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Bishop's Falls


The first time I saw Bishop's Falls we were driving to Peter's River for berry picking. As we passed through Bishop's on that delightful looking, rock solid, red highway, it was the log pile, like the ones I would have seen in Grand Falls, that caught my eye as I looked out the car window. At that tender age I was unaware that the AND Company owned both the Bishop's Falls and Grand Falls mills. Nor did I know that a pipeline built by the company in 1924 was used to pump pulp stock from the Bishop's Falls mill to the Grand Falls mill.

The first time I saw Bishop's Falls we were driving to Peter's River for berry picking. As we passed through Bishop's on that delightful looking, rock solid, red highway, it was the log pile, like the ones I would have seen in Grand Falls, that caught my eye as I looked out the car window.

At that tender age I was unaware that the AND Company owned both the Bishop's Falls and Grand Falls mills. Nor did I know that a pipeline built by the company in 1924 was used to pump pulp stock from the Bishop's Falls mill to the Grand Falls mill.

That pipeline once ruptured (near the present location of the helipad on Scott Ave.) and pulp stock was knee high in a boggy area. We took some home, rolled it the size of baseballs, baked it in the oven, and used it for outdoor play. That pipeline is mostly intact to this day.

When the mill closed in 1951, my father and others were sent to Bishop's to dismantle the sulphite machine and log stacker, and reassemble them at the Grand Falls mill. For years afterwards logs from Bishop's Falls division were taken from the river and loaded on trucks with high wooden boxes. Those trucks, small compared to 18-wheelers, looked monstrous on the old red highway.

Along side the company's railway line between both mills was a power line which carried electricity generated at the Bishop's Falls power house to be used at the Grand Falls mill.

Both towns were also serviced by the Red Wing Bus Line.

It left High St. each day at 1 p.m., and chugged its way past Notre Dame Academy and up Church Rd. Once I saw it hit by a barrage of snowballs. From my angle they seemed to be, shockingly, catapulting from the church's front door. Thump, thump, thump - they hit the side of the bus. Did the Sisters ever get wind of that brazen attack?

Bishop's Falls was also a busy spot for the trans-island railway. That reality came home to me the summer I spent a few weeks at my cousin's place, across the street from the railway yard. The sights and sounds of daily freight and passenger trains were quite exciting. One adventure had us exploring the railway's icehouse, a building with mounds of sawdust in which chunks of ice were buried to be used on the dining cars during the summer.

Free roaming cows and horses were another exciting sight, as well as all the hustle and bustle around Gaden's Coca-Cola bottling plant. Refillable bottles in wooden crates, emptied or full, were heard clacking against each other as they were loaded or unloaded from trucks.

My mother came down for a visit, and when she was going back to Grand Falls, I had had enough, and cried to go home. That return trip was another adventure on the company's train. I remember sitting in the caboose, or passenger car and listening to my mother talking to the trainmen. We got off at the back of the Cash and Carry on lower High St, and walked home to Gilbert St.

We often passed through Bishop's Falls on our way to Sandy Point. Back then, a scow, attached to overhead cable, ferried vehicles across the Exploits, a scary trip for children. Now, when driving across the river, on the outdated Bond Bridge, the sight of an approaching tractor-trailer truck is just as scary.

Sometimes we never actually got into Bishop's Falls because our destination was the Fox Farm, a grassy park on the banks of the Exploits at the west end of town. Other times it was a summer Sunday drive to Bishop's Falls for ice cream or a tub of fries.

By the early 1960's, Catholic youth in both towns were all under the same roof either at St. Michael's or St. Catherine's. High school infatuations led to lots of hitch hiking between both towns. A number of those puppy love romances are alive and well today in long lasting marriages.

But love was not on the radar when the Bishop's Falls lads, the Faulkners, Jim Kennedy, and Harold Stanley played for the Conception Bay Ceebees. When the Ceebees were in Grand Falls to play the Andcos, it was a hockey war between the Grand Falls and Bishop's Falls fans. Thankfully, the war was just shouts of joy.

The mill is long gone. Its very existence is hardly known. Even the memories of the railway are fading into oblivion. Whereas, the railway's economic engine is gone, the mill's offspring, the power station will generate a fortune for Nalcor, forever.

Presently, Bishop's Falls has a strong provincial government presence with Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, and the jail. The private sector is well represented with peat, culverts, welding, and styrofoam plants. Other businesses such as restaurants, building supplies, and construction are still in the game.

The recently announced go ahead for a sewage treatment plant will mean a cleaner river. This environmentally friendly project should make salmon fishing and other recreational uses of the river ever more appealing, thus a generator of seasonal jobs.

As for amalgamation of Bishop's Falls with Grand Falls-Windsor, it has to happen sooner, rather than later. Why not go all the way with a regional council that includes all towns from Buchans to Leading Tickles, and have our very own River City?

Such a model of government already exist around Sydney, N.S. where local history, names, and events are still maintained under the umbrella of a regional municipal government.

But for now, Bishop's Falls, staggered twice - first by the loss of the mill, then the railway - still stands on its own two feet, 100 years later. Its glorious past and a promising future are worth a celebration.

For those back for a visit, welcome home. And for those unable to come home, but are home in spirit, long may your big jib draw.

(Andy Barker can be contacted at abdp9@hotmail.com)

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