The AbitibiBowater paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor filled its last order Thursday morning, shutting down production for the final time in the company's century-long history in central Newfoundland.

Retired millwright Bob Hedges never imagined the day would come.

"I just couldn't see Grand Falls being Grand Falls without a paper mill," said Hedges.

After months of speculation, AbitibiBowater said Dec. 4 that it would close its newsprint paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor at the end of March 2009, spurring the government of Newfoundland and Labrador to announce it would expropriate the company's resource assets if it no longer intended to continue operations.

The Hedges family has a long history with the mill, which has operated in the central Newfoundland town for almost a century.

At age nine, Hedges' father Edward, walked from Carbonear to Grand Falls with his 14-year-old brother in search of work.

"I would say what, Carbonear from the old Reid Railway and through the wilderness. I would say probably 170 or 180 miles," Hedges said of the long trek for employment.

Edward and three of his sons, including Hedges, retired from the mill with a combined 180 years service.

Hundreds now out of work

The closing of the mill puts about 450 mill workers and 250 foresters out of work, including 20 people from the tiny south coast community of Seal Cove.

Wesley Harris, from Seal Cove, spent the last 40 years of his life as a forester, cutting timber for AbitibiBowater.

Harris will turn 58 in April, missing out on the company's retirement package by just three months.

"I planned on retiring here, living here, but I don't know what's going to happen now. I don't really know," he said.

Harris had a Grade 8 education when he went to work in the woods in central Newfoundland. As the mill finished its final order and began the process of closing its doors, Harris and his wife Phyllis considered their next move, away from the home they own in Seal Cove.

"We can't start off, we're too old to take mortgages and that out now," Phyllis Harris said. "A mortgage is 25, 30 years down the road, and we can't look there. I don't even want to look there."

Harris said he's still hoping he can work out a retirement package with the company.