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History of the Newfoundland Hardwoods in Clarenville

In 1935 the Canadian and British governments recognized the necessity of having permanent terminal facilities in Newfoundland for trans-Atlantic flights. They selected an uninhabited area near the railway line on the northeastern side of Gander Lake and in 1936 began work on the construction of an airport.

Why Clarenville and not Botwood? Botwood was connected to Grand Falls by the Anglo Newfoundland Development Company's (AND Co.) branch rail line. From there, it could reach Gander on the main line. Botwood is only a seasonal port. It is blocked by local and Arctic ice for much of the year to the extent that the AND Co. used to ship its paper to the world markets through St. John's via the railway during the winter. By comparison, Clarenville has a relatively ice-free port that is right on the main line of the railway, not very far from Gander. So Clarenville was picked.

This picture from the summer of 1937 show the
Clarenville Colas Plant surrounded by tanks filled with asphalt
Source: Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web
To make matters more confusing, the Colas plant would take asphalt as a raw material and combine it with other materials to make a product known as asphalt! The raw material asphalt would arrive at the plant in steel drums or barrels. It was shipped to Clarenville from Venezuela, Jamaica and some other Carribean countries. Though liquid when it entered the barrels, it was rock solid by the time it was offloaded at the Colas wharf.

Before entering the plant, the tops were removed from the barrels. Then they were rolled in and placed upside down on a steel grill over a square oven. Once the grill was full of barrels, a cover was put over them and they were baked at 280@ - 300@ F for an hour or more. The contents melted through the grill and into the oven below where it was drained off into a heated tank. It would then form 67 per cent of the final solution.

Clarenville Colas Plant: three of the fleet of tank
cars built specifically to transport colas.
Source: Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web
In 1937 the Colas division of Shell Oil was contracted to provide the surfacing for the runways. Several options were considered, but the most practical was considered to be the construction of a plant in Newfoundland to provide colas. Later that year Colas Newfoundland Limited was incorporated. Clarenville was selected because it was equidistant between St. John's and the site of the new airport, because of its proximity to the railway which would be needed to transport the colas to the airport, and because it had the required port facilities for docking transport ships.

It was shipped to Gander in railway tank cars, mixed with aggregate on the spot and spread on the runways. The only catch is that the paving operation had to take place in hot or warm weather. This would allow the water component of the colas/asphalt to evaporate and turn to asphalt on the ground!

Hardwoods Tank Car 1978
Photographed By: Unknown
Source: Mike Stacey/Andrew Baird
By the late 1940s, the hot war (WWII) had gone cold and the Cold War was already up on simmer. Being a seasonal operation with a dwindling market, Clarenville's Colas Company decided to sell the operation to Flintkote Newfoundland Ltd., whose parent company was in East Rutherford, New Jersey. They had diversification in mind that would see year-round operation at Red Beach.

The next year the company became Colas (Nfld.) Ltd. and in 1941 it was sold to Flintcote Co. (Nfld.) Ltd. A creosote plant was added for preserving wood through the use of an injected coal-tar solution. It was first used only for poles for the United States bases and for railway ties. By 1955 it was also used for construction timbers for wharves and breakwaters, and for utility poles for Newfoundland Telephone Company. In 1955 the company was purchased by the Newfoundland Government and became the crown corporation Newfoundland and Labrador Hardwoods Ltd. The plant converted from colas to liquid asphalt in 1958. In 1980 it supplied all liquid asphalt (for pavement) used in all Newfoundland Government road construction. In 1968 the creosote division also changed products, switching to a chemical called pentachlorophenol for wood preserving.

The Flintcote Co. Company 1953
Photographed By: Jerome Young
Source: First Communications Construction Squadron Website
With the coming of Confederation, the Newfoundland Railway changed hands from the Newfoundland Government to the federal crown corporation Canadian National Railways (CNR). The Flintkote Company struck a deal with CNR to supply them with one million railway ties made from lumber treated with creosote. This launched Clarenville into the wood treatment industry. The raw material for this contract was local birch that came from all over the island. Robinsons, Flat Bay and Gallants on the west coast, Bay d'Espoir on the south coast and Badger and Gambo in central Newfoundland were major source sites. Wood from the south coast was likely shipped directly to Clarenville or to the nearest railway outlet. All the other areas mentioned were on the main line of the railway and CNR provided the transport for the raw materials and the finished product as part of the contract. They even provided the creosote.

