Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Mill Whistle Project Continues

It's been a while since I posted about the mill whistle project, so this is a quick update to say that it's still going!

Since my return from Corner Brook, I've been compiling resources, conducting telephone interviews with individuals I missed while in Newfoundland, and locating references in literature with the help of an assistant. Later this month, I'll begin contacting individuals who no longer live in Newfoundland to arrange telephone interviews. I'm also hoping to get in touch with management at the mill to request photographs and measurements of the actual whistle. (If anyone reading this has personal contacts who could help in this regard, I'd appreciate a quick email to

I'm excited to continue working on this project given the response from the community!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hidden Treasures

As someone who collects two china patterns, I've learned that you never know what you may find while out and about. I'm thrilled to report that my Saturday morning errands unearthed a hidden treasure relevant to this work.

After compiling a list of books that I wanted to consult in relation to this project (The Rowdyman, Westsiders, Corner Brook: A Social History of a Paper Town, and Putting the Hum on the Humber) and checking online prices, I headed to the Emporium on Broadway. I quickly located all four on the shelves and decided to buy three (the Social History was just a smidge too expensive for me given online prices). Then I decided to browse a little more to see if anything else popped out. In particular, I was hoping to find an old Cream of the West cookbook that my sister wants. Mom's famous brownie recipe comes from it and a dear friend gave me a copy, so now I am keeping eyes open for a copy for my sister. After about 15 minutes of searching, I accepted the fact that the cookbook wasn't available in this store, but a thin blue booklet caught my eye before I walked away. I discovered it was an undated Bowater publication outlining the safety rules to be followed by employees of the mill.

There on page 10 was the explanation of the various patterns used to signal a fire in the mill.

Naturally, I rescued it from a lonely life on the Emporium shelf and brought it home with me. It may even find its way into the exhibit!

Now if only I could find a 1942 Corner Brook telephone book...


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Disappearing Sounds

It's Saturday morning and I'll be leaving on the ferry tomorrow. I kept this day free to run errands, do laundry, and just relax before going back to my research position at CBU. Still, when I woke up this morning at 7am, I thought maybe I should hop in my car and make one last mill whistle recording before I leave.

I drove around to a few locations -- the old city hall, the Millbrook Mall parking lot -- and then settled on the Cenotaph outside the new city hall. I arrived at 7:54am and got everything ready before sitting and waiting for the whistle to blow. I listened to the Saturday morning traffic, the water foundtain outside city hall, and a crow. And when 8:02am came, I realized I hadn't heard the whistle.

I sat there stunned. Had I somehow missed it? Surely this was one of the locations in Corner Brook where that would be impossible. 

Does this mean that the whistle doesn't sound on weekends anymore? And if so, when did that start?

I can't help but feel a little sad this morning knowing that the mill whistle is vanishing from the Corner Brook soundscape faster than I thought.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Just how often did it blow?

Over the course of my research, some confusion has emerged over just how many times the mill whistle sounded in the past.

According to a virtual museum website created by the Corner Brook Museum & Archives, the whistle once sounded eight times each day. However, one of the individuals I interviewed (who worked in the mill as a young man) assures me that the most it sounded on a regular basis was seven times a day. He suggested: 6:45am, 7:00am, 7:45am, 8:00am; 12:00noon, 1:00pm, and 5:00pm.

Of course, by the time I was old enough to recognize what the whistle was in the 1980s, it sounded only four times a day: 7:45am, 8:00am, 12:00noon, and 4:00pm. And now it sounds at 8:00am and 4:00pm.

What do you remember? Send a message to!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

When the Whistle Blows

Over the past week, I've done a handful of interviews for the Mill Whistle Project. In the very first, I was excited to hear that some time ago in the Sir Wilfred Grenfell College theatre program, a group of students had conducted research on Corner Brook and written and produced a play called "When the Whistle Blows" as part of a course. I asked a friend to put out some feelers in the local theatre crowd to see whether a script might have been archived as part of the course.

