Liverpool residents fight to save town after mill closure
Published Thursday, November 8, 2012 4:47PM AST
Last Updated Thursday, November 8, 2012 7:11PM AST
When the Bowater Mersey paper mill closed in Nova Scotia’s Queens County, it dealt a significant blow to the community of Liverpool.
While it was not necessarily the devastating downfall many expected, some say the worst is yet to come.
Liverpool is a colourful town tucked between the sea and thick coastal forests, in the heart of the Region of Queens Municipality.
Its population of 11,000 is significantly older, on average, than people throughout the rest of Nova Scotia, and in Canada.
Sixty-one per cent of Liverpool residents have no education beyond high school, historically relying on jobs in the shipbuilding and forestry industries.
But the shipyard closed more than 10 years ago and the region suffered another blow when its largest employer shut down in June.
Robert Younker is one of the many former Bowater Mersey mill workers who found themselves out of work.
Younker, who worked at the mill for 18 years, considers himself one of the lucky ones. He has been able to find contract work here and there.
“I’ve been in this community for 20 years. I’ve got a 14-year-old son, and I have no desire really to uproot,” he says.
“I’m quite established in the community and I’d like to stay.”
However, dozens of former mill workers have left the area,
“I know guys that were in Alberta the week after the mill shut,” says Younker.
Other residents who didn’t even work at the mill are also heading west in the pursuit of new opportunities.
“I’ve been doing body work for 30 some years now,” says autobody shop owner Lance Roy. “I’ve been on my own for probably 15 or more, and this is the worst year I’ve had since I’ve been doing body work.”
There are other stories of businesses that couldn’t stay afloat after the mill shut down, including a convenience store in North Queens that recently closed because truck drivers carrying logs stopped passing through.
One place that is busy is the local food bank, where the number of users has increased nearly eight per cent this year.
“We have not seen the full effect of the mill closure because some people have severance, some people have unemployment,” says food bank volunteer Allan Aucoin. “It will be next year before we see the full effect here.”
“The severances that people got have certainly cushioned the blow in the community,” says Chris Clarke, mayor for the Region of Queens.
Clarke plans to meet with Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter next week to discuss how they can generate economic activity without the Bowater Mersey mill.
“One of the most difficult moments of my life was the closure of that mill,” says Dexter, who grew up on the banks of the Mersey River in the village of Milton.
“I think the days of the kind of one-industry town are gone. And so, we need broad-based solutions to bring back a successful economy.”
Change is evident in the town. A new junior high school is being built and a $16-million expansion is taking place at the hospital.
The region’s White Point Beach Resort is also re-opening, one year after a devastating fire destroyed the iconic lodge.
New businesses are opening too, and still others plan to move to Liverpool soon, including brewery owner Melanie Baillie, who wants to expand her brewery in the town.
“Liverpool has such great personality,” says Baillie. “It’s great historically. It has such great culture, great people, a wonderful, friendly community.”
Younker agrees, and that’s why he’s working hard to stay put.
“We just had a municipal election and there was a huge voter turnout, better than ever before,” he says. “I think that speaks to the interest in the community of moving past the loss of the mill and finding another way.”
No one is certain what the new way is just yet, but the people and politicians who call Queens County home are determined to look ahead to life after Bowater.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Kayla Hounsell
The Bowater Mersey paper mill is seen in Brooklyn, N.S. on Friday, Dec. 2, 2011.