Steven High (right) and his son Sebastien upon receiving their first copy of his newly published book “One Job Town”. Prof. High will be signing copies at the book launch in Sturgeon Falls, June 9, at the library auditorium.
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by Isabel Mosseler
Sturgeon Falls was a mill town for more than 100 years, until it wasn’t. The mill became history in 2002, and now a book has been published examining that history. Based on extensive archival research in Canada, the US, and Great Britain, including documents shared from people’s basements, as well as 55 oral history interviews, Steven High’s book, One Job Town, will be launched on Saturday, June 9th, at the Sturgeon Falls Library Auditorium.
High, a professor at Concordia University in Montreal, will be on hand to discuss the book and sign copies, and hopes to see some of the many people he interviewed during his research.
What was it in the history of the mill in Sturgeon Falls that sparked his interest? “I’m from Thunder Bay. I come from a working class family; my father was a railway switchman. I came to oral history early on when I was hired by my hometown museum as an undergraduate student… to interview old people. It was a fantastic summer and I fell in love with oral history as a method. Sometimes we think history is somewhere out there, but in fact it’s in our families and our communities,” he says.
High was hired by Nipissing University in 2002 as a history professor; his doctoral thesis concerned the post industrialization of the Ontario heartlands. A couple of months into his hiring, it was announced that the mill in Sturgeon Falls was closing, and High had several students in his class from Sturgeon Falls who urged him to follow through. “These young people from Sturgeon Falls said ‘You’ve got to do something, it’s only 25 minutes down the road!’ I went from being a bystander to starting to interview.” Over the next two years, a cross section of the mill community was interviewed: mill workers, office staff, superintendents, two former plant managers, as well as town council members, officials and economic development officers.
“We tried to get a sense of what was going on and people had lots of stuff in their basements… We got into the plant as they were dismantling it,” recounts High, who was on site with photographer David Lewis. They found piles of records being shredded. “I’m not sure how much was shredded and how much was transferred to Vancouver or Washington State… Lots of records were also Abitibi and MacMillan Bloedel, but people also had things in their basements, a pile here, a box there. There’re stories like the time the mill manager was asked if they could donate the mill newsletters to the Sturgeon House Museum and the mill manager said no, it was company property. Someone overheard this, backed up to the loading dock with a truck, and those records are now historical contraband.”
High mentions boxes of materials from the 50’s and 60‘s found in garages, with records of contracts with local farmers for wood. “It shows the relationship between the mill and surrounding landowners.”
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