Nfld. & Labrador

After fire made it a safety risk, Grand Falls-Windsor landmark set to be torn down

The Mill Manager's House on Grand Falls-Windsor's old Abitibi property will be torn down, the provincial government confirms.

Mill Manager's House hit by fire in July

A fire hit the Mill Manager's House in July. The home was built in 1951, and housed managers of then Abitibi mill until the closure of the mill in 2009. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

A Grand Falls-Windsor landmark has been declared a safety risk and will be torn down — throwing another wrench into the plans of the foundation looking to preserve its neighbouring property.

The Mill Manager's House, located next to the historic Grand Falls House, caught fire in July. The Department of Transportation and Works said in a statement the building will be demolished as the provincial government prepares to transfer the large property to the municipality.

While the town's heritage lovers prize the Grand Falls House ahead of the other building, the Mill Manager's House could have been a useful tool for the Grand Falls House Foundation in their effort to finance the upkeep of the entire property, said the foundation's vice-chair.

"That asset is now gone which has made a dramatic impact on our foundation," Bryan Blackmore told CBC. "It's now just a piece of earth, and in due course in the spring they'll remove the building, or it will be removed, and then it will just be the ground."

According to Bryan Blackmore, the vice-chair of the Grand Falls House Foundation, the provincial government's insurance policies do not anticipate the loss of a small home, but instead are designed to cover multimillion-dollar buildings. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

According to a consultant's report in 2015, the Mill Manager's House could have been used as rental space, or a gift shop, to help pay the estimated $330,000 required to remediate the Grand Falls House. Blackmore also said the group looked at partnering with Memorial University for a business development space.

Newfoundland and Labrador's provincial government took control of both houses and the property when it expropriated Abitibi assets in 2009.

The Grand Falls House is the property that heritage lovers in Grand Falls-Windsor are working to preserve. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The town of Grand Falls-Windsor has lobbied for years to have Abitibi assets transferred to the municipality.

Blackmore estimates the yearly costs to care for the Grand Falls House could reach $100,000 — part of the reason, he says, it's taken so long to figure out a plan for the building.

"Who has that money?" he asked. "The town is not quite sure they want to do that without a plan, so I think we're coming to a point now where we're trying to crystallize that so we can actually take that building and get it open for business."

Lucien Forbes, the head of the Grand Falls-Windsor Heritage Society, said the building is the last big reminder of the pulp and paper industry in the region.

"We had a bad habit of tearing down things here. But this one, we aim now to keep and preserve and promote," he said.

The home was built in 1909 for the owners of the mill, the Harmsworth family. Forbes said it hosted many high-class guests, like Premier Joseph Smallwood, and the New York Rangers, who played a couple of exhibition games in Grand Falls in 1951.

CBC reporter Karl Wells receives a tour of the Grand Falls House dining room from Eileen Kerr in 1996. (CBC)

For the time, and in comparison to the homes occupied by the workers of the mill, it was like a "palace."

"It's the biggest artifact we have in this part of Newfoundland," he said. "It ties everything together. All our tourist areas, it will tie it in together. That's the crown jewel of our heritage and tourism."

Bob Thompson, a founding member of the Grand Falls-Windsor Heritage Society, shows a blueprint for the Grand Falls House. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Blackmore says the destruction of the Mill Manager's House house has added some pressure to the foundation to come up with a sustainable plan for the properties.

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About the Author

Garrett Barry

Journalist

Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.