It’s been a proud fixture of Harbour Grace for more than 40 years. But that all came to a startling end this week.
Terra Nova Shoes workers were shocked Tuesday when Kodiak Group Holdings executives announced it was closing down the Newfoundland factory and moving all production to Cambridge, Ont.
Close to 100 workers will lose their jobs when the doors close in November, although Kodiak said all are welcome to apply for job openings in Cambridge.
The Terra Nova legacy dates to the tail end of Joey Smallwood’s ill-fated experiments with manufacturing enterprises.
The most iconic of those was the rubber boot factory in Holyrood, which opened in 1954.
In 2009, then Telegram reporter Steve Bartlett
visited the abandoned 60,000-square-foot factory. Even then, some municipal politicians had the notion they could rescue the derelict building and turn it into a community centre.
Bartlett, now managing editor, described how Smallwood’s grand plans came to be:
“German businessman Ludwig Grube opened the Superior Rubber Factory in 1954. It was part of then-premier Joey Smallwood’s ambitious initiative to diversify the province’s economy by building new factories and getting investors to back them.”
More than a dozen factories were established, including a battery plant in Topsail and a chocolate factory in Bay Roberts. The Terra Nova Shoes operation was the only one to survive.
The rubber factory’s boots became something of a joke. Some customers reported their “high quality” boots fell apart shortly after they left the retail outlet. The plant closed in 1956.
Terra Nova Shoes was everything Superior Rubber wasn’t. It had a good business plan and a quality product, far from Smallwood’s other “crackpot schemes,” as one of Frank Moores’ cabinet ministers called them.
Like Superior’s boots, however, things started to fall apart for Terra Nova in the mid-2000s. The company was taken over by Kodiak Group, which in turn was acquired by a Texas-based company.
The province provided an interest-free loan of
$8 million to the company in 2008, when plans were floated to expand the factory and hire an additional 50 people. Instead, Terra Nova has laid off half its workforce since that time.
Things were looking up last year when the company landed the contract to provide boots to the Canadian Forces. They were supposed to start rolling out this year, but all production will now take place in Cambridge after November.
Smallwood’s clumsy use of taxpayers’ money on losing business prospects should have been a lesson for future administrations, but not a lot has changed.
The lure of much needed private enterprise in this province is hard to resist. And when you’ve got a company that’s been churning away for 40 years, there’s even more pressure to prop it up with public cash.
But the Terra Nova story also goes to show how small-scale success stories can go awry when larger corporations move in and start crunching numbers from a safe distance.