Let’s hope we all won’t have to pack our bags for Alberta

It’s a day of change for southwestern Nova Scotia: mills that literally altered the province’s landscape and culture are closing.

About 2,000 people in the local forestry industry are out of work.

Call it Bowaters, Resolute, or the Mersey. Either way, the beginning of the end is here, after the local mills limped along as best they could in a struggling global economy.

It all began in 1929, when wealthy financier Izaak Walton Killam (the Donald Trump of Canada at the time), started a mill in Liverpool, Queens County to make newsprint. (If the name sounds familiar, it’s because part of Killam’s vast fortune went to a new children’s hospital in Halifax that now provides state-of-the-art healthcare to the Maritimes.)

At the time, the Mersey Paper Company damned the Mersey River to generate electricity for the mill. Lake Rossignol formed from the backed up water; it is now the largest freshwater lake in the province, and a refuge for wildlife thanks to its remote location.

When Killam died, a company named Bowater bought the company’s assets, and the power generating station was sold to Nova Scotia Power. The company became the Bowater Mersey. Since then, the name has changed many times. Later it was known as Bowater, and more recently, Abitibi Bowater. Then Resolute Forest Products. That will be its last name.

Still, most people just call it Bowaters, in that way we add Ss and other letters to random words.

Its sibling, the Oakhill lumber mill just outside of Bridgewater, was built around 1969. That was where my uncle worked until recently; thankfully, he retired this year.

While the Liverpool/Brooklyn plant generated newsprint (The Washington Post owned about half the company’s shares), the Oakhill mill produced lumber. Chips leftover from the lumber-making process were trucked to the pulp mill in Brooklyn and eventually made into newsprint for more Washington Posts.

This is an example of what the rolls of newsprint would have looked like pre-1956:

As you can see, the roll is not life-sized; I bought this relic at a yard sale a couple of years ago. (It even smells old.)

Before my time, my grandfather worked for the Mersey. He was a cook in the wood camps, and apparently, could make a mean batch of doughnuts. He lived away from the family for weeks at a time—like all the men who were cutting for the company.

Things were different for my father. He travelled daily to the woods (though sometimes this commute took a couple of hours). Since I can remember, he has cut wood for the company, both as a company contractor and an independent contractor. Sometimes he built roads that snaked through company lands.

Needless to say, I grew up in a household revolving around the forest. I still don’t recognize all the species of trees, and I still can’t look at a truck and determine whether it’s carrying logs or pulpwood. I guess I’m a bit of an indoor girl, better suited to helping out with the book work than firing up a chainsaw.

I’ve already written an e-mail to my local MLA asking that the government consider a compensation package to contractors who cannot collect Employment Insurance. As the government will receive some of their rescue/bailout package back from Resolute, it only makes sense that it be used to keep local contractors from going bankrupt.

It’s hard to know what will happen to our local economy with the permanent shutdown of such a big employer. No doubt people will go bankrupt. EI claims will go through the roof. And food bank lines will get longer.

I hope we don’t all have to move to Alberta.

No offence, Alberta: you just aren’t by the ocean.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. dianne says:

    we used to truck wood to bowater, it has effects us greatly.. : (

    1. Julie says:

      It’s awful how big companies just don’t care. I know they can’t lose money, but surely some investment could have been made to improve the mills. 😦

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