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An historic event


The editorial of the day summed it up quite well. History was made in Grand Falls-Windsor on June 30, 1967. Premier Aleksei Kosygin of the Soviet Union (Russia) made an unexpected visit to tour our company's paper mill and town. The news was earth shattering and while I didn't get to see him there was certainly a buzz throughout the community.

My perspective -

The editorial of the day summed it up quite well. History was made in Grand Falls-Windsor on June 30, 1967. Premier Aleksei Kosygin of the Soviet Union (Russia) made an unexpected visit to tour our company's paper mill and town.

The news was earth shattering and while I didn't get to see him there was certainly a buzz throughout the community.

The Russian Premier and his party were on their way to Paris following several days in the United States where he had met with President Lyndon Johnson and spoke at the United Nations. Premier Kosygin's visit to the United Nations was in connection with the debate on the Middle East situation.

During the early morning hours of June 30 officials of the company were notified that the Premier wished to tour an industrial area. Arrangements for the visit were speedily completed by company officials in conjunction with Premier Joseph R. Smallwood's office in St. John's. After his arrival in Grand Falls the Soviet leader also said he would like to visit the town's co-operative store and this was arranged with the firm's comptroller.

Many residents of the town lined the route and cheered as the Soviet leader arrived at the mill and the Co-op store. It was an historic event for our community.

It was the first time in history a Russian head of state visited the province. Numerous world leaders have passed through the international airport at Gander, but it is thought that never before has a USSR Premier gone beyond the boundaries of the airport.

The paper company back then was known as Price (Nfld.) Pulp and Paper and the Resident General Manager, L.D. Wickwire was host for this history-making event. The late Mr. Wickwire revisited Grand Falls-Windsor just prior to his death and recalled the event with great pride.

This visit was another in the long line of "firsts" for both the town and the company and yet to some it seems like yesterday.

It's ironic over 40 years later the Co-op store is gone; Gander airport is but a shadow of its former self, the Soviet Union has fallen apart and the paper mill which played host to the event is now permanently closed. It's probably safe to say - nothing stays the same.

But through it all Grand Falls House remains and while its status is uncertain it does mark a special place in this town's history.

The town says there is grave concern for the future of this building and grounds that many consider to be of great historic significance. While the future of this property is still up in the air, council requests the company gift the property to the town so that we as a community can ensure its future use protects the heritage value it has in the community.

The town also wants the property to have municipal heritage status. That hopefully will protect it from being demolished or modified. It doesn't mean the town takes on a financial responsibility but rather gives it heritage protection. But if the town takes ownership it will have to come up with a plan to take full responsibility and that could be costly.

It's my perspective the town should make sure they have all their ducks in order in the event the Grand Falls House is gifted to the community. The provincial government had better be involved and the federal government ready to help as well. We have a history in this region of putting the cart before the horse. As one person put it - giving this house to the town of Grand Falls-Windsor is like giving a drowning man a rock.

While I can't say I agree, I do know there is a price we must pay to maintain our heritage. God knows we have lost many old buildings in this community to the wrecking ball of history.

I just wonder how much preserving Grand Falls House will cost and if we can afford it. Hopefully there's a solid plan. Like everything else time will tell.

(Roger Pike writes from Grand Falls-Windsor. He can be reached at roger.pike@nf.sympatico.ca)

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