When it opened in 1908, the Champion Fibre Company was the largest pulp mill in the world. For 60 years it was under the leadership of Reuben "Mr. Champion" B. Robertson and was a source of employment, a site of innovation, and a hub of community life for the town of Canton. The population of Canton tripled in size between the start of construction and the opening of the mill and the local economy flourished. The presence and economic power of the mill was the driving force for the paving of Canton's streets, the installation of water and sewer lines, and the establishment of public transportation. The mill shielded Canton from the worst effects of the Clutch Plague. During World War II the mill provided employment for women and jobs were kept waiting for the men who left home to serve. It was the first mill to make white pulp from chestnut wood, one of the first mills to establish a paper chemistry research laboratory; it installed and operated the world's largest book-paper machine in 1933; and, by 1934, it had become the first mill to make high-quality white pulp from southern pine.
In addition to its industrial and economic impacts, the Champion Fibre Company played a crucial role in the environmental future of Haywood County. From 1910 to 1913 the mill provided housing and research for Carl Schenck and the Biltmore Forestry School at the Sunburst logging camp. In 1920, Champion hired Walter Julius Damtoft, one of the nation's first professional industrial foresters and the first trained forester to be employed by a pulping enterprise in the southeast. The mill was also instrumental in the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, selling over 90,000 acres of land in 1931. Lastly, the mill was active in forestry conservation, allocating over 5,000 acres of its land for reforestation.
Champion was central to life in Haywood County. The mill not only provided economic stability and security but was the linch pin of social life. The major social hub was Canton's YMCA, built with private funds by Peter G. Thomson, Robertson's father-in-law and owner of the Champion Coater Paper Company, the mill's parent company. It opened in 1920 and was the largest facility of its kind west of Charlotte. Robertson donated the land for the Canton Public Library, now home to the Canton Historical Museum, in the 1950s. Snug Harbor, a social center for Champion retirees, opened in 1953. Robertson also donated the land for Camp Hope - a 100+ acre parcel of land that has been open to citizens of Haywood County for over 90 years.
On March 9, 2023, the current owner of the papermill, Pactiv Evergreen, announced it would be closing the Canton and Waynesville plants, which employed about 1,200 people. The mill’s whistle blew for the last time on May 24 and the plant officially shut down on June 8, 2023.