Remanents of Newfoundland's First Pulp Mill
Black River, Placentia Bay
Hidden in the trees and overgrown grass on the north shore of Placentia Bay are the remains of Newfoundland's first pulp mill. The mill was built in 1897 by the Newfoundland Chemical Wood Pulp Company Ltd. At the time the company was owned by Harvey and Company, a St. John's business created with the hopes of attracting British Investors and paper mills to buy and exploit the large amounts of wood on the island.
To gain the interest of British investors the Newfoundland Chemical Wood Pulp Company Ltd built a "trial" pulp mill at the mouth of Black River, near the community of Swift Current. The site was ideal because of its proximity to a river for the creation of power and its location near a deep, ice free, saltwater bay allowing for easy transporting of materials. Construction began in May of 1897 and was finished in November of that year. During that time 400 workers were hired to build a dam, mill, offices, stores and a manager residence nearby.
Water was allowed to flow over the top of the dam which allowed it to spin turbines in order to provide power to the mill. The turbines could produce up to 12,000 horsepower at peak power. Because of this and its enormous size of the structure, the mill had a capacity of producing 20 tons of pulp every day.
Production began immediately following the mill's completion in November of 1897. 40 people were hired on to work at the mill full time and another 200 hired on to log the surrounding areas. The workers logged 340 square kilometers near Pipers Hole River that was bought and owned by the company. In February of 1898, 2000 tons of pulp was shipped to Manchester, England where it was evenly distributed to a number of mills and investors across the country. The quality of the pulp was very satisfying at first glance and the company's confidence in success was high.
However, the mill did not last long. British investors showed little interest in the company's success. This was because the investors believed that insufficient water levels on the river and high operating cost would make the venture unworthy of the amount of money needed to be invested in order to open up more mills on the island. Because of this, the Newfoundland Chemical Wood Pulp Company Ltd shut down the mill in 1903. The mill's failure gave many investors and local business owners the impression that pulp mills was not a profitable business and had little future in Newfoundland.
Today the mill really is hidden and forgotten. At the mouth of Black River, you can find what's left of the concrete foundations of the mill. Closer to the river where the dam once stood, is a concrete structure built over a small cave like opening filled with seawater. Water redirected by the dam would have flown through the turbines and flowed out through this man made cavern. Throughout the area, large pieces of rusting machinery and concrete structures remain today. Among these are the turbines that were once used to power the mill along with the foundations to several smaller buildings.
The area is an excellent place to adventure and explore. Very little of the area has been explored and as previously stated, it has all been forgotten about. Walking through the area makes you realize how upsetting it is to see such an important part of Newfoundland's history forgotten and gone unnoticed. This website was designed to expose, protect and document these hidden sites. Far to may have been forgotten and all have played a large role in the development of the country and province of Newfoundland.
Over the last hundred years pulp mills became a viable asset to Newfoundland's economy and it all began here with this mill.
Sources & Further Exploring
McNeily, B. (1998). Back River Pulp Mill. Newfoundland Quarterly, Summer 1998. Found at http://sites.rootsweb.com/~cannf/pbbrpulp.htm.