TRENTON – For 41 years, Calvin MacInnis worked at Nova Forge. Today is his last day, but it’s not by his choice.
The place where gun barrels for the allies to fight the Germans were fashioned during the First World War, pieces for ships shaped, as well as mining equipment parts and a host of other custom pieces, is closing leaving him and 31 other men out of work.
“I’m just amazed that we closed a business like that,” he said from Thursday at home after helping to ship out the last piece. “It just blows my mind, I never thought that would happen.
The company helped to shape Nova Scotia industry and Pictou County’s economy and allowed men like MacInnis to go to work in the morning, go home at night and care for their families. But that ends today.
The last piece, a part for a mining shovel, was shipped out yesterday.
“It was weird,” said general manager Robert MacEachern. “To walk out there today and see the last one leave the facility was emotional.”
What’s emotional about it is not necessarily the parts that will no longer be made there, or even the forge that made them, but what it represented for him and the men who worked there.
“They brought their families up on this place,” he said. “It provided them with a good employment over the years. I think there was pride in what they did. It was a good place to work and I think it gets in their blood a little bit.”
Financial pressures are what have forced the business to close. While a fire in January 2012 certainly didn’t help, there were bigger issues at play, says MacEachern. One in particular was the increase in competition from businesses which had access to cheaper sources of energy.
While at one time Nova Forge could rely on its uniqueness, in more recent years, they’ve had to battle with high oil and electric prices at home and stiff competition abroad.
“A really big factor here and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it is the lack of natural gas,” MacEachern said. “We burn No. 2 furnace oil whereas all our competition burns natural gas. Electricity costs are high here.”
MacEachern said they had hoped the national shipbuilding program might have brought them some work and they also talked with the government in an effort to see if anything could be done, but nothing worked out.
Since January the numbers of men have dwindled as work wound down. Of the 32, a few have found work. Others are still looking, he said.
“They are good people. They’re good workers. I hope that they can find good employment,” he said. “It would be sad to see them have to leave the community to do that. I know a few guys have gone out west. It’s unfortunate.”
MacInnis fears he won’t be able to find work.
“You got to find work, but for a 60-year-old man, that’s not easy,” he said. “There’s nothing local.”
There’s still part of him that hopes something could be done to save the forge, even though it seems unlikely.
“It’s a tough thing to do to say ‘that’s it.’”