Current and former employees of the paper mill in Powell River will be gathering this weekend to celebrate the facility’s 100th birthday. Catalyst Paper Corporation is throwing the bash to mark the mill’s centennial.
On April 12, 1912, the first rolls of newsprint rolled off the machines at the mill, started by Powell River Company. It had been a two-year long struggle for the company to produce the paper, the first newsprint made in western Canada. The three American businessmen who established the company had to overcome many challenges, but they persevered and laid the foundations for a company that would grow to become the largest newsprint producer in the world.
Powell River has transitioned over the last 100 years from a company town to a community that is more economically diversified, but still dependent on one industry. The company employs over 400 people and is hiring more. It runs three paper machines here and produces about 500,000 tonnes of specialty paper and 30,000 tonnes of newsprint annually.
The mill’s economic impact in the community is significant. In 2011, it paid $50 million in wages and benefits. As well, it generated 1,810 spin-off jobs, $360 million in spin-off economic activity, $7.4 million in spending with local businesses and paid $2.9 million in property taxes.
While 2012 has marked the mill’s centennial, it has also seen Catalyst enter into the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act process and financial restructuring. The company, headed by a new board of directors, is set to emerge from creditor protection at the end of the month after noteholders approved a second restructuring plan in June.
Catalyst’s challenges over the year created a roller coaster ride for the communities in which it operates. But with the cooperation and support of those communities, employees, unions, retirees and pensioners, the company survived and continues to produce paper in British Columbia and Powell River, where the mill’s place in history has made an indelible mark that carries on into the future.