The Last Word

Cross-laminated-timber in aboriginal home construction: a win for First Nations and the forest industry

By Tony Kryzanowski

An Ontario company, Guardian Bridge Rapid Construction, is well on its way to establishing a housing construction plant in St. Marys, Ontario using cross-laminated timbers (CLT) in ready-to-assemble, aboriginal housing for a First Nations community in Saskatchewan.

The company, which is moving from Stratford, Ontario to a larger building in nearby St. Marys, says it will ship 31 ready-to-assemble homes using CLT under an exclusive contract with Douglas Cardinal Housing. The move is being made not only to provide more space, but also to ship the home packages more cheaply by rail.

What has made this construction alternative to stick-built homes possible are changes to the National Building Code of Canada (NBCC) that came into effect last year.

It was both surprising and gratifying to find out who is behind this initiative; it has been a source of personal frustration to witness what has qualified as ‘appropriate housing’ on First Nations communities.

How many times must we watch media reports from First Nations communities, and tolerate the ‘shacks’ that pass for homes that seem commonplace on reservations? It’s time to change this paradigm and famed architect Douglas Cardinal is on the right track, using CLT as part of the solution.

This initiative to provide First Nations people with an environmentally-sustainable and more resilient alternative to stick-built home construction is a long time coming—and having someone of aboriginal heritage and world-wide fame like Cardinal leading the project gives it the right optics and a high potential for success.

Born in Calgary, Cardinal has received many national and international awards, including: 18 honorary doctorates, Gold Medals of Architecture in Canada and Russia, and an award from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for best sustainable village. He was also made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and was awarded the declaration of being “World Master of Contemporary Architecture” by the International Association of Architects. He also designed the City Hall and a few homes in my home town.

Cardinal is not working alone on this initiative. He has partnered with the Usand Group, which specializes in infrastructure financing. Sean McCoshen, a lawyer with 18 years of investment banking experience, is the chairman and CEO of the Usand Group.

The role of the Usand Group in this initiative is described this way on the Douglas Cardinal Housing website.

“The Usand Group offers a holistic approach to aboriginal wealth creation by working with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities on-the-ground, face-to-face to find innovative financial solutions that align with their vision. Our team collaborates.

“Having matured as a company alongside the communities we work with, we understand how culture fits into vision. We honour the values and traditions in our clients’ communities and take pride in weaving them into one-of-a-kind financial solutions.”

An important initiative like this needs a First Nations champion like Cardinal because there is a long history of distrust when it comes to relations between non-aboriginal Canadians responsible for providing services like housing on reserves and First Nations communities.

Too often, Canadians have turned a blind eye to the sub-standard quality of housing provided in First Nations communities.

On his website, Cardinal lists the types of defects that commonly occur with stick-built housing. Given his architectural and building construction background, his observations have a high degree of credibility. He lists structural issues with foundations, floors and ceilings among the major problems.

The use of cross-laminated-timber in housing construction in Canadian aboriginal communities has always been a no-brainer for me because of demand. However, it was not something that I expected to evolve so quickly, knowing how slowly the wheels of innovation grind in government circles like the federal Department of Indian Affairs. According to the Assembly of First Nations, there is a need for about 100,000 housing units among First Nations people in Canada.

Having a high profile person of aboriginal descent like Cardinal, with changes to the building code, and with the desire to introduce new and innovative wood products like CLT in home construction, this project has the potential to deliver a win for both First Nations and the forest products industry.

When introducing a new product, rarely does a situation occur where there is such an overwhelming and immediate need for the product right in our midst. What’s exciting about what Cardinal is doing is his development of ready-to-assemble structures that also address many of the electrical and plumbing shortcomings that have plagued stick-built homes placed on reserves.

Let’s hope that Cardinal’s initiative to use CLT in First Nations housing is only the beginning of a trend toward higher quality housing that can be constructed more quickly within Canada’s First Nations communities.

It could help to build back greater trust among aboriginals and non-aboriginals in Canadian society, just to have a reliable roof over one’s head—which is something that many of us take for granted, but is no guarantee in today’s First Nations communities.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
July/August 2016

On the Cover:
Everything is in place for the largest live logging equipment show in North America this year—DEMO 2016, to be held at the UBC Research Forest near Vancouver from September 22-24—and the package is impressive. Read all about DEMO beginning on page 38 of this issue.

IS MEXICO RIPE FOR THE PICKING—for Canadian softwood lumber producers?
It was smiles all around at the recent “Three Amigos” Summit in Ottawa, hosted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with guests President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. But the summit has now got some in the industry wondering how they can expand lumber exports to Mexico.

Logging safety net
A decision by Alberta’s Barmac Contracting to diversify, and be involved in logging, is now paying off and proving to be a solid safety net, with the dramatic drop in activity in the oilpatch.

Ramping it up
Fraser Valley contractor D. Lind Logging has ramped up its equipment line-up considerably in recent years and the family operation is now a full-on stump-to-dump contractor, and able to take on more volume.

Getting back into logging
Having built a successful gravel business, B.C.’s Lincoln Douglas decided to re-enter logging six years ago, doing work in southwestern B.C., and is now looking to get into the value-added sector with a small sawmilling operation.

LSJ Show Guide --DEMO 2016
Full details on the largest logging equipment show this year: DEMO 2016, being held in Maple Ridge, B.C., including a list of exhibitors, schedule of events, site map.

Technology in the woods
With everything from IPads to drones and custom Apps, technology is hitting the woods, and it’s making pretty much everything more efficient—and safer, too.

SOLID SAFETY commitment
West Fraser Timber has a from the top down commitment to safety, which is reflected in the solid safety strategies employed at one of its operations in the B.C. Interior, its Pacific Inland Resources division.

Steep slope logging, European-style
Ponsse dealer ALPA Equipment recently demo’ed some European steep slope logging equipment to two of New Brunswick’s largest forestry operators, to help meet the growing interest in what’s available in steep slope logging technology.

Scaling back log scaling costs
Interfor’s Acorn sawmill in Surrey, B.C. now has the first government certified legal-for-trade log scanner in North America, and it’s reducing scaling costs while providing more accurate log measurements.

Future forests resilient to climate change?
A forestry trial in the B.C. Interior could very well provide some clues into what future forests could look like, in the wake of the mountain pine beetle—and those forests could have increased resilience to climate change.

The Edge
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions and FPInnovations.

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