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Resolute Roots: Chicago Tribune’s thirst for newsprint drives founding of Thorold mill

Usine de Thorold

The roots of Resolute Forest Products took hold in the midst of the Industrial Revolution.  Starting in 1820 and over the following two centuries, the company grew from 20 sawmills along the banks of the St. Lawrence River to the 40+ pulp, paper, wood products and tissue facilities we operate today in the United States, Canada and South Korea.

 A newly published book “Resolute Roots” follows the evolution of the company and the pioneers who built it, through two world wars and numerous technological revolutions. 

Written by author Martin Fairbank, a former Resolute employee, the book tells the story of Resolute’s family tree, which includes names such as Abitibi, Consolidated Bathurst, Canadian International Paper, Bowater, Ontario Paper, Donohue and Price – and celebrates the building of the Mersey, Alma,  Kénogami, Murray Bay, Thorold and Gatineau mills, along with numerous other facilities.

For more information on the deep roots and rich history of Resolute and its predecessors, you can purchase Resolute Roots by clicking here. We’ll be publishing brief excerpts from the book over the next few weeks under the Resolute Roots tag.

Resolute’s Thorold mill has been running since 1913 and has been a pioneer in the development and implementation of many papermaking innovations. It was built as the Ontario Paper Company, a subsidiary of the Chicago Tribune.

In the early 1900s, the McCormick family had controlling interest of the Tribune Company, a newspaper establishment. Robert McCormick trained as a lawyer and had an office in the Tribune building but, in 1904, was elected as a Chicago alderman.

When he lost the next election in 1910, McCormick decided to enter the family business, and was elected president of the Tribune Company in 1911, a post he retained until his death in 1955. The Tribune’s chief rival was a Hearst-owned newspaper, which was able to get better newsprint prices due to the size of the Hearst empire. In response, McCormick developed a plan to build his own newsprint mill in order to have better control over the price of his most important raw material. In the winter of 1911-12, McCormick chose the Thorold site in Ontario, originally a cow pasture on the banks of the Welland Canal.

Every step in the planning of the mill was approved by McCormick, who brought two engineers from the Chicago Sanitary District to work on the project. The mill building was completed early in 1913, and the first paper machine at the newly-formed Ontario Paper Company started up on September 15, 1913. The second paper machine started up a few weeks later. In 1914, the mill produced 31,707 short tons of paper, which represented 93% of the Tribune’s requirements.

One disadvantage of the Thorold site was the lack of available pulpwood. McCormick was unsuccessful in getting local cutting rights from the Ontario government, and had to rely on purchases of pulpwood from brokers for the first few years. Then, taking advantage of the possibility to bring ships up the Welland Canal to the paper mill, Ontario Paper established woodlands on the Quebec North Shore and on Anticosti Island. In the late 1910s, Ontario Paper also established a sawmill, a dock, and the town of Shelter Bay on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Quebec (known today as Port Cartier).

If you would like to learn more about the history of Resolute Forest Products and its predecessors, the recently published Resolute Roots is available here.

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