The Tragic Closure of the Canton Paper Mill

An Iconic Site Shutters, Leaving a Town Devastated

CANTON – In a heartbreaking turn of events, the Canton paper mill, which had been a pillar of the community for over a century, officially closed its doors on May 24. The news of the closure has left the town in a state of shock and sorrow, as thousands of jobs and countless livelihoods have been swept away.

Residents like Keitha Oldham are deeply affected by the mill’s closure, recognizing the far-reaching consequences it will have on the lives of so many. “It’s a sad day – they’re losing homes, insurance, everything,” she lamented, reflecting the sentiments of her fellow citizens.

The packaging company Pactiv Evergreen, the mill’s owner, announced the closure on March 6, giving the residents of Canton less than 90 days’ notice. The abrupt nature of the decision has stunned the community, who now grapple with the reality of over 1,000 layoffs and an uncertain future. The loss of the mill is not just a nostalgic farewell; it is a crisis that threatens the livelihoods of many in Canton.

Pleas for Assistance and Contractual Obligations

Upon hearing about the looming shutdown, Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers sprang into action, seeking help from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and Representative Chuck Edwards. Governor Cooper went so far as to pen an open letter to the CEO of Pactiv Evergreen, urging them to reconsider the closure and suggesting the search for a buyer. Cooper pointed out that this move violated a contract between Pactiv Evergreen and the North Carolina Department of Commerce, which provided the company with $12 million in grant money in exchange for maintaining a minimum of 800 full-time employees until the end of 2024.

The Final Farewell

As the clock struck noon on May 24, the bell tolled for the last time at the paper mill. Canton residents gathered in Sorrells Street Park, just across from the mill, to bid a heartfelt adieu. Emotions ran high, especially among the town’s senior citizens, many of whom had dedicated their entire lives to working at the mill.

Keitha Oldham, fighting back tears, shared her family’s deep connection to the mill. “This is history, this is their life. This is what Canton is,” she said, speaking not only for her loved ones but also for the concerns felt by the entire town. Despite the sadness and frustration, Oldham holds onto hope, wishing for a positive outcome to emerge from this difficult situation.

A Loss Felt Throughout the Entire Community

The closure of the Canton paper mill cuts deep into the fabric of the town’s identity. For 115 years, the mill sustained the residents and played a significant role in establishing the community. Constructed in 1908, a mere 16 years after Canton’s founding, the mill drew in workers and enabled the town’s population to grow from 230 to 1,393 between 1900 and 1910.

Caroline Ponton, the curator of the Canton Area Historical Museum, halted her photography of the expansive mill to reflect on its profound impact. “This is part of their roots,” Ponton remarked. “It’s part of their culture. It’s a part of who they are. So it’s a loss.”

A Community United in the Face of Adversity

In response to the massive void left by the mill’s closure, various resources have been made available to support those affected by the shutdown. Governor Cooper features a dedicated page on his website with information on unemployment insurance and family resources. Additionally, the city of Canton, alongside other organizations, has launched its own website, offering job training opportunities, health insurance options, financial assistance, and ways to express gratitude for the mill workers, such as a planned cookout on June 16.

Canton Chief of Police Scott Sluder and his officers made a point to join the gathering at Sorrells Street Park, demonstrating their solidarity with the community. Sluder understands the significance of the mill to the town and acknowledges the need for healing following this loss. Despite the challenges that lie ahead, he remains cautiously optimistic about the future. “We are a strong community, made up of good people,” Sluder emphasized. “If we come together with a unified goal of emerging stronger, I believe that we can do it. If anyone can, this town and this county can.”

As the Canton paper mill falls silent, the heartache reverberates throughout the town. The impact of this closure reaches far beyond economic concerns; it represents the end of an era and a profound loss for the people of Canton. However, with support, resilience, and a shared determination, the community will find a way to navigate this difficult chapter and emerge stronger on the other side.

Canton Community Members Gathered

For more information, visit Quill And Fox.

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