SPECIAL REPORT

FACING THE FUTURE

A TOWN BENEFITS FROM OFFSHORE OIL

GLEN ALLEN April 3 1989
SPECIAL REPORT

FACING THE FUTURE

A TOWN BENEFITS FROM OFFSHORE OIL

GLEN ALLEN April 3 1989

FACING THE FUTURE

SPECIAL REPORT

A TOWN BENEFITS FROM OFFSHORE OIL

When James Mayo left his Burin Peninsula community of Marystown for Toronto in 1955, he left a village of 1,200 that offered limited opportunities for a 16-year-old carpenter’s son with a Grade 10 education. When he returned permanently in 1979, by then a certified accountant with five children, his formerly sleepy and struggling home town had changed almost beyond recognition.

Under a program of Joseph Smallwood's government in the 1960s to resettle the people of 600 Newfoundland outport communities into what he called selected “growth centres,” Marystown had been transformed into a small but swelling metropolis. In fact, with a new shipyard, modern fishprocessing plant and businesses catering to 25,000 clients in the area, the town had become the commercial hub of the region. Said Mayo, 51, now the town manager of Marystown: “I don’t want to go overboard on this, but this change was a very pleasant sight to see.”

Malls: Among many Newfoundlanders who left their villages for the 77 growth centres, the Smallwood government’s initiative is still a matter of dispute. But for Marystown—120 miles west of St. John’s across Placentia Bay—the change has brought a measure of prosperity. The town now has two new shopping malls and other amenities such as the comfortable new Spanish Room Lounge in the three-storey, 130-room Motel Mortier. Still, the true emblem of the community’s change—and indeed of the province’s future hopes—is the 800-employee Marystown Shipyard’s Cow Head facility, seven kilometres east of the town. Cow Head, said shipyard vice-president Donald Steele, is the only facility east of Halifax that is equipped to repair the oil rigs and build offshore oil production platforms. And for many Newfoundlanders, oil is the promise of the future. Like other provincial businesses, the provincial govern-

ment-owned shipyard has been preparing to profit from an expected windfall when the offshore Hibernia Oil field finally goes into production—probably by the mid-1990s. “We are,” he said, “looking at a major expansion.”

In fact, Steele said that the company has already sent 70 of its employees for training in Norway, where offshore oil is already a main-

stay of the economy. That and other preparatory measures are based on the fact that, in its first six years of production, Hibernia is expected to provide 14,500 man-years of employment. And businessmen, scientists and researchers in other parts of the province are also preparing for the anticipated boom. At Memorial University in St. John’s, members of a facility called the Centre for Cold Ocean Resources Engineering are spearheading an exploration of the offshore ice pack, in which about 30 foreign scientists and engineers are now also taking part.

Director Jack Clark said that a study of pack ice off Labrador will, among other things, help determine the effect of ice on drilling equipment. “We are interested in what happens when it surrounds a drilling rig,” said Clark.

Current research, he added, should enable contractors to build their rigs with the strength to withstand the tremendous pressures of ice movement. Meanwhile, other scientists at the centre are engaged in different areas of research—among them the scouring of the ocean floor by icebergs. Said Clark: “The question is how deep would you have to bury a pipeline [to avoid damage]?”

But the 12,000-student university—where John Malpas, head of the widely renowned earth sciences department, has gained international recognition for his mapping of the global ocean floor—is only part of the flowering of the province’s science and business communities. St. John’s is also the home of the Canadian Helicopter Corp., the third-largest helicopter service firm in the world. With some of its fleet of 200 helicopters now servicing oil rigs as far away as Ecuador, the company clearly hopes to capitalize on Hibernia—200 miles southeast of Newfoundland. And its chairman, a rough-andready 53-year-old named Craig Dobbin, is also chairman of the regional air carrier Air Atlantic and holds an interest in another airline, Ontario Express.

Activity: But vigor and optimism are also reflected in Newfoundland’s artistic scene. “There is an incredible level of activity in the arts here,” said Patricia Grattan, curator of Memorial’s art gallery. Anne Hart, director of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, pointed to the recent mushrooming of “extremely lively” theatrical groups as further evidence of the province’s artistic health. And Grattan added that a number of mainland Canadian artists have recently _ been moving to the proveí ince. “It seems to be a ^ deliberate choice because of the unique culture here,” she said. “They revel in it.”

Mayo, whose greatgreat-grandfather was Marystown’s first settler—said that he can understand the desire to five in the province. For one thing, he said, Newfoundland may be at a turning point in its history. But another reason for the province’s appeal, he added, may simply be the flavor of Newfoundland, where, he says, people are more “in tune with their culture” than residents of Central Canada. After spending two decades in Toronto and Ottawa, Mayo said that it was not the art, culture or hoped-for prosperity that drew him home, “but more just the way of life.” Declared Mayo: “My wife tells me all the time I was in Toronto I never left Newfoundland. I never lost the taste for the bay.”

GLEN ALLEN in Marystown