Red Indian Lake in 1871. (Their Montagnais guide Mattie Mitchell later discovered the Buchans ore deposit for the AND Company).
Noted in their report, "no observant person visiting the valley of the Exploits could fail to be impressed with the manifold advantages it presents for the prosecution of industrial pursuits such as lumbering and agriculture." Lumbering never really took off, but pulp and paper, the backbone of our economy for almost 100 years, is now, dead. What's next? Agriculture?
Absolutely! And Murray and Howley noted that possibility, "it has been already stated that the land throughout this valley is generally level and gentle undulating; and it will be perceived that the quality of its spontaneous production may be fairly taken as indicative of a fertile soil. The width of this fertile belt of land varies at different parts of the river, but taking the average about 2 miles on either side (and it is probably much more) there would be reclaimable country of 280 square miles or 179,200 acres exclusive of the country around the lake."
They also reported more land north of the mouth of the river
(Wooddale) as well as large tracts around Norris Arm and the
valley around Little Rattling Brook.
The 2006 Canada farm census shows Newfoundland having the lowest cultivated acreage at 89,441 (PEI next at 619, 885). Our last place standing is reinforced by promoting our island as - The Rock. That image erroneously perpetuates the silly notion that we are a barren land with practically no soil when in fact some of best farmland on the island was a forestry reserve for the newsprint industry from 1905 to 2009.
Since the 2006 census, AbitibiBowater's vast holdings have become Crown land. Its 3596 sq miles in the Valley (expect 55 per cent to be bog, low quality forest, barren and water; Munro) has significant farm potential. Even if 400,000 acres were redeveloped as farms (1000 acres each) there would still exist 1000 sq miles of prime forest stands for other uses - other jobs. Win, win!
And some of that 55 per cent, such as bog, could be reclaimed for animal use and crops. As well, greenhouses - natural heat in the summer and other times by peat, wood or electricity – could supply the more delicate products (tomatoes, etc) we now import.
The Valley's fertility that Murray and Howley observed has been proven in Wooddale and other Valley areas with such products as hay, alfalfa, milk, eggs, root crops, sea buckthorn, strawberries, blueberries and cranberries soon. However, it would take lots of hard work, money, and extraordinary visionary leadership along with new pioneers to break open the new farmland.
To get a tantalizing view of what the Exploits Valley could look like, checkout Wooddale on Google Maps. Now, imagine that impressive view of Wooddale's 3000 acres (roughly) spread throughout the Valley, over and over - 133 more times. Holy, rutabagas!
Done properly, the Exploits Valley could become the breadbasket of Newfoundland. And not just bread. The region could produce more root crops, more poultry products as well as beef, pork, lamb and many other foods for human and livestock consumption.
How serious should we take farming? Newfoundland's world-renowned columnist, Gwynne Dyer, was in the province recently addressing, not just the global crisis of food, but our dependence on others for it. Right now, we produce very little of our own and could be in a pickle, quickly, in a crisis. What would you do if suddenly the mainland-loaded trucks didn't show up at Colemans, Dominion or Sobeys for a few weeks, or God forbid - months?
The death of the newsprint industry may very well be a blessing in disguise if from its ashes rises a dynamic farming industry to feed ourselves forever - and a day. Who knows, we could end up as a major exporter of food? And not just fish!
Hate to sound like Joey Smallwood but farming (unlike the pie in the sky jobs of a rubber factory etc of the 1950s) could create 100s if not 1000s of new jobs - new lunch baskets - to keep people living and working in the Valley for generations to come.
Ding! Ding! Ding! Anybody home in Confederation Building?
Anybody in there with their brains not stogged up with oil or
Muskrat Falls? Anybody in there able to see the jobs beneath our feet?
Anybody in there able to see that the Exploits Valley has the very real potential to be the province's root cellar?
Andy Barker at firstname.lastname@example.org