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The death of a superstar


Often at year's end we see a summary of the prominent people - the superstars - who have died in the past year. Here in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2009 we lost a superstar, not a person, but an industry, the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor.

Often at year's end we see a summary of the prominent people - the superstars - who have died in the past year.

Here in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2009 we lost a superstar, not a person, but an industry, the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor.

How does the mill qualify as a superstar? In all our history there is no other place, including St. John's, like here. The mill and its appendages employed thousands of people year round for nearly 104 years (1905-2009) and exported a completed manufactured product to the world market. Truly a superstar!

It's no coincidence that the coat of arms of the newly incorporated town of Grand Falls in 1961 contained a radiant star.

That star first appeared in 1905 with the incorporation of the Anglo Newfoundland Development Company and its plans for a newsprint mill in the interior's wilderness at the Grand Falls. It was unimaginable then to foresee how this new industry, new town,

was to light up, brighten, the Newfoundland economy for so long.

From 1905 to 1909, 1,000 workers plugged away at logging, the power plant, the mill, and the railway. Their work reached its goal on Dec. 22, 1909 with the first saleable newsprint produced at the mill. From then, until 2009, millions of tons of newsprint were shipped to press rooms all over the world.

The mill's operations poured billions of dollars into the econ-

omy through capital investment, wages, benefits, and goods and services. It provided jobs in Grand Falls, Windsor, Bishop's Falls, Botwood, Badger, Millertown, Terra Nova, Gambo, Heart's Content, St.John's and countless coastal settlements.

As for capital, by 1912 the AND Co had invested $9 million into the project ($227 million in 2009:Bank of Canada calculator). In that same year it paid out $875,000 in wages ($16.5 million: 2009). From 1905 to 1958 wages, purchases and services came in at $375 million ($2.8 billion:2009). Even the $18 million for Number 3 machine in 1967 rings in at $113 million in 2009.

That list of spending does not include expenditures for other paper machines, upgrades, and acquisitions (Bishop's Falls mill and land and equipment at Glovertown). And it does not include the substantial pay out in wages, benefits, pensions, goods and services from 1959 to 2009.

As well, the A.N.D. Co and successor companies poured millions

of dollars into municipal infrastructures, sports, education,

recreation, medical care, and charitable donations. And its employees donated millions of dollars to all the same causes.

The Harmsworth brothers' (Lord Northcliffe, Lord Rothmere) Grand Falls project had a profound influence on Newfoundland. And not just with all the great jobs. The spin-off from the industry showed up in education (especially trades), libraries, sports, the arts, business, and even in war service.

But it wasn't all glory.

Over the decades workers were killed in the mill, in the woods, on the railway and in Botwood. Hundreds were maimed, crippled, cut, torn, burned, crushed, broken, and squat on the job. And even those who survived, the 40 or more years of working day in, day out, wore them out. Long retirements were rare.

Besides the mill, another workhorse of the economy was the Buchans mine (1928-80), a partnership of the mill's owners and the mine operator. For more than 50 years that mine pumped a small fortune into the economy. The Buchans star has long faded, but a new one, the Duck Pond mine, is a godsend to the area.

The Grand Falls star died on March 28, 2009. But unlike a depleted mine, the Grand Falls mill has left behind in its wake a well managed forest, and even more valuable, its hydropower assets at Grand Falls, Bishop's Falls, Buchans, and Star Lake.

According to government figures there were 888 job losses; out of which 130 retired and 163 have found another job. But a whopping 67 per cent are still unemployed and the sting for them and the region will be really felt once the severance and unemployment benefits run out. Will cranberries, a few government jobs, and a college expansion brace our fall? Most unlikely!

The impact of the mill's loss would have been easier if we had been given the star treatment like the other paper town, Corner Brook. It has gotten a lion's share of federal and provincial government jobs the past 50 years be it in education, medicine, and services. Whereas we have seen our government job base erode to Gander. The latest back of the hand to us is the destination of Gander as the office sight for the new central super dump.

In the past 100 years the Exploits region has produced billions of dollars for both the feds and province. And that wealth will still go on indefinitely due to the hydropower on the Exploits. What will be Gander's contribution? Diddlysquat.

Premier Williams is bending over backwards to keep Kruger in Corner Brook. Hope he succeeds. Too bad he was so quick to kick AbibitiBowater in the arse, and shoved them out the door like a drunk at Christmas time.

The government deserves praise for providing severance for the workers. But the government will handily recover it all from the expropriated hydropower and forestry assets. As for severance, it was only for union workers. Management employees, the locals, just like the union workers, don't get a nickel. Awful!

We have been overly influenced by our British genteel founders by being too polite, too proper, too respectful, too cordial, too gracious, too kind, for far too long. Where has it gotten us? Time to be a rowdyman!

Our new council is falling right into the genteel trap by accepting a declining grant from the government to replace AbitibiBowater's grant-in-lieu of taxes. Surely, if a wind farm near St. Lawrence can pay out to that town, then Nalcor can pay a handsome price to us for the juice generated at the Grand Falls.

As well, the council should be insisting that the first priority for the power and forestry should be for new jobs, here. And it should be demanding a development fund similar to the help given to communities that were affected by the railway's shut down.

It has been nine months since the mill closed. Yet, there no real signs of a new life nor a new beginning. However the sweat, death, injuries and

taxes of our forefathers have earned us the right to more than the dribs and drabs of help coming from the government. The William's Government needs an epiphany, a recognition of our 104 years of tireless contribution to the economy. We have paid our dues and rightfully deserve to be treated with the same respect as Corner Brook.

Give us a commitment on the power and the wood. Give us a share of the wealth generated by the hydro. And be as generous as the government of PEI (departments from Charlottetown moving to

Montague and Summerside) and move a government department here.

The eerie stillness of the mill is chilling. No hissing steam. No roar of machines. No whistle. No trucks coming and going. No wood in the mill yard. No sign of men carrying lunch baskets. It's all gone, forever and ever.

Rest in peace, oh great giant! We mourn your ending - the death of a superstar.

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

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