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memories of the mill

Memories of the Mill


    Posted: August 24, 2022 by First Credit Union - Social Impact


    When the end of an era arrives, wise societies take the opportunity to pause, remember and reflect, even as they move forward.

    This year a big change occurred in the place that has been known as Powell River since the early 1900s: the pulp and paper mill the town was built around closed, after more than 100 years of operation.

    At one time one in every 25 newspapers worldwide was printed on paper from Powell River. Over the past century the mill’s influence in the lives of the area’s inhabitants has ebbed and flowed, changing with technology, the global marketplace, and the times.

    During its heyday most people in town were linked, in some way, to the business—Powell River was “a company town” and it seemed that everyone either worked at the mill or was related to someone who did. Though that has changed, and those connections may have loosened and lessened over the years, there is no arguing that the mill has played an integral role in the place known as Powell River.

    Joëlle Sévigny, Program & Education Manager at qathet Museum and Archives and Mark Merlino, Adult Services Coordinator at Powell River Public Library realized that the closing of the mill was an opportunity. The two organizations are partnering, with financial support from First Credit Union, to collect and collate memories from locals in order to create a record of how the mill has impacted the city of Powell River and its citizens.

    “The mill is the entity that lays behind the city in which we live so it's a really foundational story to our community,” Mark says. “Because it's now closed, it's an opportunity to record those memories, good and bad—whatever people are interested in sharing—for the benefit of future generations who won't know what it's like to live in a mill town.”

    Memories of the Mill project invites anyone with something to say about what the mill has meant to them, to submit a memoir of up to 1,000 words. All the assembled stories and photos will be kept in the museum’s collection, accessible to the public through the archives. In addition, a digital presentation of the stories and a printed book will be made, both of which will be celebrated with a public launch.

    “The mill was such a big operation,” Joëlle says. “There are so many puzzle pieces, and all the stories that people have are part of that big puzzle—they all speak to the bigger narrative of the mill. It's really important for us to have a wide variety of stories.” The story tellers may be millworkers or their families, or other people who simply found themselves affected (positively or negatively) by what it meant to live in a mill town.

    “Writing can be a healing process,” Joëlle continues. “Sharing memories can help celebrate the history, or help with some of the difficulties that may be associated with the mill for some people.”

    Memories from any time period are welcome as submissions, Joëlle emphasizes. “At the museum, we have obviously lots of records about the mill, but we don't have a lot of recent records. So it's nice, from the museum’s standpoint, to hear about those more recent memories. It’s important to record how people feel about the mill right now.”

    “We want this to truly be a community project,” Mark says. “It's not just a mill project, it’s for everybody in the community who is interested.” Submissions will be accepted until September 1, 2022, and submission guidelines can be found here:

    First Credit Union’s history is intricately tied to that of the mill, which is why it made sense for First to support the project, says VP of Community Impact Tara Chernoff.

    There are many interconnections between the Powell River Credit Union (PRCU)—now First Credit Union—and the mill. PRCU started in 1939, and it was the first credit union in operation in B.C.  Founder Walter Cavanaugh worked at the Powell River Company Pulp and Paper Mill, as did the majority of PRCU’s early members. PRCU’s first permanent home was in the mill’s engineering offices, and early on they instituted the Accommodation Loan Program which allowed workers to borrow $15 on credit, to pay back by the next payday.

    “Our histories are interlocked, and the mill’s closure deserves to be noted,” Tara says. “We appreciate the efforts of the museum and the library to capture some of the stories that will help to preserve the complex relationships, the emotions, the challenges and achievements of this part of our shared history.”