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.