While maintaining the seasonal asphalt business, Flintkote constructed a treatment plant that included, among other things, the only railway still operating on the island of Newfoundland. They are form fitted in this way to maximize their carrying capacity and still fit into a cylindrical oven that looks like a miniature Channel Tunnel. It's not really an oven but a pressurization chamber. Hence the pressure in the expression pressure treated lumber.

In the absence of a renewal of the contract with CNR, Flintkote lost interest in the Clarenville plant and the assets were acquired by Newfoundland Hardwoods, a crown corporation of the government of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, in 1955.

Crown corporations like to think they are independent entities and, in fact, they have to behave that way. However, ultimately, government pulls the strings. One government, however, cannot pull another government's strings. Despite the fact the Newfoundland Government was now calling the shots at the wood preservation plant in Clarenville, it was powerless to enforce a renewal of the railway ties contract with CNR because it was a crown corporation of the Government of Canada. Little Hardwoods did approach big CNR but to no avail. CNR would not negotiate beyond stating the price they would pay for ties. They were no longer willing to cover the transportation or creosote cost either. The price quoted would not result in a profit for Hardwoods.

Newfoundland Hardwoods Clarenville August 1978
Photo Submitted by: Rich Taylor
In the latter half of the 1960s, these companies were merged to form Newfoundland Light and Power. Their power systems were connected to form a provincial grid in preparation to receive the power to be generated by the Newfoundland Power Commission's (now Newfoundland Hydro) new hydro electric generating station in Bay d'Espoir. Thousands of utility poles were needed to set up this grid and even more were required for transmission lines to get the power to the grid from the south coast. Newfoundland Hardwoods came to the rescue. Yellow pine from the state of Alabama makes perfect utility poles. Shipments were brought into Clarenville for treatment in the Hardwoods plant.

Newfoundland Hardwoods Clarenville August 1978
Photo Submitted by: Rich Taylor
Our Newfoundland Hardwoods plant was a good money maker which is just as well because its parent in Donovans was not. The treatment plant kept the plywood plant going. Eventually, Mr. Mills became the manager of both operations, splitting his time between St. John's and Clarenville. Mr. Mills tried to find ways to turn the Donovan's operation, a perennial money loser, around but in the end the wisest decision was to close the Mount Pearl plant.

During the 1990s, the government of the day embarked upon a policy of divesting itself of as many of its crown assets as it could reasonably sell to private enterprise. Hardwoods remote asphalt sites were sold to Irving Oil and the wood treatment plant at Red Beach was sold to a Quebec company, IPB WPI International Inc. What the name boils down to is a bilingual acronym that stands for Wood Preservative Industries. The local operation is still known as Newfoundland Hardwoods.

The above  photo were taken in August 1978 by Mr. George Berisso at Newfoundland Hardwoods Clarenville.

Photos Submitted by: Rich Taylor
Photographed by:
George Berisso

Newfoundland Hardwoods 1980's

Photographed By: Unknown
Mike Stacey

Newfoundland Hardwoods and Railway Yard 1980's

Photographed By: Unknown
Mike Stacey

Newfoundland Hardwoods Limited ceased commercial operations in 1995 upon the privatization of its business assets to Irving Oil Limited in respect of the asphalt operation.

Newfoundland Hardwoods Railway Yard 1995

Photographed By: Knut Ronold
Chris Abbott

Newfoundland Hardwoods Railway Yard 2002

Photograph: Courtesy Peter Hawksford ©


It is currently being operated by Imexcom Canada Inc. as their wood pressure treatment plant, dry kiln and machining facilities CCA treated poles, marine timbers and pilings

Newfoundland Hardwoods 1990's

Photographed By: Unknown
Source: Town of Clarenville website

Addition information is from: Discovery Collegiate Website, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site & Journey Through Time - Clarenville, Hub of the East Coast ©

Can you help me with the completion of this page. I would love to have a photo of a Pole Boat!!!