Then today, I was surprised to find I was interviewing one of the performers in that production! It was quite some time ago, but I learned that there was even a song written for "When the Whistle Blows" and it was accompanied by guitar. I am hoping that over the next few weeks we'll be able to locate more of those involved in the production, the script, and perhaps the song and some photographs. A preliminary web search has revealed that it was directed by Tessa Mendel in 1994/95.

I am perhaps dreaming, but I can't help but think it would be great fun to stage it again (or at least parts of it) in the old court room of the Corner Brook Museum & Archives as part of the exhibit opening!!!

If you happen to know more about this production or where I might find a copy of the play, please contact me at


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Bats Are Our Friends

For many years I've wanted to visit the Mary March Museum and the Logger's Life Museum in Grand Falls. Given that Grand Falls was once a mill town (see my earlier post), I was rather curious about the way in which this history was represented in a museum -- after all, the end product of my research will be an installation at the Corner Brook Museum & Archives.

There are many lessons I could have learned from this excursion, but in the end the take-home message was that bats are our friends. Confused?

My mother and I set out early this morning and motored along the highway to Grand Falls. Once there, we visited the Mary March Museum first for the bargain basement price of $2.50 each. I'll be honest, I didn't have high hopes -- all I could think was, if you get what you pay for... You see where I'm going with this. But I'm always happy to be proven wrong. There was a lovely art installation called 25 for 25. It featured important works of art by Newfoundland artists that have been collected by the Provincial Art Bank Program over the past 25 years. I was thrilled to see a Jerry Evans work (Spirit Wind) and a David Blackwood print depicting an encounter with an iceberg. The gallery itself was bright and modern in feel. I was impressed.

The museum on the other hand felt a little dated. I suppose I can't be too critical here. When I asked a staff member, she explained that the museum had been around since the 1970s, but was privately run. Then it closed for a few years before coming under the provincial museums. I thought she said that occurred in the 1990s, but I wondered if it wasn't more recent (with the establishment of The Rooms). I'll have to look into that at a later date.

The winding exhibit began with the geological formation of Newfoundland and the terrain of central specifically. Then it led into a display on the Maritime Archaic Indians, the so-called Recent Indians, the Beothuk, and Mi'kmaq, followed by a focus on Demasduit. Next were panels on settlers, the fishery, and the pulp and paper mill, followed by a few items related to the Queen. It was clear that the panels needed an update. First, there was a whole lot of text in most cases, there were no interactive parts of any exhibits, and they were employing the obsolete Micmac instead of Mi'kmaq. Two of these three observations are relevant to my current project. For my purposes, the display was disappointing, since there was very little about the town's mill. I did, however, enjoy the display on the paper-making process.

Next, we headed to the Logger's Life Museum. This was not what we were expecting at all. Located next to Beothuk Park, the Logger's Life Museum consists of a number of log structures along a walking trail that attempt to recreate life in a logging camp. Frankly, we weren't expecting (or prepared for) an outdoor trek. We were almost carried away by the mosquitoes.

It was, nevertheless, an educational experience. It helped to round out the picture of the impact of a pulp and paper mill, which extended to the forests where timber was harvested. Men worked and lived in dreadful conditions in the camps. And based on our experience today, I'm guessing that the mosquitoes drove them nuts too. On one of the interpretive panels we read that the loggers greatly appreciated bats, which would come out at night and eat mosquitoes. So, as we smacked the mosquitoes away from each other and resisted the urge to scratch our bites, we decided that bats are our friends too.

Actually, Logger's Life Museum should probably consider selling t-shirts... I got carried away at the Logger's Life Museum (with appropriate picture of a mosquito, etc)... I survived a Logger's Life... Bats are our friends -- lessons learned at the Logger's Life...

But I digress...

One of my favourite finds was a grader from the 1930s that was used while building roads. Built by Caterpillar. Incredible.

We then headed to Badger for lunch and returned to Corner Brook. A little worse for wear, but having learned much about the paper mill industry in the province and with a few ideas for the exhibit.

Many thanks to Yuri for the tip about using malt vinegar on mosquito bites -- worked like a charm.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sonic Boundaries

Since I arrived on Wednesday, I've been visiting different locations in Corner Brook, recording the mill whistle to capture the way it sounds throughout the city. Not surprisingly, it sounds different depending on where you are -- and not only in terms of how loud it is, but the reverberation and length of the echo, etc. These differences are a result of the natural landscape of Corner Brook (a bowl), built structures, and proximity to the mill.

