Survival advice from former mill towns

Terry Roberts
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Despite shock of losing paper mills, two New Brunswick towns are doing just fine; say government help essential

As the reality of a decision by AbitibiBowater to close its Grand Falls-Windsor paper mill slowly sinks in, community leaders in two New Brunswick municipalities have been dealing with a similar impact for many months.

And while the loss of their paper mills have been a blow to the Town of Dalhousie and the City of Bathurst, it hasn't been a death sentence.

The former paper mill in Bathurst is a prominent landmark in the New Brunswick town. It closed three and a half years ago, but the mayor says the city is coping with the loss of such an important industry. Submitted photo

As the reality of a decision by AbitibiBowater to close its Grand Falls-Windsor paper mill slowly sinks in, community leaders in two New Brunswick municipalities have been dealing with a similar impact for many months.

And while the loss of their paper mills have been a blow to the Town of Dalhousie and the City of Bathurst, it hasn't been a death sentence.

"We're doing well," said Stephen Brunet, the mayor of Bathurst, a small city of just under 13,000.

Clem Tremblay, mayor of Dalhousie, a town of less than 3,700 residents, is also upbeat.

"We can no longer be known as a one-industry paper town. There will be diversification," he said.

Both mayors say the key to their positive attitudes has been the response from the New Brunswick provincial government, and the determination among area residents to recover from the loss of an industry that sustained them for several generations.

"At the end of the day, the province of Newfoundland has to come to the rescue of that municipality to help them out for the first couple of years," Tremblay said of the situation in Grand Falls-Windsor, where roughly 700 direct jobs will be lost when the century-old mill closes at the end of March.

The crisis in the newsprint sector is industry wide, with mills being closed throughout North America as companies reduce capacity to meet slumping market demand.

After months of unsuccessful negotiations with its union, AbitibiBowater announced Dec. 4 it was permanently closing the Grand Falls-Windsor mill, which would have celebrated a century of making paper next year.

Brunet can sympathize with community leaders in Central Newfoundland, although he didn't get any warning.

Brunet received the shock of his young political career three and a half years ago when the operators of the local paper mill, Chicago-based Smurfit Stone, announced unexpectedly that it was closing the business.

Rough 250 people lost their jobs in a city where paper-making dates back to 1914. At one point, the mill employed 1,000 people.

A few months prior to the announcement, top brass with the company assured Brunet that the mill had a good future.

"We had no idea. It was quite a shock," Brunet said.

But local businesses were preparing for such an eventuality, and had begun diversifying.

It also helped that Bathurst is a regional service centre, with a large community college, hospital and federal offices.

"We were diverse, but it still hurt because (paper-making) was such a part of our history," he said.

Brunet said many of the displaced employees commute to jobs elsewhere in Canada, and continue to live and invest in the area.

An added blow came when a zinc mine in the area was recently idled and another is nearing the end of its lifespan.

The paper mill still sits empty, but Brunet said companies have shown an interest.

"We have to find a niche to make the plant start up again. But chances are there won't be as many employees," he said.

The city's economy is also holding its own, with a handful of new businesses opening this year, said Brunet.

Farther north, in Dalhousie, it hasn't even been a year since the town lost its mill, which, like Grand Falls-Windsor, is owned by AbitibiBowater.

Hundreds were thrown out of work and many have left the region. But Tremblay believes the town has a bright future, and he credits the provincial government for its response. For example, it was recently announced that a new $16 million correctional facility will be built in the town, employing 50 people.

He said it helps that the area is represented by members on the government side.

In the Grand Falls-Windsor region, three MHAs are part of the governing provincial Conservatives - Susan Sullivan, Ray Hunter and Clayton Forsey.

"They are in the driver's seat if they are represented by government members," Tremblay said.

Brunet and Tremblay invited community leaders in Central Newfoundland to contact them. "We can share our experience," Brunet stated.

troberts@thetelegram.com

Organizations: AbitibiBowater, Smurfit Stone

Geographic location: Grand Falls-Windsor, New Brunswick, Dalhousie Bathurst Central Newfoundland Newfoundland North America Canada Grand Falls Windsor

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Don
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    Terry, there is another example that you might have discussed in your article - Stephenville. A mill owned by Abitibit - Bowater also closed here! Same province, just another 300 kms west of Grand Falls - but I understand that it is pretty far from the overpass, so it might not be widely known about in St. John's. Not sure where it is? Try a google search or find a Newfoundland map.

  • Don
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    Terry, there is another example that you might have discussed in your article - Stephenville. A mill owned by Abitibit - Bowater also closed here! Same province, just another 300 kms west of Grand Falls - but I understand that it is pretty far from the overpass, so it might not be widely known about in St. John's. Not sure where it is? Try a google search or find a Newfoundland map.