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N.L. family business approaching 175-year anniversary


As the province prepares for winter, with communities stocking up on road salt and sand, the logistics of getting the material from mine to community storage will — in many cases — fall to the team at Avalon Coal, Salt and Oil.

Salt for the coming winter is piled high at Avalon Coal and Salt in Bay Roberts. The salt will soon be distributed via ship and truck to depots throughout the province. — Photo by Nick Mercer/The Compass

“We’re one of the oldest family businesses in Newfoundland I would say,” said owner Eric Dawe who, at 93, continues to guide the operation.

In recent years, more and more of the day to day work has fallen to the next generation, but the elder Dawe still knows the business like the back of his hand and can convey its extensive history of nearly 175 years.

Look no further than the company’s base on the water at Coley’s Point, now part of the Town of Bay Roberts, where Avalon Coal, Salt and Oil has operated since 1842.

Elijah Dawe, of Port de Grave, moved to the property and started a fishing business.

Providing commodities like salt from the site, even decades later, was certainly not about front-end loaders, trucking to individual communities and highway depots.

“They wouldn’t have trucks in those days. They delivered by schooner,” Dawe said, noting salt usage was fishery-focused at the time.

The company now handles only small amounts of coal compared to what it once re-sold to Newfoundland from Canada. It also once provided home heating oil, but is out of that line of business.

However, it continues to provide salt for use by fishing enterprises. Dawe said that arm of the business has actually seen an uptick in  recent years, with requirements for 5,000-6,000 tonnes, following a decline in the last quarter of the 20th century.

As for road salt, the company has vessels capable of carrying loads of about 6,500 tonnes per run into smaller ports throughout the province, from St. Barbe to Norris Point to Carmanville. It will deliver about 13 cargos of road salt using the vessels this year, off-loading onto trucks for delivery to buyers in the surrounding area.

“We’re very, very, very busy. All the time,” Dawe said.

He said that in addition to salt for fish and salt for roads, Avalon Coal, Salt and Oil has developed an expertise in stevedoring and has offered a range of related services to the mining and offshore oil industries.

Most recently, Avalon Coal, Salt and Oil has worked with Hellenic Cables out of Athens, Greece, to allow its property to be used as a base for that company’s work on laying a new underwater power cable between Bell Island and Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, for Newfoundland Power.

The company’s praises have been sung by leaders in Bay Roberts, including the town’s mayor. “They’ve been a long-established company here, a good corporate citizen,” said Mayor Philip Wood, who told The Telegram the company has worked openly with the town on issues arising over the years, even as the community has grown and crept in around the waterfront property.

“We get our salt there and it’s very convenient for us and it’s very convenient for the other (Conception Bay North) towns,” Wood said, acknowledging employment for local residents and tax revenue also come as benefits.

Taking a broader view, he said a vision for the future of businesses on the waterfront includes the company that has been an anchor for local industry for so many years.

“We see the potential for Avalon Coal and Salt,” he said, applauding the company’s ability to re-focus and diversify as needed. “I’d like to see it play an even bigger role.”

 

 

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