In 2003, the federal government sold its interests in the port of Botwood, which were purchased by the Town of Botwood and placed under the control of the Exploits Port Corporation.
It was the spawning of a grassroots movement by residents of the town to keep the port active, and that determination may finally be paying off.
The port of Botwood has been active, in one incarnation or another, since the mid 1800s. Originally established by Rev. Edward Botwood, namesake of the town, the port has a more than 100-year history as an economic driver of the community, if not the region.
The establishment of the port allowed for the opening of the interior of the province and acted as a jumping point for early settlers. However, as the industries that precipitated the port waned, so did the port itself.
Botwood’s harbour can be described as a natural port, being protected from adverse weather conditions by the surrounding land mass. The bay provides a deep-water approach with no navigational hazards.
Once a shining beacon of progress in the town, by the 1980s the port was dilapidated and failing.
The federal government was looking to rid itself of the property, which was unused and unwanted, except by the residents of Botwood — and the time seemed right for a leap of faith. The port has undeniably been the historical backbone of the community, and the community was convinced it would also be the town’s future.
“Everybody wanted to see the port active,” said Botwood Mayor Scott Sceviour. “Abitibi was the last straw, and at the end of the day what we’ve been trying to do as a community is revitalize the port. We are built on the water, and we were built on the water for a reason.”
The “federal shed” is the colloquialism used to describe the port structure. The primary building is a sprawling 1,238 square foot warehouse. The federal shed currently houses a manufacturing plant for modular homes, despite a lack of electricity flowing to the building.
“We basically took ownership of the shed and the federal government gave us some money to put back into the shed to bring it up to today’s standards,” Sceviour said.
Some renovations have been completed; the piling under the wharf has been repaired and reinforced to allow for more weight inside the structure. There are plans to replace the electrical service to provide a 600-amp, three-phase power service.
The hope is that the port and structure will soon be awash in activity. The Town of Botwood has been negotiating with Newgreen Energy, a fledgling lumber and biodiesel company. Newgreen plans to build a new sawmill and create a biodiesel refinery in Botwood. Products produced by Newgreen would sail out of Botwood’s port, bound for European and other North American shores, creating jobs, stability and a future for the residents of Botwood — just as paper products shipped from the then new port did over 100 years ago.
For the town of Botwood, the future has always been anchored in the past.