The Eddy Papermill Collection

Historians and other researchers are invited to apply to the Workers’ History Museum to gain access to a unique visual documentary collection recording in detail the former E B Eddy / Domtar Pulp and Paper Mill complex in Ottawa, Canada.

While Ottawa is popularly perceived as a government town, it was also a center of the lumber, pulp and paper industry. Lumber mills began to appear in the early 19th century at the Chaudiere Falls, in the heart of what would one day be the Cities of Ottawa and Hull / Gatineau. For most of the 20th Century, the site was dominated by the E B Eddy Pulp and Paper Mills, which eventually absorbed those of J R Booth on the south side of the river into one sprawling complex. In 2006 – 07, Domtar, the current owner, closed the mills, ending 200 years of industrial activity on the site.

Early in 2014, Windmill Developments Corporation announced it had acquired the site for redevelopment into offices, condominiums and business spaces.

During the period May 2014 to August 2015, with the permission and cooperation of Windmill Corporation, a team of volunteer photographers organized by the Workers’ History Museum created a comprehensive visual record of the sprawling historic papermill complex.

The team produced over 70,000 images and about 36 hours of video covering every wall, floor and ceiling and all fixtures, machinery, tools, items of furniture, windows, doors, structural components and signage. It is as complete a visual record as the image technology of the time permitted, capturing a site soon to disappear.

The images include overlapping panoramas of walls and ceilings, and images taken from all sides of objects, in most cases with scale markers included. All images are linked to the locations where taken.

Reminiscences of the Chaudiere Project

By Project Director Paul Harrison, WHM Image Archivist

The photographic documenting of the former E B Eddy / Domtar paper mill properties was one of the most uniquely memorable events of my life.

If you are not a photographer, it may be hard to understand why unpaid volunteers undertook this sometimes gruelling work for 13 months.  The fact is, abandoned industrial sites are for many photographers what Mount Everest is to mountain-climbers: a rarely-accessible opportunity of a lifetime.  While the majority of our images were butt-ugly archival shots, it was a standing rule that we could interrupt our progress at any time to take artistic images.  You never knew when some ideal, breath-taking combination of stonework, rust stains and light-and-shadow might be encountered that would transform an exhausting day into a Zen moment.

The site could be dark, cold, damp and hazardous, but also often attractive, addictive, even beautiful and magical at moments.  The whole complex was very quiet, like it was dozing in retirement, its steam pipes hissing its aged breathing, the massive electrical panels humming with memories, and perhaps a little astonished and indignant at our intrusion.

There were poignant reminders everywhere of the people that worked there, and the history behind it all.  Scattered amongst vast halls where once great paper machines roared were the offices, welding, woodworking, electrical machine, shops, locker rooms and showers and small cafeterias, training rooms and meeting rooms.   Maintenance logs and calendars dated April 2007 – the month the plant closed – were still on some office desks, as if the person who worked there just got up and left on the last day.  We saw (and photographed of course) formulas scrawled on concrete walls by engineers following a train of thought; safety helmets and jackets in lockers; PG-rated girlie calendars from a German tool and die manufacturer; and just outside the main office were signatures scrawled on the corridor wall by workers leaving on the last day, recording when they started work there, and under it their last day on the job.

What follows are images of the project work itself, and my own observations.   Like the archive we created, the best sense of place comes not from words, but from visuals.

This admittedly posed scene depicts our morning planning session.  All present are veterans of many months of work, switched easily among the various tasks, and displayed amazing determination and perseverance.

Here is team member Andrea Cordonnier in what we dubbed the “vestibule” of Building 8

The facility was a huge and unbelievably complex warren. If they ever add hide-and-seek to the Olympics, this would have been a perfect venue!

Many basement areas were unlit, or nearly so.

Every wall and ceiling was recorded completely in a sequence of overlapping images.  When possible, each image in the set was taken at the same focal length and with a constant distance both from the wall and laterally, all of which was logged.

A similar process to that for walls was used to document the ceiling.

As a backup to the logs, each image series started with a photograph of a white board containing most of the same information, here dutifully held up for the photographer by Caje.

While to us the buildings were a historical site, the mill owners necessarily had a different view.

The photographer, in this case probably Caje, would crawl over or under or around things like puddles and gravel and rusty pipes, seeing his or her way by headlamp, hauling a floodlight, and re-positioning it along with the camera.

While the core group of photographers was with us throughout, many others joined us for shorter periods of much-appreciated reinforcement.

Another temporary volunteer, Arjin Choi, was a U of O student who joined us for a week as part of her program’s volunteer requirements.

While a floodlight (and long exposures) was the only solution for overviews of 16-foot-high walls 30 feet away, a flash was the tool of choice for detail work.

Marie Mullallly revelling in that most privileged of moments, a workspace that is dry, clean and well-lit.

My thought at this moment was probably something like, “I have no idea what that rusted lump up there is, but it’s my job to immortalize it.” Or, I may have been re-visiting one of our project mantras: “Happiness is a long-enough extension cord.”

While most equipment, including the massive paper machines, had been sold to buyers from other mills worldwide within a year of the closing of the complex, some ironmongery remained.

A Mike Geiger selfie. He is going to tell his friends it is an industrial beer keg.

The complex was heated in winter (sort of) by steam pumped from the still operating Kruger mill, the only part of the E B Eddy complex still in use.

At the end of a long day, Andrea Cordonnier and Bill Woodley are making their way through underground passages with which we became very familiar.

Here are most of the team, at a final get-together luncheon.  The whole exhausting effort was worth it just to have met this crazy crew.