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Beauharnois Fire: The Old Howard Smith Paper Mill

Yesterday, another raging fire engulfed an early-20th century abandoned paper mill along the Beauharnois canal, located on the right bank of the Saint-Laurent river at the height of Lake Saint-Louis.

Built in 1912 by the Dominion Woollen Company, and subsequently known as the Howard Smith Paper Mill, it created many long term jobs to many in the region and played a significant role for in the development of this area of Southwestern Quebec.

From 1932 onward the Canadian government had commissioned the plant to produce it's much needed paper products.

During the next 72 years, this factory in it's heyday printed Canadian currency notes and passports for Canada and several other countries.

It remained a fixture on the forefront of this bustling industry for decades.

In 1956, Domtar began accumulating shares of Howard Smith Paper Mills.

Later in 1961, Dominion Tar entered into a merger with several other companies including Howard Smith.

It was renamed Spexel thereafter.

After many years of struggling, it was eventually shut down in 2004, when the manufacturer's main contracts were lost to a German factory.

Having not been in operation for several years, the mill was then bought by investors who had the intention of turning it into a destination type paintball and activity center - until another fire reportedly burnt up those plans in 2012.

It became well known as a derelict building often visited throughout the years by metal seekers, the curious and of course, vandals.

Since it's closure, numerous fires have been criminally set at the location.

Firefighters from Valleyfield, Mercier, Saint-Étienne-de-Beauharnois and Châteauguay were on site fighting the blaze and remain so at this time, quelling any remaining hot spots.

Heavy equipment had to be brought in to assist the firefighters as the structure was deemed so unsafe.

This once historical building, that created such an important regional economy from wartime until only few decades ago simply went the way as many other manufacturers and large employers in the region, disappearing into decay.

Now burned once more, this unsafe haven for arsonists and others should finally be razed to the ground in the interest of safety for all.

Putting our firefighters at risk on already too many occasions must stop.

Perhaps now the present owners could develop these grounds in the better interest of the region and local residents.

As they say, if only walls could talk - imagine the stories that would be told about the so many lives who passed through those doors.

photo cred:

© Ministère de la Culture et des Communications/MoniqueL

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