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Viewpoint: Last light of day marks Catalyst Paper Tis'kwat mill closure

I recognize and give thanks for the incredible wealth and income that came to this community and for all the taxes paid that helped build the facilities we enjoy. ~ Roger Langmaid

A notable event occurred in Townsite last Friday (February 4) as the last crew of workers left the Catalyst Paper Tis'kwat mill, formally marking the ultimate closure of the vast human enterprise that once formed the community of Powell River as we know it. 

A couple of friends and I went to the main gate to attend that moment, to honour it. It was the last light of the day, cracks of sunset colours still striped the sky and the lights of the mill looked especially bright. A poignant silence hung, still haunted by the rumble of those rarely stopped grinders, boilers and machines that so many lived to work by or reluctantly heard (and smelled) as they tried to sleep.

A series of employees drove up the hill and out the gate for the last time. We photographed them, stopped some to say one last inadequate thank you and acknowledged the moment for them, especially as the gate closed behind them once and for all. Sometimes we sensed their grief, anger, disappointment and resignation. 

In my mind, I also honoured the moment for all the history on that very hillside that preceded it. I thought of the sheer scope of human stories, for over 100 years, all of them, the bad and the good: the terrible disregard, dislocation and sufferings of the Tla’amin people forcibly displaced from their Tis’kwat river and resettlement through the earliest, almost certainly deadly construction years of the mill; the building of Townsite and the mill itself; and the incredible accumulation of superb engineering, workmanship and effort the place ultimately represented. Then, the tens of thousands of men and women who walked that hill in and out, day and night and gave the mill their working lives, until this night.  

It was strange to be there, so few marking the occasion which felt so significant. Some I had invited to join me felt the place didn’t deserve honouring; for them it represented colonial oppression, destruction of the forests, environmental pollution, poor labour relations or the corporate greed that took it down in the end. 

Although I respect those truths, I was also there to offer my respect and gratitude for our crucial local human story: for the living and those already passed who built this place, these roads and town I live in and love; for all those families, workers, wives, husbands and children, those suffering career shift workers, their camaraderies, animosities, teamwork and conflicts, those labour disputes, expansions and shutdown dramas; for the workers who lost their lives or were injured by the dangers and demands of their work; and for those who in this ending, lost their employment.

For all those past and present, I acknowledge your efforts. For the paper and lumber you gave the world, for those of you caring enough to share your talents and do your best year after year to make production and quality targets. For those managers and supervisors who took the blame and responsibility often while others opposed you. For those who fought on behalf of workers safety and rights, I thank you.  

I recognize and give thanks for the incredible wealth and income that came to this community and for all the taxes paid that helped build the facilities we enjoy. 

Join me in remembering and respecting that this town as we know it today is here because this pulp and paper mill existed. Either directly or indirectly, most of us, we’re living here because it did.

Roger worked as a contractor with Industrial Nondestructive Testing in the mill from 1975 to 1995 and has lived in Powell River since 1993.