Life After the Mill: Finding work after Bowater

Brittany W.
Brittany W. Verge
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Life after the closure of the Bowater Mersey paper mill has been difficult for former employee Allan Robart.

Allan Robart is a father of three and a former mill worker.  Like many former workers, he doesn’t have a trade and says that has made finding work difficult in Queens County and other areas.

Robart worked at the mill from 1991 to 2012; he's 51.  He has found it hard to find full time steady work in the wake of the mill closure. 

The father of three was one of the many employees working within the mill without a certified trade.  Trades were only necessary for specific jobs and many employees were simply trained on site.  He started as a spare for a few years and then worked on the paper machines full time.

He was one of the last employees to leave the mill.

 “I stayed until the end,” says Robart.

 Robart says he enjoyed his work, the pay was pretty good and he and his family budgeted for that income.  His expenses, such as a mortgage, still reflect his previous income, except two of his grown children no longer live at home.  Some bills such as power, have even gone up.

“I don't think we lived beyond our means but we got by,” he says.

Since he lost his job, the former Bowater employee has found the search for full time employment difficult.  His wife holds a few part time jobs but Robart is worried because one of her main jobs, working at a school cafeteria, ends in June.  Most staff members in schools, excluding teachers, are not salaried over the summer.

“When the mill closed we got our severance, the unfortunate part of that is that we had to use that to survive,” he says.

Robart is no longer eligible for Employment Insurance.  He took several temporary jobs to get by including the job of tearing down some of the former Bowater buildings.

Robart was a part of the last group of employees to leave the mill.  As a result, he and other employees were the last to decide what to do with their pensions.  He is awaiting an overpayment of his pension and that process has been delayed.  He says part time work would be easier to deal with if he had access to that payment as he could then take care of many bills.

“I’d like to work until I’m older, I can still work, the sad part is, there’s not much work around,” says Robart.

He can start receiving his pension at 55 if he chooses. 

He’s hoping to hear back from a few places he has applied for but says it’s been a difficult winter.  Robart has his own woodland and when he receives money from his pension, he would like to get a miniature sawmill and saw lumber. 

“I wouldn’t mind selling some firewood too, because I like cutting it and I’ve got about 50 acres,” says Robart.

Robart has thought about working in Alberta like many Nova Scotians but he doesn’t like the idea of going back and forth.  His mother lives in the county and he looks in on her.  He hasn’t ruled working out west out however.

“It’s just sad that a lot of people have had to go and move,” he says.

 It’s not just family that makes Robart want to stay in Queens.  He’s also a volunteer with the Liverpool Fire Department.  He even helped with the fire department’s organization of the Maple Leaf’s Alumni game, which supported the purchase of a new ladder truck.

“(The fire department) keeps me out of trouble,” laughs the former mill employee.

Robart says once the pensions are sorted out, he may decide to go back to school.

“Once I’ve got that overpayment, then we could afford it, (my wife) would have some money and I could go to school,” he says.

He is hopeful the overpayments on pensions will be sorted out in May. 

“You can’t survive on minimum wage,” says Robart.

Organizations: Bowater, Employment Insurance, Liverpool Fire Department

Geographic location: Alberta, Nova Scotians, Queens Maple Leaf

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