THE RAINFOREST IS A MEASURE OF TIME

A delicate, green film of mould covers a once elegant hardwood floor in the ballroom at the 400-room hotel in Ocean Falls. It was built in 1958 and named Martin Inn, in honour of the paper mill company's executive.

  • An inscription over the fireplace in the lounge says: “Archie B Martin, an able executive whose sturdy character and sympathetic understanding of people created a community spirit at Ocean Falls, which is a monument to his memory.”                                                                

                                                                                                                CONTINUE...

    Ocean Falls was a paper mill company town established in 1909 at the site of a seasonal Heiltsuk Nation village, near a small waterfall at the end of a Pacific Ocean fiord in British Columbia, today called Cousins Inlet.

     

    In 1968, Crown Zellerbach Canada Limited, the mill and town’s owner, began the process of winding down their operation in Ocean Falls. From that moment on, the town’s population, almost 4,000 at its high point, began to shrink.

     

    On April 18, 1972, Robert G. Rogers, president of  Crown Zellerbach, announced the shutdown of the Ocean Falls mill.  Advertisements were placed in international newspapers offering the whole Canadian town for sale.

     

    The New Democratic Party provincial government of the day bought Ocean Falls from Crown Zellerbach and restarted paper production. The NDP was concerned with the social and economic impact that the abrupt shuttering of Ocean Falls would have on the whole mid-coast region of the province.

     

    Bob Williams, the then Minister of Lands, Forests and Water Resources drew plans to build roads and establish local ferry services to diversify the economy of the region and to realize its tourism potential.

     

    Most locals believed that the fate of the town was sealed in December 1975 when the New Democratic Party lost the election. The NDP governed British Columbia for three years (1972-75), after which the Social Credit Party returned to power.

     

    The Social Credit government shut down the town's only employer, a paper mill owned then by a crown corporation. The equipment, machines and installations with an insurable value of about $120 million were auctioned for about $3 million.

     

    Government representatives provided plenty of economic arguments for their decision to shut down the Ocean Falls mill but critics pointed to the fact that the Social Credit government never allocated any timber licenses to the provincially owned mill, forcing it to buy more expensive lumber on the open market.

     

    Also disputed was that the mill was closed despite a newly signed five-year contract with the Los Angeles Times to supply it with 150,000 tons of newsprint paper. The Times sued the province of British Columbia for $25 million for breach of contract. The lawsuit was settled out of court.

     

    In August 1985, the Social Credit government announced beginning of the “normalization” of Ocean Falls. As expressed by one of its officials: "In this particular normalization, the plan is to put Ocean Falls in a similar situation as other normal communities along the coast." The "normalization" turned out to be an almost complete demolition. Seventy-year-old Bert Owen, a resident of Ocean Falls since 1943, tried to block the giant backhoe. Several other people walked into a partly demolished building and forced the backhoe operator to stop. In a letter hand delivered to the town council's chairman, the government threatened criminal charges if the residents caused further delays.

Martin Inn avoided immediate destruction. It was abandoned almost fully equipped and furnished. Years later, looters broke windows and destroyed installations looking for copper pipes and cables. The massive hulk of the hotel turned into an artificial reef on dry land, a home to birds, rodents, plants and fungi.

In addition to the Martin Inn and the industrial site pictured above, the high school was one of several concrete buildings that wasn’t destroyed. The abandoned structure held well against the elements until one winter the skylights over the library collapsed under several feet of snow. A dense carpet of ferns and moss now covers the floor. Small trees rise and vines creep up the walls. The echoing sounds of dripping water add to the illusion of being in a cave. Not entirely safe to enter, this space intrigues and invites both exploration and reflection.

The library is one of the rare places where the past, the present and the future seem to merge. Here one encounters various times existing parallel—the human time and the rainforest time. Such a thought is not necessarily depressing… Outside of the library, deer are feeding on the patch of yellow garden lilies that went native.

 

I published a longer version of this story in the GEIST magazine nr.73

  • Ocean Falls was a paper mill company town established in 1909 at the site of a seasonal Heiltsuk Nation village, near a small waterfall at the end of a Pacific Ocean fiord in British Columbia, today called Cousins Inlet. In 1968, at its high point, Ocean Falls was home to almost 4,000 people.                   

                                                                                         CONTINUE...

    On April 18, 1972, Robert G. Rogers, president of the mill and town’s owner, Crown Zellerbach Canada Limited, announced the shutdown of the Ocean Falls mill.  Advertisements were placed in international newspapers offering the whole Canadian town for sale.

     

    The New Democratic Party provincial government of the day bought Ocean Falls from Crown Zellerbach and restarted paper production. The NDP was concerned with the social and economic impact that the abrupt shuttering of Ocean Falls would have on the whole mid-coast region of the province.

     

    Bob Williams, the then Minister of Lands, Forests and Water Resources drew plans to build roads and establish local ferry services to diversify the economy of the region and to realize its tourism potential.

     

    Most locals believed that the fate of the town was sealed in December 1975 when the New Democratic Party lost the election. The NDP governed British Columbia for three years (1972-75), after which the Social Credit Party returned to power.

     

    The Social Credit government shut down the town's only employer, a paper mill owned then by a crown corporation. The equipment, machines and installations with an insurable value of about $120 million were auctioned for about $3 million.

     

    Government representatives provided plenty of economic arguments for their decision to shut down the Ocean Falls mill but critics pointed to the fact that the Social Credit government never allocated any timber licenses to the provincially owned mill, forcing it to buy more expensive lumber on the open market.

     

    Also disputed was that the mill was closed despite a newly signed five-year contract with the Los Angeles Times to supply it with 150,000 tons of newsprint paper. The Times sued the province of British Columbia for $25 million for breach of contract. The lawsuit was settled out of court.

     

    In August 1985, the Social Credit government announced beginning of the “normalization” of Ocean Falls. The "normalization" turned out to be an almost complete demolition. Seventy-year-old Bert Owen, a resident of Ocean Falls since 1943, tried to block the giant backhoe. Several other people walked into a partly demolished building and forced the backhoe operator to stop. The government threatened criminal charges if the residents caused further delays.