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Iroquois Falls aims to reinvent itself after paper mill closure

It was at this time last year that the century-old paper mill in Iroquois Falls shut down — just three days before Christmas.
Christmas decorations on Main Street in Iroquois Falls in 2014. The mayor there says life in the town is better than he expected it would be since the paper mill closed down: a lot of displaced workers have been able to find new jobs. Plus, he says businesses are reportedly doing relatively well and new families are moving into town. (Erik White/CBC )
What happens when you take the mill out of a mill town? Iroquois Falls will soon find out. The town's paper mill will be closing it's doors today. The CBC's Erik White prepared a documentary on the mill closure following a recent visit to Iroquois Falls.
It was at this time last year that the century-old paper mill in Iroquois Falls shut down —  just three days before Christmas.

Although many businesses report that they're doing well, the town is still trying to replace its main employer.

Pete Jones — one of more than 180 people who lost their jobs when Resolute Forest Products closed its mill — told CBC News that rumours are swirling in coffee shops about who or what might take over the site of the mill.

He said their new reality still hasn't sunk in because most workers are still spending their severance pay.

"I think we'd all be fooling ourselves if we thought that we were going to return to where we were before."

Most people who worked at the paper mill retired or found work in nearby mines. Jones said about 20 people are still unemployed.

A total of 180 people lost their jobs when the paper mill in Iroquois Falls shut down last year. (Wikipedia)

Some businesses thriving

Mayor Michael Shea said the town is considering mixed industry use at the site.

"There's 180 acres of industrial site there, so perhaps there's forestry use and perhaps mining use," he said.

"Perhaps other new evolving technologies out there in the world that could probably use the site better than what it's used for as it is now."

Whatever replaces the mill, Shea said the town probably won't ever see paper manufactured there again.

The town's experience is "a heads-up for probably the rest of the world," he said.

"Globally, if you intend on opening a newsprint plant, you're likely not going to be successful. So, therefore, you have to find alternate ways to work with the forest industry."

While many people feared the local economy would suffer after the mill closed, a member of the town's chamber of commerce says that's not the case.

Dance studio owner Stephanie Delaurier reports having double the number of students she expected. (Erik White/CBC)

A case in point: dance studio owner Stephanie Delaurier reports having double the number of students she expected.

"It is a testament to the town and to the community and the people here," Delaurier said.

"We love Iroquois Falls. We love our town and we don't want to see it die."

Shea agrees with that statement.

"We must support every business in town. Without them, it's hard to call Iroquois Falls a community."

But the community needs a plan to keep it from becoming obsolete.

"You want to keep your young people in town. You don't want to have to depend on a pile of people that are retired to keep this town surviving," Jones said.

"You don't want to get into a situation where all your skilled labour, or your potential employees with knowledge left of the mill, have all set up shop somewhere else and don't want to risk something new."

In the meantime, those who remain in Iroquois Falls remain hopeful something will eventually come of the mill.

"This town's got a lot of heart," Jones said.

"The problem is when you pull the rug from somebody's feet, they just don't recover overnight. Something, somewhere down the road will probably come out of the mill."

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