15 years ago, the ax fell on the Belgo in Shawinigan

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15 years ago, the ax fell on the Belgo in Shawinigan

Remains of the Belgo paper mill, abandoned for several years, when demolition work was underway in 2020.

November 29, 2007. This date, like a thunderclap, changed the industrial landscape of the Cité de l’énergie, Shawinigan. The Belgo then announces its closure, the end of an era. Fifteen years later, the memories are still fresh for former workers and elected officials.

It's a Thursday. The bosses of Abitibi-Consolidated are in town, but far from them the idea of ​​​​celebrating. They come to announce that the paper mill, which has been in operation for more than a hundred years in Shawinigan Bay, will cease production permanently in March 2008. All of a sudden, 560 workers learn that the adventure is coming to an end.

The Belgo was all that Serge Hould had known, like many of his colleagues. From his first day at the factory, then aged 18, until his last day when he was 54, Serge got his hands dirty. Fifteen years have passed, and the memories of this closure are still painful. This factory will have been his home for 36 years of loyal career.

I was more often at the Belgo than at home. Closing day hurt. I came in at eight o'clock in the morning, and at eleven I left, I was in tears. When they called me to ask me if I was ok, I said yes, but the Belgo was my life, he admits.

Serge Hould recalls with great emotion his years spent at the Belgo factory.

The announcement had the effect of a bomb inside the walls since, despite the occasional production interruptions, most workers expected the Laurentide plant to Grandmother closes the first one. The executives had first been informed. It was up to them to have the heavy task of announcing to their colleagues, their friends, many fathers of families, that the key would be put under the door for good. Christian Roberge, an executive at the time, remembers the earthquake caused by the end of the Belgo.

It was very difficult because guys came to see me. They were crying and wondering what they were going to do. I too was dumbfounded. I remember one time in particular when I told a colleague to go home because his wife was losing consciousness when she was going through an emotional shock. He had then made sure that his son was with her when the news would come out. Our colleague, he wanted to live this day with us in the factory until the end, he recalls.

An exile for dozens of families. Christian Roberge is one of those who left the region to find a new job that offered the same conditions. His two sons will remain in Mauricie.

There is still collateral damage, I had a guy who was still at home and he had to find an apartment. And I went to work at Kruger in Lanaudière, he says.

It'sa whole city that took the hit in November 2007, with its headed by former mayor Lise Landry. The bosses of Consol announced the closure to him at the town hall, along with the other members of the council. Ms. Landry also remembers the front page of the Nouvelliste of the time.

You can't forget a tragedy like that in a municipality. You think of the employees who lose their jobs. You think of the families and the children who are there. A closure like that has a huge human impact, she says.

The news came as a surprise to her, especially since the director of Belgo ;had assured a few weeks before that everything was fine.

“We saw the Laurentide at Grand-Mère and we said that it was the one that was going to close. »

— Lise Landry, former mayor of Shawinigan

Lise Landry suspected that this closure would bring its share of challenges to Shawinigan. The factory offered good wages and was a powerful economic engine at the time.

Imagine the traders! Don't you think they were discouraged? They said to me: “What are we going to do if there is no more work in Shawinigan?” Already they had experienced the closure of DuPont and CIL, she adds.

In the following weeks, several ministers marched to City Hall to to reassure the mayor and tell her that they would take charge of the economic development of her town. The results are long overdue.

Many political actors have expressed their support for Shawinigan and its mayor Lise Landry, in the wake of the announcement of the closure of the Belgo factory.

Even the Prime Minister came. They all made promises. But they did not materialize in the short term. Shawinigan has not yet recovered from this, believes the former first magistrate.

Claude Pinard, who was a Parti Québécois deputy in Saint-Maurice from 1994 to 2007 and from 2008 to 2012, will never forget this sad closure. The end of production was, according to him, foreseeable, in particular because of obsolete equipment and the drop in demand for the type of paper produced by Belgo. He is adamant that the only reason this factory held out until 2008 was the workers.

They were paper artists in Shawinigan. They held the factory at arm's length, but the closure always floated over my head when I was an MP. We had many meetings to find solutions, but we must remember that at the time, Abitibi-Consolidated was operating practically on subsidies. When the closure was announced, Shawinigan had not one, but both knees on the ground. It was an extremely hard blow for a city like ours, explains the former MP.

Since the closure of the Belgo paper mill in 2007, the former industrial land has been practically left to abandonment.

The memory — even the scar — of the Belgo is still very much present in the Cité de l'énergie. Every day, the concrete ruins shade the landscape of Shawinigan Bay. A sad observation for Claude Pinard.

When I see this, I feel like crying. It looks like a field of war, he regrets.

A sad memory that the former workers who made the factory proud would like to see disappear one day.

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