Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A call out for mill baskets

The  Intangible Cultural Heritage Development Office is currently working on a collection project focused on baskets and basket makers in Newfoundland. We are particularly interested in Mi'kmaq root baskets, trout baskets and mill lunch baskets.  We will be putting photos and descriptions of these baskets on the online archive, the Digital Archives Initiative, which can be found at

We are very interested in collecting photographs and reminiscence of mill baskets, the distinctive two-handled splint style lunch baskets used by the paper mill workers in central Newfoundland. The paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor was open for operation from 1905 to 2009 and was quite literally the backbone of the community.  It was a regular sight to see men walking to work carrying large woven lunch baskets, laden with home cooked food. Whether they be rectangular or oval, made from juniper, birch, or even steel, these baskets were a symbol of hard work and financial security. Many men worked in the paper mill their entire lives to provide for their families and these baskets were often generational, passed down to a younger male member of the family, if he became employed with the mill.

It seems a number of these baskets were made by the same people so many looked very similar. In order to personalize their baskets, the mill workers would etch their names, doodle, or affix stickers and photographs on them. The baskets were also used for practical joking and initiation into the mill. If a new worker was too eager to leave at the end of his shift his basket may have been nailed down or filled with rocks so that when he grabbed it the handles would come right off!

The mill basket was also a way for young children to get a glimpse inside the paper mill, which for most was a mysterious, even scary, place. Many children delivered their father’s mill basket when they worked shift work. Don Taylor, whose father worked for the mill from 1956 to 1992, remembers that you would lay your baskets “in the front porch of the one was allowed to go in unless they worked there”. Often young boys of the community could be seen walking proudly with their father’s mill basket, putting on an act as though they were a mill worker. I recently met with Don and have included some photographs of his basket.

Some of the best known mill basket-makers were Angus Gunn of Grand Falls Windsor and Ray Osmond and Ken Payne, both of Botwood. All three men are no longer living, but as of 2001 Clarence White of Botwood was still making mill baskets.

If you have a mill basket please contact us. We would love to get photos and with your permission add your basket to our online collection. You can reach us at

Don Taylor imitating the way his father carried the mill basket

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