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Scotsburn closure marks end of 90 years of ice cream


It has been 25 years since Keith Spurrell started work with Scotsburn Ice Cream in St. John’s. He will finish up on Dec. 9.

After a quarter-century in shipping and receiving at the manufacturing plant on LeMarchant Road, he will be one of 167 unionized workers Unifor says will be without a job as a result of a decision to shut the longstanding operation.

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Scotsburn plant in St. John’s to close in December

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“It’s pretty devastating,” Spurrell said Wednesday. “But I’m sure that’s not the first time you heard that with closures around Newfoundland.”

The plant is already down from its annual peak staffing and, as reported, there have been more than the usual layoffs over the past couple of months. A core team will remain to the end.

Regardless of their title, Spurrell said, workers are expecting a hard road ahead.

“Right now the economy of Newfoundland is very poor. And people are just not hiring right now. The age limit here now, like myself, I’m 58. We have a woman who’s 63. Our chances of getting hired on with the same salary are slim to none,” he said.

Machine operators in their 30s and 40s are younger, but also worked specific manufacturing positions.

“It’s semi-skilled labour and their jobs, for the salary they’re getting, are going to be hard to find. It’s going to be very, very, very, very tough times for them.  … But these are people that are after purchasing houses, and have new families, and cars, and years of skill and experience here at a specialized plant. They leave here, and they’re making $25 an hour, and they go somewhere where they’re making $15 an hour part time, it’s going to be a devastating lifestyle change for them.”

Spurrell is looking at his own options. He said his wife is working full time, but he plans to look for another job. The couple has two college-age children.

The company is providing severance and pension packages. As reported, chief operating officer Jeff Burrows says employees will be treated fairly, and the closure was a difficult decision.

Spurrell said the closure is not a surprise.

“There’s a number of reasons why the plant is closing, but mostly it’s because we didn’t meet our margins,” he said, placing the blame for that at the feet of a business that grew, changed and lost its belief in this place.

New plants opened elsewhere in the country and closer to key export markets, and transportation is considered less risky as well as lower in cost, he said. Competition from other producers was stiff. And along the way, Spurrell suggested, there were local missteps.

“I remember how busy we were here and I remember how everybody was working like ants, it was so fast and so furious. It was really a hot place to work in. But the past three or four months or five or six months, it’s just stopped,” he said.

The shutdown marks the end of an era in more ways than one. The Scotsburn operation was previously Brookfield Ice Cream Ltd., a business with ice cream-making operations dating back to 1926 — some of the oldest manufacturing roots in the province.

“Before 1926 in Newfoundland most people who wanted ice cream had to get out the old family ‘freezer’ and do the job by hand,” noted a piece on the Brookfield business in the November 1946 issue of the magazine Atlantic Guardian. “Many a successful business or professional man in St. John’s today remembers taking his turn at the two- or three-hour cranking job that had to be done before the delicious frozen delicacy was ready to grace the family table.”

It all changed in this province when the then-president of Brookfield Creamery Ltd. out of Truro, N.S., came to St. John’s and set up the only large-scale ice cream manufacturing business on the island at the time, setting up on Water Street East.

The move to LeMarchant Road came in 1930.

The Brookfield operation expanded quickly, moving from a staff of 18 in 1939 to employing 160 people throughout Newfoundland by 1961, when employment growth was noted in the province’s annual Who’s Who. Decades of growth were managed by city businessman H.R. Luscombe.

Scotsburn started at the LeMarchant Road plant after a corporate merger in 1988, acquiring full interest in 1995.

Exports outside of the province began in 1989.

Scotsburn invested in new equipment for the plant, including a first-in-Canada “glacier machine” in 1998, allowing for production of more novelty ice cream products. There was a full overhaul in 2006-08.

At one point, as noted in a 2010 piece in Atlantic Business Magazine, the former Brookfield Ice Cream and now Scotsburn Ice Cream plant was shipping products to 28 countries.

After a quarter-century in shipping and receiving at the manufacturing plant on LeMarchant Road, he will be one of 167 unionized workers Unifor says will be without a job as a result of a decision to shut the longstanding operation.

RELATED STORIES:

Scotsburn plant in St. John’s to close in December

Scotsburn trims managers at St. John’s operation

“It’s pretty devastating,” Spurrell said Wednesday. “But I’m sure that’s not the first time you heard that with closures around Newfoundland.”

The plant is already down from its annual peak staffing and, as reported, there have been more than the usual layoffs over the past couple of months. A core team will remain to the end.

Regardless of their title, Spurrell said, workers are expecting a hard road ahead.

“Right now the economy of Newfoundland is very poor. And people are just not hiring right now. The age limit here now, like myself, I’m 58. We have a woman who’s 63. Our chances of getting hired on with the same salary are slim to none,” he said.

Machine operators in their 30s and 40s are younger, but also worked specific manufacturing positions.

“It’s semi-skilled labour and their jobs, for the salary they’re getting, are going to be hard to find. It’s going to be very, very, very, very tough times for them.  … But these are people that are after purchasing houses, and have new families, and cars, and years of skill and experience here at a specialized plant. They leave here, and they’re making $25 an hour, and they go somewhere where they’re making $15 an hour part time, it’s going to be a devastating lifestyle change for them.”

Spurrell is looking at his own options. He said his wife is working full time, but he plans to look for another job. The couple has two college-age children.

The company is providing severance and pension packages. As reported, chief operating officer Jeff Burrows says employees will be treated fairly, and the closure was a difficult decision.

Spurrell said the closure is not a surprise.

“There’s a number of reasons why the plant is closing, but mostly it’s because we didn’t meet our margins,” he said, placing the blame for that at the feet of a business that grew, changed and lost its belief in this place.

New plants opened elsewhere in the country and closer to key export markets, and transportation is considered less risky as well as lower in cost, he said. Competition from other producers was stiff. And along the way, Spurrell suggested, there were local missteps.

“I remember how busy we were here and I remember how everybody was working like ants, it was so fast and so furious. It was really a hot place to work in. But the past three or four months or five or six months, it’s just stopped,” he said.

The shutdown marks the end of an era in more ways than one. The Scotsburn operation was previously Brookfield Ice Cream Ltd., a business with ice cream-making operations dating back to 1926 — some of the oldest manufacturing roots in the province.

“Before 1926 in Newfoundland most people who wanted ice cream had to get out the old family ‘freezer’ and do the job by hand,” noted a piece on the Brookfield business in the November 1946 issue of the magazine Atlantic Guardian. “Many a successful business or professional man in St. John’s today remembers taking his turn at the two- or three-hour cranking job that had to be done before the delicious frozen delicacy was ready to grace the family table.”

It all changed in this province when the then-president of Brookfield Creamery Ltd. out of Truro, N.S., came to St. John’s and set up the only large-scale ice cream manufacturing business on the island at the time, setting up on Water Street East.

The move to LeMarchant Road came in 1930.

The Brookfield operation expanded quickly, moving from a staff of 18 in 1939 to employing 160 people throughout Newfoundland by 1961, when employment growth was noted in the province’s annual Who’s Who. Decades of growth were managed by city businessman H.R. Luscombe.

Scotsburn started at the LeMarchant Road plant after a corporate merger in 1988, acquiring full interest in 1995.

Exports outside of the province began in 1989.

Scotsburn invested in new equipment for the plant, including a first-in-Canada “glacier machine” in 1998, allowing for production of more novelty ice cream products. There was a full overhaul in 2006-08.

At one point, as noted in a 2010 piece in Atlantic Business Magazine, the former Brookfield Ice Cream and now Scotsburn Ice Cream plant was shipping products to 28 countries.

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