The island of Newfoundland contains 15 million acres of forest, of which more than nine million acres are
considered productive. Most of these are located in the western and central areas of the island,
representing 56% of the island's land area. In Labrador there are 13 million acres of productive forest,
located mainly in the valleys of the Churchill, Alexis, Eagle, and Kaipokok rivers. Most of Newfoundland's
productive forest consists of softwood species: balsam fir and black spruce. The hardwood found in the
region is mainly white birch.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the forest resources of Newfoundland and Labrador played a significant
role in the material culture of Native peoples, who used fir and birch bark to make dwellings, storehouses
and containers. They used wood to make tools, weapons and household items, and used forest products
for food and for medicinal purposes.
From the beginning of European exploration of Newfoundland, the main economic activity, the fishery,
depended upon the resources of the forests. Both fishers and merchants in the migratory fishery needed
wood to build flakes, boats, and barrels. They also cut wood along the shoreline for fuel and shelter, and
to use as
Settlement, and the shift to a family-based fishery in the early 19th century led to the development of a
small-scale forest industry, which was to expand into a major sector of the economy.
Commercial use of the forests began gradually in the middle of the 19th century. Sawmills were established
as populations grew. For example, in 1857 there were 14 mills clustered on the Avalon peninsula, the most
densely populated region of the island. Mills also emerged in Notre Dame Bay on the northeast coast, in
Trinity Bay, and in the Bay of Islands, on the west coast.
|Botwood Mill, ca. 1900.
By the mid-1800s sawmills began to emerge around the island.
Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland
Studies Archives (Coll - 137, 20.03.001), Memorial University of
Newfoundland Library, St. John's, Newfoundland.
Virtually no legislation or policy existed at the time to regulate the forests or the uses of Crown lands. In
1875, the Crown Lands and Timber Act was passed, based on Canadian law, but it was never effectively
enforced. A revised act in 1885 was intended to encourage an orderly and large-scale sawmill industry,
which expanded as the railway was built after 1890.
However, as it developed after 1900, the forest industry has been dominated by pulp and paper
production. The first pulpwood manufactured in Newfoundland was at Black River, Placentia Bay, in
1897. At its peak, this mill produced 20 tons a day, but it closed in 1903.
The Anglo Newfoundland Development (AND) Company's pulp and paper mill at Grand Falls was the
island's second operation, opening in 1909. At the outset the Grand Falls mill produced 27,000 tons per
year on three paper machines to supply the British market. It is now owned and operated by
Another large mill was established at Corner Brook in 1925 by the Reid Newfoundland Company and
other financial backers, under the name of Newfoundland Power and Paper Company, but was quickly
sold off to the International Power and Paper Company. At one time the largest mill in the world, the
Corner Brook operation, which Bowater-Lloyd took over in 1938, is still in operation today under the
ownership of Kruger International.
||Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Mill, ca. 1930.
View of the town of Corner Brook with mill.
Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives
(Coll - 137, 16.03.001), Memorial University of Newfoundland, St.
Operating under very generous agreements, the pulp and paper industry provided few direct returns for
the Newfoundland government. Much of the companies' land was held freehold, which included rights to
all water, mineral, and timber resources. On leasehold land, the companies paid a low annual rental. They
did not have to pay stumpage on pulpwood. The largest contribution made by these companies to the
Newfoundland economy, therefore, was through employment. The mills at Corner Brook and Grand Falls
each hired more than one thousand workers from the outset.
In contrast to the fishery and work in the woods, the jobs in the paper mills were steady and well paid.
Workers responded to the new employment situation by unionizing. In Grand Falls, local 88 of the
International Brotherhood of Paper Makers was established in 1910, and a local was formed in Corner
Brook when the mill opened in 1925. Other workers associated with the pulp and paper industry joined
locals of the International Brotherhood of Pulp, Sulphite and Paper Workers as early as 1913.
The government made a few minor attempts to manage the resource, first through legislation in 1905 for
fire suppression. In 1911 the Forest Protection Agency was established. The Commission of Government
expanded this agency in 1934 to a Forestry Division with the Department of Natural Resources whose
responsibility was to manage all unalienated Crown Lands. On the whole, however, in the period before
Confederation Newfoundland did little or no forest management.
With both the price and the consumption of newsprint reaching unprecedented levels, the 1950s was a
prosperous decade for the pulp and paper industry, but by the 1960s mining surpassed forestry in overall
importance to the Newfoundland economy. Although production of newsprint has remained stable since
the 1950s, technological changes have resulted in fewer jobs in the woods and in the paper plants, and in
some cases unionized workers have been forced to accept reductions in their wages to protect remaining
In 1972 the Labrador Linerboard Company set up a plant to manufacture corrugated cardboard in
Stephenville, using wood from Labrador. The operation was never successful, and the provincial
government spent a great deal of money to support it. It was taken over in the late 1970s by Abitibi Price
and converted to the production of newsprint.
|Linerboard Mill, Stephenville, n.d.
After attempts to manufacture corrugated cardboard failed, the mill was taken over a
by Abitibi Price a few years after it was built and converted to the production of
Artist unknown. Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland
Studies Archives (Coll - 75, 5.04.076), Memorial University of
Newfoundland Library, St. John's, Newfoundland.
In the 1970s there was also a small resurgence in the saw-milling industry, and the government increased
its efforts at forest management. However, conscious of high unemployment rates, successive governments
have tried to maintain a balance between increased productivity and employment, on the one hand, and
sustainable development and environmental concerns on the other. Thus, while some attention has been
paid to reforestation and environmental controls, concessions have also been given to forestry companies
to keep jobs in the province.
At present, pulp and paper uses 90% of the island's annual commercial timber harvest, and the two main
companies, Abitibi Consolidated and Kruger International, control approximately 60% of the productive
acreage. In Newfoundland, as elsewhere, the present economic climate makes it increasingly difficult to
regulate the industry.
©2000, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site Project
Related Articles on the Heritage Web Site