Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Quality vs. Quantity

Last summer, I visited Grand Falls-Windsor to go to the local museum (which has an installation on the paper-making process and the mill) and the logger's museum. This year, I returned with a plan to interview a few people to get a feel for how the Grand Falls paper mill experience compared with the Corner Brook experience. I contacted a former reporter for the Advertiser, the Grand Falls-Windsor Heritage Society, and church groups asking for suggestions on who to interview. I also placed an ad in the paper and shared it on Facebook. The ad was seen by a CBC reporter who interviewed me for this morning's show. And with all of these efforts, I managed to arrange two interviews before leaving Corner Brook. I admit, I was a little disappointed, but was truly grateful for everyone who had helped in this process.

When I arrived this morning, I headed downtown to buy a book on the history of the town. It's a beautiful hard cover that I can't wait to read! Then I went to a new coffee shop and did some work before checking into my hotel and having lunch. Over lunch I checked my messages one last time to see if anyone had responded to my ad and much to my surprise there was one call! We arranged to meet at 4:00.

Both of the interviews this afternoon were incredible (the third one is tomorrow morning). Two very open and interesting research participants provided a great deal of information on the whistle in Grand Falls-Windsor and life after the mill. I was struck by their insightful comments on the meanings embedded in sound and the power and place of memory. And then, when I confessed that I had not yet seen the company houses and mill in Grand Falls, one of them offered to tour me around. I followed him in my own car and we stopped periodically as he pointed out architectural features, described the changes that have been made, and identified the heritage areas where the the stone walls must be preserved. After thanking him, I drove to the old mill, now owned by Nalcor, and snapped a photo. With my window down in my car, I was struck by the silence, the lack of smell, and the lack of smoke.

As I drove back to my hotel, I reflected on the day and was reminded of something very important that I lost sight of while planning this trip: in ethnographic research, it really is quality over quantity in many cases. And I had struck gold.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Visit to Engineering

A few years ago during one of my research trips for the Mill Whistle Project, I realized that it would be interesting to know exactly where the whistle is located on the roof of the Corner Brook Pulp & Paper Mill, its dimensions as a sound producer, how it operates, and so on and so forth. I even thought, maybe I'd be able to get a photograph of the whistle to see what it actually looks like. Just how big is that thing?

Well... Today, I had the opportunity to speak with an engineer about the operation of the whistle.

It's been several months in the making. A very kind local reporter (who will remain nameless) shared an email address with me so that I could contact the Mill with my request. Initially I thought I might speak with someone during my June trip, but that didn't quite work out as I had hoped. So, when I found out that I would be in Newfoundland again this month, I tried again. This time, I was able to arrange a meeting. Following minor scheduling difficulties on Friday, I got my chance today. I am incredibly grateful to everyone at the Corner Brook Pulp & Paper Mill who made this happen!

I arrived at the mill gate at 8:40am and identified myself, signing the temporary visitor pass (which, incidentally, is basically a waiver should any injury, damage, or death occur while there). Slowly (so as to avoid transport trucks and the like), I proceeded into what has always seemed like forbidden territory. At the stop sign, I turned right and drove around the front of the Mill -- an impressive sight so close up! Eventually on my right was a blue building that turned out to be Shipping, the place where my grandfather worked so many years ago. Across from Shipping was a brick building marked Engineering. I parked nearby and walked to the door, all the time thinking it would really suck to finally get this interview and then be injured somehow. Extra caution required! I checked and rechecked, and then checked again for good measure, to ensure I wasn't walking into the path of a truck.

Up one flight of stairs was the reception area for the engineering department. Inside, my two contacts were alerted to my presence and not long after I was in a conference room with a diagram of the mill on the table and the engineer drawing locations of the whistle and control room on it. I asked about dimensions, pitch, the pressure of the steam required to operate it, the volume, its operation, the current schedule, the cost associated with operating it, and so on an so forth. As many questions as I could pack into that half hour, I did! And when I asked if there were any photographs of the whistle, I was told that surely there were a few around, but if not, it shouldn't be a problem to go up there and take a picture! Him, not me. A researcher on the roof of the Mill is probably not a good move just from a liability standpoint (though, I did sign a waiver...). So, I'm hoping one day soon to have a photograph of the whistle arrive in my inbox!

Now, I'm deliberately keeping the details of what I learned to myself. I need to go back and listen to the interview to be sure I've got all the facts straight. But here's a shocker for those of you following this project: my contact at the Mill told me there are two whistles! Who knew?!?!?!? Not I, I tell you.

This interview really will add an important dimension to my study. I am so inspired to keep working on this project and get writing an article very soon!