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Logging and Sawmilling Journal November 2014

May 2015

On the Cover:
B.C.’s Valley Pulp & Sawdust Carriers Ltd has hauled a lot of different materials in its decades of operation—but the company has now expanded its operations to hauling logs in the B.C. Interior, and it is working for several forest companies operating in the region. Watch for the story on Valley Pulp & Sawdust Carriers in the next issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal (Photo courtesy of Valley Pulp & Sawdust Carriers).

Prince George: a century
of sawmilling

The City of Prince George—home to the Canada North Resources Expo—is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2015, and it has a rich sawmilling heritage over that century.

Seizing the moment —in logging
Log Commander Enterprises, owned by the Webster Brothers—Ryan and Curtis—of Quesnel, B.C. has chosen to seize the moment in the logging upturn, expanding their fleet of logging equipment by a factor of four in the last 18 months.

Back to the future—with phase logging
Forest company Tolko Industries is revisiting the past with its Innovative Phase Logging program in the B.C. Interior, and it is delivering detailed—and valuable—information on logging equipment performance and production.

Recipe for recovery
A major planer upgrade at Tolko’s Soda Creek Division stud mill operation in Williams Lake, B.C. is going to help expand its range of products and improve grades and recovery at the mill, a solid recipe for improved competitiveness.

The latest in logging tools
Northeastern B.C. logging company Hi-Sky Enterprises has introduced some new Komatsu machines into its logging equipment line-up to provide their employees with the latest in logging tools, and make sure they are able to keep moving wood efficiently to meet the needs of their customer, lumber giant Canfor.

Going full tilt
New logging operation Full Tilt Contracting is looking forward to doing exactly that—going full tilt—in the not too distant future, helped along by solid logging equipment and an experienced crew.

Cranking out the lumber at Idaho Forest Group
Attendees at the recent Small Log Conference got a first-hand look at Idaho Forest Group’s new Lewiston, Idaho upgrade and its focus on a HewSaw SL250 3.4 installation that is already cranking out six million board feet a week—with room for more production.

Energy—but with a green footprint
A new wood-fired district energy system in the B.C. Interior is delivering multiple benefits, including solving the issue of residue disposal from a local sawmill using a Bandit 1390 XP 15 inch drum chipper, and in the process delivering energy that has a greener footprint.

Taking charge on the marketing side
Having had success manufacturing and marketing red pine product, Ontario’s Heideman sawmill recently made some acquisitions, and has now taken charge of marketing its finished white pine product.


CLICK HERE for the Canada North Resources Expo Showguide


Tech Update: Skidders

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The Last Word


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Prince GeorgeThe City of Prince George has come a long way from the days of wooden sidewalks, and unpaved streets that changed from dust and mud to ice with the seasons. Among the features of 2015’s Prince George is the Wood Innovation and Design Centre (above, right) which features inventive use of wood solutions to solve every-day design and construction challenges, while demonstrating the beauty and diversity of value-added B.C. wood products.

Prince George: a century of sawmilling

The City of Prince George—home to the Canada North Resources Expo—is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2015, and it has a rich sawmilling heritage over that century.

By Jim Stirling

The City of Prince George is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2015.

Everything changed for the community about a century ago, in 1914, when train whistles started echoing from the cutbanks where the Fraser and Nechako rivers meet.

The railway changed the fortunes of many communities across Canada. Few benefitted like Prince George, sitting strategically near the centre of British Columbia. The loggers and sawmillers saw the future and it was in the surrounding forests.

Spruce was king. Ubiquitous and magnificent, mature spruce forests filled the valleys and cloaked the hills in all directions. On and on, the forests seemed limitless. Prince George companies began a century of re-defining the art of timber harvesting and the science of processing logs into lumber.

But when the trains first came, Prince George was just a scattered little trading community between the rivers which had been used by the Carrier Sekani people for centuries. The new settlers put up wooden sidewalks in front of their buildings. The unpaved streets changed from dust and mud to ice with the seasons.

About 2500 people lived in and around Prince George. But they tended to come and go—a lot.

In March 1915, the new railway town was incorporated as Prince George, named for Britain’s former Duke of Kent. Williams G. Gillett was its inaugural mayor.

People started staying longer in Prince George. Gradually, roots were sunk. Some scions persist. The Northern Hardware was opened for business by A.B. Moffat in 1919 with a store on George Street. The Moffat family still runs “The Northern” though it’s been on Third Avenue these many years. Nowadays, locals ignore “Googling”—if they need an obscure part or oddball size for some household item, it is likely squirreled away somewhere in the Northern’s bowels.

When the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway inched toward Prince George, the adjacent forests were like a store themselves for building the ties, bridges and occasional buildings needed to promote its progress. And within 10 years of the railway’s arrival, at least 30 permanent mills were operational along the east line between Prince George and Tete Jaune Cache. Together, they produced about 106 million board feet of rough lumber a year. A modest amount today, but it supported a lifestyle then.

