North Vancouver Island’s Port Alice was founded as a municipality because of its pulp mill.
The mill was owned and operated in the early days by Whalen Pulp and Paper Mills of Vancouver — a family business endeavour by the brothers Whalen. They even named the town after their mother, Alice Whalen.
Construction began on the mill in 1917 and it produced its first pulp just one year later in 1918.
The operation grew and people came from across BC for a job at the mill. People from Port Alice raised families, garnered a community and had their children continue in their footsteps by working the mill when they became old enough.
The mill had a full life up until it was closed permanently in 2015, with 97 years of operation under its belt.
Five years after its closure, residents were shocked to find out that Neucel Specialty Cellulose — the latest owner of the mill who’d purchased the operation in 2005 — successfully filed for bankruptcy.
When Neucel bought the mill, it had already been in a state of bankruptcy a year prior to their purchase of the operation.
Fast forward to its 2020 bankruptcy filing, it turned out Neucel’s parent company owed over $270 million to debtors.
Neucel had provided for many of Port Alice’s townsfolk when they bought the company, but they were not very environmentally friendly to the oceanic ecosystem they were situated in.
In 2014, Neucel was ordered to pay $1,000 in fines to BC and $174,000 to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation for exceeding authorized levels of discharge into the ocean.
Once the bankrupt company found itself in receivership, the remediator then applied for money from the Supreme Court of British Columbia to decommission the mill properly and they were granted over $67 million to do so.
According to the census data from Statistics Canada, in 2005, the municipality had a population of 805 when the mill was in operation. In 2016, just after the mill’s closure, it had a population of only 664.
In 2021, population is on the rise again with 739 residents — many of whom have deep familial ties to the mill and Port Alice’s origins.
This video was taken by Doug Bradshaw, a man who had worked the pulp mill for 40 years — nearly half the time of the mill’s operation.
Here is a video of the storied and historic mill’s demolition: