Monday, June 22, 2009

 

FAREWELL TO THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

These days one does not have to look very far afield for evidence of the devastating effects of the end of North America's shinning 20th Century industrial age.

It is not just about the headline making spectacular failures of the giant industries that surround the Great Lakes: The vast steel mill complexes; the auto-parts and automobile assembly sector, and the too many manufacturers of products too numerous and varied to enumerate.

The demise of the industrial age hasn't been good to the town of my birth, Edmundston, New Brunswick; like so many single industry communities far removed from the major trading outlets of the vast urban areas of North America...And: The emergence of the "age of information" surrounding the dawn of this 21st Century really doesn't seem to offer any viable foreseeable solutions.

Growing-up in Edmundston at the mid-point of the last century our bilingual community revelled in the optimism of the post World War II economic boom. It was from the vast timber resources of western New Brunswick that the plywood constructed fabled "Warbirds" credited with saving England at the "Battle of Britain" had been assembled. The "Fraser Companies": Its giant mills straddling both sides of the International Border between New Brunswick and the State of Maine dominated the skyline; and the pollution from its coal fired furnaces (also trucked across the International Border); dominated the air we all ingested.

Fraser's endless timber resources, its pulp products for the newspaper industry, and most importantly the thousands of tons of quality "catalogue paper", produced for "Sears & Roebuck" and "Spiegel's" of Chicago meant that the Canadian National Railway's "transcontinental line" through Edmundston (the city's second largest industry) was kept operational and busy twenty-four hours a day. Just across the border in the wilderness of the State of Maine, "Loring Air Force Base", developed as a part of President Dwight Eisenhower's "military industrial complex" - fueled by the Cold War with the USSR - brought thousands of military servicemen into the area. Strategically, "Loring AFB" was the closest over the North-Pole point for atomic bomb carrying aeroplanes to reach the USSR from American soil - Thus the U.S. Air Force made sure it was the largest, best equipped "Strategic Air Command" facility in the world.

Loring Air Force Base is long gone. So is the Canadian National Railway. CN's three story brick train station and yard control centre is now a cheap looking out-of- place office building. It has also been a long time since the "pulse of daily life" in northwestern New Brunswick has been governed by the steam whistles of the Fraser mills on either sides of the international frontier between Canada and the USA...or for that matter by the "bells" of the massive Roman-Catholic "Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception" on top of the hill half a block away from the house where I was born.

Late last week, Fraser Papers filed for "bankruptcy protection" with both Canadian and American regulators. Just like so many larger manufacturers, Chrysler and General-Motors included; the financiers, managers and about 3,700 employees hope that a leaner productive and profitable "Fraser's" will emerge from restructuring. The likelihood though is for just more shattered dreams for the folks of my little hometown. The memories it seems may be all that are left for the pages of history.

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