Fast forward to 1956 and the Northern Interior Lumberman’s Association area (including Prince George) supported a staggering 1200 sawmills producing 380 million board feet of lumber annually. But big changes were looming. The age of consolidation was less than a decade from starting.

In 1946, the I.W.A. union had signed a contract on behalf of its members with the sawmill owners. It called for 77 cents an hour and a 44 hour work week. But discontent simmered. A union-busting three month strike in 1953 failed. Union members only got an extra 5.5 cents an hour for their troubles.

In the early 1960s, an offhand conversation about improved forest utilization changed regional history and triggered the development of Prince George at the epicentre of British Columbia’s softwood forest industry. Ray Williston, the B.C. government of the day’s Resources Minister, was told that only 25 per cent of the wood volume growing on an acre of forest land approved for harvesting found its way into a boxcar. The other 75 per cent was wasted.

The revelation blew Williston away—and changing that equation became his driving motivation.

“My approach was simple. I argued that we should take all of the firm spruce wood residue from the sawmills—together with the small and low grade logs left in the forest—and convert them into pulp,” Williston recalled more than 20 years later.

By then, Prince George had three highly efficient operating pulp mills. The land base had been re-designated to meet the chip demand. Even in 1966, the Prince George Forest District boasted 144 debarkers and 161 operating chippers.

The implications proved profound. Economies of scale in the sawmilling sector kicked in with a vengeance, with ever larger fish swallowing the small. Sawmills made more efficient use of machines, requiring less people in the process. The machines themselves became more sophisticated, precise and fast operating. The word “waste” in a sawmill context started becoming obsolete. Competing in world markets became keener. It still is, with the emergence of China, Korea and other Asian countries joining Japan as diversified destinations for Prince George wood products.

Changes in the bush were no less profound. Smaller diameter wood was harvested, including previously ignored species like lodgepole pine.

All phases of log harvesting and handling changed accordingly. Smash and grab attitudes quickly vanished. Prince George became a hot spot for development of new logging systems and equipment like mechanical cutting heads. Harvesting systems that looked at the land base holistically to respect other values were similarly pioneered and matured in the Prince George region. Safety of forest workers on the job began receiving more than lip service. Pollution control measures were initiated.

The physical town evolved through a similar fast-paced sea change. Prince George was a wild, work hard/play hard place during and after the pulp mill construction years. Growth was everywhere. New buildings sprouted like summer weeds.

Then the place began to shake itself off a bit. It grew up. Young families settled in and the subdivisions and services spread out from where the two rivers meet.

The University of Northern British Columbia was created in 1990 by an act of the provincial legislature, after a groundswell of home grown support (16,000 people paid $5 and signed a petition demanding its creation).

UNBC, 25 years on, calls itself Canada’s green university and justifiably. It has a wood fired energy system—sourced in Prince George—that is being extended to the students’ residences and daycare. The system reduces the university’s dependence on natural gas as a heating method while serving as a platform for education and research into wood’s multi-dimensional potential.

University engineering staff are occupying the new Wood Innovation and Design Centre downtown. At six storeys, the WIDC is Canada’s tallest all-wood constructed building. It’s a showcase for new wood building potential.

As part of its birthday celebrations, UNBC’s Prince George campus hosted the closing ceremonies for the 2015 Canada Winter Games held in the city.

Around the time UNBC was taking shape, a cataclysmic event was percolating in interior forests. Vast mature forests, successive mild winters and inattention triggered the mountain pine beetle epidemic. It is the worst natural forest land disaster in Canadian history.

Countless millions of trees were killed by the beetle. Salvage efforts continue today. The forest industry and the industry-reliant interior communities are enduring the effects of a changed land base along with fibre shortages and jobs in commodity lumber production. But the beetle epidemic has highlighted other uses for low quality wood such as wood pellets for heating.

Wood products are beginning to diversify like wood markets. The trend has renewed interest in the development of products like bio fuels and they will continue into Prince George’s second century.

Early in 2012, two B.C. Interior sawmills were destroyed by explosions and fires, including one in Prince George. The explosions killed four workers and injured scores more. The events galvanized the forest industry to contain and remove sawdust from its mills, after investigations named the material a primary cause for the incidents.

A 2014 landmark decision by the Supreme Court of Canada re-affirmed aboriginal rights in B.C. It means First Nations consent for work on the land base is a necessity.

The city has gained a new namesake. He is Prince George of Cambridge, son of the U.K.’s Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. He will be two years old later in 2015. When his parents bring him to visit, they should travel from the east by train. That way, the young Prince George can also hear the train whistles echo from the city’s cutbanks as he crosses the Fraser River into town.