MILLER, LEWIS H., lumber merchant; b. 1848 at Belloch Farm, near Crieff, Scotland; m. with three sons and two daughters; d. 1 April 1909 in Crieff.
The son of a farmer, Lewis Miller went into the lumber trade in the late 1860s and eventually built up an extensive business. Much of his lumber was supplied from sawmills which he developed in Sweden during the 1880s. In the following decade he was attracted to timber prospects in Newfoundland by Robert Gillespie Reid, who was also from Perthshire and by some accounts an old acquaintance. The builder and operator of the Newfoundland Railway, Reid owned large tracts of land in the colony, which he was anxious to exploit. A sawmilling industry had begun to develop as his railway penetrated the interior, and Reid now looked to operations on a larger scale that would provide his company with needed income.
Miller sent his woods manager to cruise potential timber limits in the Red Indian Lake and Gander Lake areas late in 1899. One source suggests that this employee was so royally treated by the Reid family that the cruise was perfunctory and the amount of good pine seriously overestimated. The report was certainly positive, for in March 1900 Miller closed agreements with Reid and the Newfoundland government that gave him timber rights over 510 square miles in the two surveyed areas and a right of way for a branch railway to a mill site on Red Indian Lake, later known as Millertown. In addition he bought the Glenwood Lumber Company. That August Miller arrived in Newfoundland with a party of sixty Swedish workers and their families, and six Scots. His plan was to process wood at new mills at Millertown and Glenwood and to ship the lumber through Burnt Bay, renamed Lewisporte.
It took some time to get the enterprise under way. Mills had to be built, the branch line constructed, handling facilities at Lewisporte improved, and a workforce recruited. The cost was considerable and the returns slow. Moreover, Miller found that the amount of top-grade pine was indeed limited and that he would have to devote himself mainly to the production of various sorts of inferior lumber. There were other problems as well. A fire at Glenwood added to the financial strain. The Swedes became dissatisfied with their pay and began to drift away. The Reids proved difficult, and there were disputes with the government over duties and the granting of additional timber leases. By the end of 1901 Miller was actively considering the establishment of a pulpmill at Red Indian Lake to make use of his acres of small trees, and he began to approach British paper makers. A year later he was negotiating with the Harmsworth publishing interests of London, and it appears he was hoping for a joint venture. This plan fell through, mainly because the Harmsworth brothers, Alfred Charles William and Harold Sidney, became more interested in the prospects for a mill in the Humber valley, and the Reids failed to secure a large block of additional timber land in the Exploits area. Unwilling to carry his losses any longer, Miller sold his Newfoundland properties in July 1903 to Newfoundland Timber Estates Limited. This was a Reid-backed business, managed by Harry Judson Crowe*, which bought up much of the timberland on the east coast – and eventually sold a large percentage of it to the Harmsworths when they finally decided in 1905 to establish a newsprint mill at Grand Falls. As for Miller, he moved on to Nova Scotia, where he bought timberland near Chester.
Miller’s failure demonstrated that the long-held expectation that sawmilling would be an important Newfoundland industry was an illusion and that the future for the island’s forests lay in pulp and paper. It was Miller who was perhaps the first to see this clearly. It was he who first interested the Harmsworths in Newfoundland – though Harry Crowe was to claim the credit – and in this sense he can be seen as a founder of one of the island’s most important industries.
[The author would like to acknowledge the assistance of Mr Wallace Furlong of St John’s, who supplied personal details concerning Miller, including a letter of 2 Jan. 1982 from Mrs W. Kelley of Crieff, Scot., and Professor William G. Reeves of the Memorial Univ. of Nfld, St John’s, who made available a draft chapter on American investment in Newfoundland woods industries. Considerable detail has also been taken from various clippings from local newspapers in Miller’s file at the Newfoundland Hist. Soc. (St John’s). j.k.h.]
Newfoundland Hist. Soc., R. [C.] Goodyear, “Lewis Miller and Harry J. Crowe” (typescript, 1966). PANL, GN 9/1, 1900–3, esp. 2 March 1900; MG 17, pt.2, misc. box 1, L. H. Miller letters to W. D. and H. D. Reid, 1902. Evening Telegram (St John’s), 6–7 Aug. 1903. H. Silk, “Lewis Miller of Millertown,” Grand Falls Advertiser (Grand Falls, Nfld), 1 Feb. 1968. J. [K.] Hiller, “The origins of the pulp and paper industry in Newfoundland,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 11 (1981–82), no.2: 42–68.