Gartshore recounts highlights of mill history
The history of the local mill has been tied to the history of hydroelectric power here—a point made clear by former mill manager Jim Gartshore, now president of H20 Power, during a presentation last Thursday evening at the Fort Frances Museum.
Gartshore, who was born and raised in Fort Frances, said his earliest memories of the mill included going uptown and getting a cinder in his eye from the coal-fired boilers at the mill, as well as looking at the water rushing through the dam while crossing the bridge to International Falls.
Gartshore remembered swimming to log booms in the river and diving off them, as well as swimming at the government dock.
And he remembered the mysterious brick building at the corner of Third Street West and Central Avenue.
“I always knew there was something going on there to do with electricity but I never knew what,” Gartshore remarked.
“And as a kid, I just loved electricity. It was kind of a magic building.”
He also remembered that the mill managers usually were Americans, who had a company house, company car, and got paid to go fishing with customers at a fly-in fishing lodge.
All of these mill things were “very impressive to a kid from McIrvine,” noted Gartshore.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Gartshore’s career took the direction it did. After he graduated from Fort High in 1973, he attended the University of Manitoba, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering.
Gartshore returned here and started as a project engineer in 1977 for Ontario-Minnesota Pulp and Paper, eventually becoming mill manager in 1995.
In 2002, he left Fort Frances and moved to Montreal to work at the corporate offices of Abitibi.
In 2007, he moved to Oshawa and then, in 2011, left the employ of Resolute after a total of 34 years and became president of H20 Power.
Gartshore noted that in order for the two mills here to have power, the power of the river had to be harnessed to supply the mechanical energy for grinding wood and electrical energy to power pumps and lighting.
In simplest terms, a hydroelectric generating station produces electricity by harnessing the gravitational force created by the falling of flowing water.
Hydro power has been used since ancient times to grind flour, pump water, and perform other tasks. In the late 19th century, hydro power was coupled with water wheels to produce electricity.
The construction of the international dam and two powerhouses took place between 1905 and 1909.
The original Fort Frances hydro turbines were horizontal units, and were connected to generators and wood grinders. The original capacity of the Fort Frances powerhouse was about 8,000 h.p., or six megawatts.
Moving ahead to 1925-26, to when Gartshore’s grandfather John Percy Evans worked at the mill and major changes started to take place.
The company was planning a major expansion with the construction of the #7 paper machine. The additional power requirements would be supplied by the construction of three generating stations east of Fort Frances: Moose Lake (11 megawatts), Calm Lake (nine megawatts), and Sturgeon Falls (seven megawatts).
Gartshore explained that generating electricity was key to the mill’s growth before power was available from the provincial grid in the 1950s.
“If you wanted to make paper, you had to make your own power,” he noted.
Moving forward to 1955, when Evans passed away, the Ontario power grid had reached Northwestern Ontario and the mill no longer had to rely on its own power sources.
At this time, a large groundwood mill was being built to increase paper production, the Fort Frances powerhouse was rebuilt with eight new units, and the original grinding room was decommissioned.
Gartshore summed up this era as “more power, more pulp, more production, more people.”
In the 1960s, the #6 paper machine was rebuilt and the mill became a seven-day-a-week operation, creating more jobs.
The kraft mill then was built in the early 1970s. Not only did this utilize jack pine in the area, and strengthen the pulp supply for both the Fort and Falls mills, but created many new jobs.
This was followed by an extensive rebuild of the #5 paper machine in 1975, including a new former, new press section, new dryer section and calendar, new winder, and new DC drives.
In the 1980s, there was an extensive rebuild of the #7 paper machine, with a new former, a new press section, new breaker stack in the dryer section, new winder, and a new DC drive.
Engineering and planning for the co-generation facility also began in the 1980s. Gartshore, who was electrical and instrument superintendent from 1981-89, when he became maintenance manager, was included in the planning process.
He explained the facility generated both steam and electricity from natural gas. At 110 megawatts, it was large for the time and was one of the first non-utility generators (NUGs).
In the 1980s, Ontario Hydro had a monopoly on electricity production in Ontario—and the driving force behind the NUG program was to urge the private sector to build and operate new generation to meet the needs of the province, noted Gartshore.
The 1990s was a decade of many changes for the mill here, with the mill owners switching from Boise Cascade to Rainy River Forest Products to Stone Consolidated—the latter of which then merged with Abitibi Price to become Abitibi-Consolidated.
Highlights included the Mando gloss project and the peroxide bleaching project to make high bright paper, as well as the addition of new Fuji King debarkers.
This also was a decade when the mill won multiple safety and environmental awards.
Gartshore became mill manager in 1995—a role which he maintained until 2002.
In the early 2000s, Abitibi acquired Donohue, once again increasing its number of mills in Canada and the U.S.
This decade also saw the construction of the biomass boiler here to replace the gas turbine and heat recovery generator and power the steam turbine with biomass.
From 2002-07, Gartshore and his family lived in Montreal, where he was vice-president of Energy, Engineering and Continuous Improvement for Abitibi-Consolidated.
Part of his job included making the biomass project a reality here.
In 2007, Gartshore moved to Oshawa to create Abitibi Consolidated Hydro (ACH), which became H20 Power LP in 2011 when Resolute sold its share of ACH.
In meantime, Abitibi had merged with Bowater to become AbitibiBowater—only to initiate the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act process in 2009 to avoid bankruptcy.
It then changed its name to Resolute Forest Products.
Gartshore left Resolute in 2011 to take on the role as president of H2O Power.
“Talking about the mill, and looking back to the beginning of the mill through the decades, has given me a deeper appreciation of history,” Gartshore remarked.
This was the fourth instalment in the speakers’ series coinciding with the museum’s summer exhibit, “Recognizing the Contributions of the Forest Industry.”
Museum curator Sherry George said the series not only has been very informative but popular, with some of the talks drawing 30 or more people.
The first in the series, “Women in Industry,” was held June 19.
George noted Carla Kibiuk, Shirley Whitefield, and Lori McKay shared some of their more humorous experiences working at various jobs in the industrial environment.
Meanwhile, Judy Kaufman, who is still employed in the Woodlands Division at Resolute, explained why she has loved her job as a forester.
“A View from the Pilot’s Seat,” held July 16, featured the personal stories and photographs of mill pilots Ray Cameron, Glenn Canfield, and Gordie Melville.
Then on July 22, foresters Don Dickson and Colin Hewitt presented “The Woodlands Story,” tracing key points in the history of logging in the area.
The next instalment, “Kraft Mill Operations,” with former kraft mill superintendents Greg Shaw and Rick Collett, is expected to be held later this month.