Today, I decided to make a recording from one of the newest subdivisions in Corner Brook -- an area called Bell's Brook (in the Sunnyslope Drive area). My recording consists of about four minutes of leaves blowing in the wind, a neighbour's radio playing, a fence door creaking, and birds tweeting, along with snippets of traffic here and there. What is not on the recording is the mill whistle.

Today is Canada Day. There's no construction going on in the area, no roadwork, and there is very little traffic as a result of the holiday. If there was ever a day to hear the whistle in this location, it was today. (Unless of course the wind direction was the cause...) I can't blame the recording techniques or hardware, because as I stood there straining to listen, I couldn't hear anything that sounded like a whistle.

First I thought: epic fail. And then I realized, not hearing the whistle is just as important as hearing the whistle. When I started this project, among the many questions I posed, was: How far does the sonic impact of the mill and its whistle extend, or what are its sonic boundaries? After attempting a recording today, I can now begin to answer this question. It doesn't extend to the new subdivision.

Where else is the whistle not heard? Time and more recording adventures will tell.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Archival Adventures

Despite being tired from travel, I was up bright and early this morning. After breakfast, I headed out to record the 8am whistle. This time I went to the building formerly known as Regina High School. I was wishing that I could have gone inside and sat in my level two physics classroom. I remember well the day we were sitting there during the last period and the whistle blew outside of its normal schedule signalling a fire at the mill. My teacher appeared quite confused. He asked, "What is that?" "Mill whistle," a few of us replied without looking up from our work. "Yeah," he said, "but why is it sounding now?" Again, a few of us replied in monotone, "Fire in the mill," as if it was the most normal thing in the world. And, of course, to us it was. The exchange marked him as an outsider. On several occasions I've had similar conversations. None of us really remember learning how to interpret these sounds, we just absorbed it over time.

After the whistle sounded, I returned home to quickly prepare for my morning in the archive. The Corner Brook Museum & Archives will soon be reopening, so it really wasn't an ideal time to be looking for materials. Indeed, one of the items that will be of value to my project is packed away somewhere with an exhibit on early communication and media in Corner Brook. I was assured that when it is unpacked, a scan will come my way.

The materials that I looked at were very interesting. I was thrilled to finally see a copy of the souvenir book published in honour of the mill's 75th anniversary. There were a few news clippings of value and there was a stack of Bowater's magazine which was published 3-4 times each year in the 1960s. Of everything I looked at, I enjoyed reading a book of ballads written while townsite was being built. They described the muddy roads of Corner Brook and the challenges of power outages. Sadly, there were no mill whistle references (though, there were a few references to the train's whistle. And then I stumbled upon a true treasure: a file on the Home Guard. Apparently, between 1942 and 1945 during WWII, volunteers (including veterans from WWI) established a sort of militia that would patrol Corner Brook and the harbour and defend it should there be threat of enemy action. They ran drills and paraded through town regularly. I had no idea that this group existed and in front of me was a typed list of orders. How would the troops be summoned in the event of a threat? A series of short bursts of the mill whistle separated by 5 seconds each.

Thrilled with this gem to follow up on and thinking of various ways to work this into a museum exhibit, I left the Museum & Archives and, after gathering my recording equipment again, headed to Crow Hill. Much to my surprise, the area had been upgraded with pavement, new railings, and a new welcome sign. To get a good (read: unobstructed) view of the Corner Brook Pulp & Paper Mill, I shimmied past the railing and walked out onto the rocky ledge. I sat overlooking Corner Brook and listened to birds singing while I waited.

Tomorrow is another day. I believe I'll be Broadway bound.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Let the sound adventures begin!

After a rocky crossing on the ferry and a white-knuckled drive through the Wreckhouse area, I arrived in Corner Brook for a 10-day intensive study of the mill whistle and the sonic impact of the Pulp & Paper Mill on Corner Brook's soundscape more generally.

