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La Papeterie Saint-Armand: Success Producing Hand-Made Paper


September 1, 2005
By Pulp & Paper Canada

La Papeterie Saint-Armand was established in 1979 in Montreal, and is lead by David Carruthers, the founder, and his wife Denise Lapointe. From Day One, it has been a labour of love for Carruthers to…

La Papeterie Saint-Armand was established in 1979 in Montreal, and is lead by David Carruthers, the founder, and his wife Denise Lapointe. From Day One, it has been a labour of love for Carruthers to produce the types of product that his firm has become famous for. The mill crafts highly valued paper products, such as the Saint-Armand handmade papers, the machine-made Canal papers, and the sanded paper, Sabretooth, used by artists.

Strong historical links

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History and traditions are an integral part of the operation, down to the firm’s name. St. Armand is a town in the Eastern Townships of Quebec that is rich in history, and is well known as one of the key entry points on the underground railway leading fleeing slaves from south of the border to freedom in Canada. Known in the late eighteenth century as the “gateway to the Eastern Townships,” because of its strategic position in Missisquoi county adjacent to Lake Champlain, the area was also a natural entry point for thousands of United Empire Loyalists resettling in Canada after the American War of Independence. Carruthers picked the name of his company well, as it symbolizes a fresh start with strong historical links.

Equally significant is the present-day location of the mill on rue St. Patrick, in a building that traces its roots back to the start of the 20th century. “Originally they manufactured linoleum in this building, and I cannot help but feel a sense of history in this place,” said Carruthers. The mill is situated on the shores of the Lachine Canal, which opened in 1825 and stretched 14.5 kilometres linking the Old Port of Montreal to Lac Saint-Louis. Tens of thousands of ships took this route before the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Lachine Canal was an integral part of the network that linked the Atlantic Ocean to the heart of the continent. It also played a decisive role in the industrial development of Montreal, notably as a supplier of hydraulic power. The area adjacent to the Canal became one of the main manufacturing production centres in Canada, from the beginning of industrialization in the middle of the 19th century until the Second World War. It is almost symbolically fitting that La Papeterie Saint-Armand finds its home here today.

Carruthers’ touch

The engines that drive the daily operations are Carruthers himself, along with his wife, Denise Lapointe. “We have managed to re-create an ancient craft in a modern context,” explained Carruthers. “We are able to pulp the type of fibres that have been used for papermaking for hundreds of years.”

The process of pulping at Saint-Armand begins with beating rags which are recycled from cotton off-cuts from clothing manufacturers. Linen, flax straw, jute and sisal are also used. The entire process is mechanical, with no use of any chemical or bleaching agents, simply water. It is also extremely physically demanding work that, “is not for everybody,” Carruthers jokingly added.

White comes mainly from white tee shirts and the blue from blue denim. The mechanical beating, as labour intensive as it is, keeps the fibres long and pliable. This ensures that the created papers do not crack when folded and will resist very deep embossing, a necessity for many artists who use the product. With six employees working in a 20,000 square foot area, the production line is steady. “We are artists in paper,” said Carruthers.

Denise Lapointe, whose background is as a printer and artist, shares the passion for the process. “There are long hours to devote, and so many things can go wrong when you are creating handmade paper,” she said, “but the end product is worth it.”

As the head of product development, she proudly talked about new grades that are being developed. Carruthers added, “Designing and developing new grades of paper is always on my mind, and on many occasions I collaborate with artists and show them how to work with the papers that I can produce for them.”

Examples include artist Alex MacKay, who made a canoe of linen paper and floated it on the Thames River in London and John Heward, who then painted a 400-foot long scroll that was spread in front of the Imperial Palace in Beijing, China.

The beginnings

One can say that papermaking is in the blood of Carruthers. His family has been associated with paper going back two generations. His grandfather, George Carruthers was the owner of the Interlake Paper Mill in Ontario, and his father was a paper salesman with the family firm. David’s academic training specialized in the history of economics, which initially led him to a position with the Pulp and Paper Association of Canada (then known as the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association). His dream, as he told me was always, “to operate my own mill and build a papermachine.” Backed by his love for 19th century technology and his intuition that there was a marketplace for handmade paper, much of his dreams did turn to reality.

While David has not built a paper machine himself, those papers that need a more mechanized form of production, such as Canal Paper, can be made on a historical 1947 pilot fourdrinier from Scotland that was installed in 1992.

The initial years of operation were plagued with budgetary restrictions, underpowered machines and even floods, but when he started on the road to selling his products, there was no turning back. “I am proud of the fact that Steve Steinberg (New York Central Art Supply) and Ben Woolfitt (Woolfitt’s), original customers still buy from me today.” Today Saint-Armand paper products are sold through over 200 retailers, including some of the most prestigious art supply outlets in North America.

The future

At age 63, David Carruthers is a contented man with no thoughts of ever retiring from papermaking. Although his son Jonathan is equally an expert in the field (having been taught by the master), he presently works in an unrelated field. Nephew Geoffrey Moore, while studying history at university, is presently working at the mill.

Carruthers, referring to the future, simply added, “there are too many other types of paper to develop before I go.” Indeed, 50 years ago there were significantly more grades manufactured than today, and he feels the industry’s future is in developing even newer grades and creating new markets for these products. “Think of the old glass milk bottles that had three different kinds of paper used in packaging the top. None of these paper products are being produced today.” As we evolve in the next 200 years, Carruthers is a firm believer in future applications for paper, but also maintains that we as Canadian papermakers must be more aggressive in developing new products, and equally more aggressive in maintaining our existing marketplace. The man knows his business. After all, he has devoted most of his career to understanding the importance of paper from both a historical and an evolutionary perspective.

Your comments and suggestions are welcomed at zsoltp@pulpandpapercanada.com

PRODUCTION CAPACITIES

800 pounds of rag pulp beaten daily.

450 sheets of 22″ x 30″ 300 gr handmade paper produced daily

3000 sheets a day of 250 gr 22″ x 30″ machine made produced daily

HISTORICAL TIME LINE – the first 15 years

1979 January

-Incorporated and assembled equipment

-Moulds and deckles came from Lee McDonald in Boston

1979 March

-First production at De Courcelles Street mill using mechanically pulped cotton linters.

1980

-Neighbours and landlord induced a move to 110 Young Street, which was formerly the Walker Paper Building. Improved machinery added: three hp hydropulper, a deknotter, a 100 tonne hydraulic press and a calender.

1982

-Received a commission for paper for the proclamation of the Canadian Constitution in April.

1983

-Received a commission for paper for “Charte des droits et
liberts de la personne” du Qubec

1984

-Another move which entailed a three month shutdown, while the new mill at 950 Ottawa Street was equipped, wired and drains installed

1985 to 1991

-Producing six tonnes a year with five part time employees

1992-93

-In order to better compete, decision made to install a papermachine and a large Hollander beater

1994

-At the Art Material Trade Association in Chicago a new line of papers called Canal Papers (made from an array of pulps that had never been used before) was introduced.


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