From looking after a multi-million-dollar machine to helping his fellow human beings, John Mondoux is one of the hundreds of former Domtar workers who has reinvented his occupation since the mill closed.
“It’s definitely a major change, from dealing with my job to make paper, to taking care of people — a big difference, absolutely,” said Mondoux, 55, a personal support worker.
Mondoux was one of the last to actually see the last roll of paper come off the No. 1 paper machine, on March 13.
He was one of several workers interviewed by the Standard-Freeholder a couple of weeks later.
His future path didn’t swerve after leaving — he had predicted he would take a PSW course after leaving.
“My mother was in hospital in intensive care, so I got to see how they took care of her, and it impressed me a lot at that point,” he said.
“So I just decided, if I ever lose my job at Domtar, this is something I would look into.
“There were a few from the mill that (went in for PSW). Some of them are still in it, some tried and didn’t finish,” he said.
Although now nine years into his second career, he still remembers the pride he and his co-workers put into making fine-grade coated board that was used for the Trivia Pursuit board game and Hallmark cards among other products.
You can hear the level of satisfaction when he described what happened when Cornwall carded board production shifted to China.
“(Domtar) tried to pass CCB on to Hallmark with the same initials, but (Hallmark) noticed the difference in quality when it was being made in China. So Hallmark pulled the contract from Domtar and went to the competition, because of the better quality.”
“We worked as a close team,” Mondoux said of the camaraderie.
Mondoux said the closure splintered many of the last workers.
“We’re not close friends, per se — basically (people) went their own ways, only a few stuck together in a best friend type of thing.”
A five-year reunion did take place in 2011, but he didn’t go.
“I thought they would make a 10-year one, but I haven’t heard anything.”
The main portal for keeping touch is a Facebook page, Domtar past and present, which is mostly devoted to marking the passing of former employees.
“It’s a way to let everyone else know if someone is on their deathbed, so we can see them one last time.”
Bill Makinson said the intervening years have taught him the closure was a “blessing in disguise.”
Makinson transitioned to his current position as Cogeco TV producer fairly easily because it was an early passion of his even before he joined Domtar.
He admitted it was tough slogging for some eight years after he joined Cogeco part-time in the late 1990s.
But he made sure he didn’t take his Domtar employment for granted.
“When things were going bad and they were losing money, I saw the writing on the wall although no one would admit it.
“When that happened, there was a lot of training going on previous to the closure,” he said.
“They wanted to change work culture . . . so I got involved. I thought if this place ever closed down, I want to develop skills that would allow me to get hired more quickly.”
As a supervisor, Makinson said he tried to lead by example, noting how important it was to show senior employees that he pulled his weight with his work ethic.
“You had to be tactful, to talk and deal with certain characters.”
No doubt, this aptitude has served him well as a TV interviewer when required.
When the inevitable happened — the infamous closure announcement at Aultsville Theatre — Makinson also doubled as reporter and was able to assist a colleague to set up interviews with fellow Domtar workers.
While most of the staff were able to secure new jobs, he doesn’t shy away from believing that those who didn’t give it their all while on the job consequently suffered securing a new career.
He, too, has remained in touch to a degree with the former Domtar community, also lauding the Facebook site for keeping tabs with those he doesn’t bump into.
Although the nice wages are a thing of the past, Makinson said that opportunity to make well beyond the current average salary paved the way for a fairly solid financial future.
“It’s the people you work with — the characters and the money was a big thing.
“The money allowed you to buy the finer things in life; today it’s tougher because of the wages.”
During that period, his wife was able to be a full-time homemaker for their kids, but the cut in income forced her to work full-time also.
Personally, he feels fortunate that he was 44 at the time, and not 55 — “I would have had a harder time.”
Robert Cardinal, now a noted restauranteur, also has good memories of his Domtar days.
“It wasn’t bad, not really,” Cardinal said.
“It was good to me, I made good money and had a place to work with a lot of camaraderie.”
When the plant’s doom was sealed, Cardinal also had a fallback plan, to use his early training as a chef.
“It’s hard work, a lot harder than Domtar,” he said of his ownership and management of first Sub Place, and now Scores on Brookdale Avenue.
“Back then you did your job and had no worries. But as your own businessman, you never have a holiday, it’s always at the back of your mind.”
He also notices the earnings hole left by Domtar’s closure and wonders if there is a silver lining as others believe.
“Tough to say, they left the city with a lot of good-paying jobs that have been replaced with logistical companies that don’t pay as much.”
He, too, still sees the old gang probably more than others due to the nature of his new position.
“A lot of the guys I’ve missed, but then you see them after 10 years and they would say, ‘I didn’t even know you were (in the restaurant business).”