As I set out to record the mill whistle this afternoon, I thought about going to my old high school where I often heard the whistle before, during, and after the school day. However, en route, I passed by the Salvation Army on Citadel Drive. I noticed that from the unpaved parking lot there was a fantastic view of Corner Brook, so I changed my plans and headed there instead.

I snapped a few photographs while waiting for 4pm to hit and noticed the sounds of gulls and crows, a lawn mower, some construction work, and the rattling of the leaves on the bushes in front of me. A light breeze, overcast day. I was a little surprised when the whistle seemed to sound 2 minutes early -- I'll have to sync my watch with Corner Brook time for tomorrow and see what happens.

The whistle didn't seem to sound as loud as I remembered it.

In the picture you can see part of the new soccer field, the top of the former Regina High School (where I was a student), the mill, and "across the bay."

The picture makes me realize that I should probably go "across the bay" to see if the mill whistle can be heard on that side of the water. I suspect it can be, but I've never been there to hear it. 

Other possible locations for recording the whistle include Corner Brook stream trail, Crow Hill, the Corner Brook Plaza parking lot or the nearby highway lookout, and somewhere on Broadway. If you have suggestions for where I should go, leave a comment here or email


Sunday, June 24, 2012


Interviews for the mill whistle project will take place in Corner Brook between Wednesday, June 27 and Saturday, July 7 inclusive. If you identified on your survey that you'd like to participate in an interview, you should have an email already. If you're just stumbling upon this now and you'd like to participate in an interview, then email me at to arrange a time.

If you are living elsewhere in Canada and have indicated that you'd like to participate in an interview, I'll be calling and/or emailing starting on July 15th.

Looking forward!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Record Your Mill Whistle!

Given the recent turn of events in Corner Brook, I feel that my project to document the mill whistle in the community has taken on a greater urgency.

And so I'm asking you all to record your mill whistle -- the way you hear it everyday -- from your front porch, your living room, your parking space at work, your office, etc.

Use your cell phone or your laptop or whatever other recording device you have.

If it's digital, email the recording to along with the date, time, and location of the recording.

If it's old-school analog, write me for a mailing address or to arrange a time on my research trip (in the near future) to meet in person and digitize the recording.

Please help to preserve an important piece of Corner Brook's heritage.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Grand Falls-Windsor Mill Whistle Flashback

When I started my project on the Corner Brook mill whistle, a colleague mentioned that he thought the CBC archive in St. John's, NL might have documentaries or reports on other signalling devices that might be relevant for comparative purposes, like the noon day guns in St. John's. I contacted Christine Davies and she confirmed that there had been a short documentary on the mill whistle in Grand Falls-Windsor in 1998. I popped by the archive and listened to it, making a note that I should formally request a copy. Gary MacDonald's report made me think that a radio documentary might be the best way to proceed with my own project.

Of course, life intervened and I moved away for a postdoc, then back for a teaching position. When the funding for the mill whistle project came through, I remembered the documentary and again made a note to request a copy. Another move and a few months of settling in, and I finally made the call (and follow up email) to place the request. Last week, it was granted and I'm looking forward to receiving a copy for research purposes. But I'm equally thrilled that the report was re-aired on the Radio Noon Archives yesterday with a plug for the Hum on the Humber project!

To listen to it yourself, visit and scroll to find Tuesday, April 17, 2012 -- Radio Noon Archives.

Happy listening! And thank you Christine Davies and CBC Radio in St. John's!

Sunday, April 15, 2012


A big thank you to everyone who completed a mill whistle survey over the past two months. I'm thrilled with the response and look forward to reading your comments!

I'm hoping to visit the Corner Brook area in June to record the whistle from various locations throughout the city and to interview individuals about their experiences and memories of the whistle. If you'd like to chat or share your own recordings of the whistle, please email

Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Mill Whistle Survey

Is the Corner Brook mill whistle music to your ears? Or is it noise?

Does it play an important role in your daily life? Or is it barely audible now that you've re-insulated your house?

As part of my ongoing research on the mill whistle, I've created a survey for anyone who currently resides in Corner Brook or has lived in Corner Brook in the past. Please feel free to share it with your friends and family!