By Meg Parker
Perched on the sparkling shores of Lake Superior overlooking the famous Sleeping Giant landmark, the city of Thunder Bay is surrounded by boreal forest and home to an active forestry industry.
It also happens to be home to the highest concentration and second-largest population of Finnish Canadians, including Mikko and Tyne Maunala and their eleven children. More than 50 years ago, three boys from the large Finnish family decided to follow their father’s footsteps into the logging business. Having started working for their father at a young age peeling poplar, once they were older and starting families of their own, sons Marvin, Neil, and Paul decided to branch out into their own road construction business.
Neil and Marvin were the active partners in M&N Logging and with their growing families looked for opportunities to expand the business. With the help of Great Lakes Paper Company back in the 1970s, the brothers took up logging at Spruce River, up the Armstrong Highway in the municipality of Shuniah. From a cut-and-skid operation they went from hiring contractors to current operations with 37 employees—and have been cutting wood there ever since.
In 1965, the company name changed to Shuniah Contracting and finally Shuniah Forest Products in 1983. Other business ventures with the brothers included Central Canada Equipment in 1979 and Woodland Tractor John Deere in 1985. All were very successful.
Eventually, Paul retired and Marvin sold the equipment business a few years ago and moved away. Neil retired at age 65 from running Shuniah in 2005, but he continued to consult on business ventures and sign the cheques for the workers right up until he passed away, in 2015. Neil and his wife Erna had six children, and three of his sons took the reins of the business. Today, Howard is the general manager, Darrell is the accountant, and Gordon is the parts manager.
“Of course, their mother Erna is still behind the boys cracking the whip,” laughs John Venasky, part-time safety advisor with Shuniah, and former human resources and safety worker in the woodlands operation for Bowater Forest Products. “There’s even a road named after her. She was always very much involved in the company, too, with her husband. We had a retirement party not long ago and with Neil gone, she came there to represent Shuniah, to congratulate the individual that was retiring. They had a little party right there down at the shop; they had all kinds of food and it was really well attended by all workers and the family of the retiree.
“That’s just the way Shuniah is,” says Venasky. “It’s always been like you’re part of the family. If the supervisors have to go to a meeting or something, the employees run the operation themselves. They’re very dedicated.”
Currently, the team of 37 employees includes five feller bencher operators, three processor operators, five to six grapple-skidder operators, nine truck drivers for gravel, road construction and chip haul, two loader operators, three mechanics, one grader operator and an assistant who also floats, two or three excavator and bulldozer operators working on road construction, and two supervisors. In winter, when there is no road construction work, some of the staff move into other positions. In this way, the company avoids seasonal layoffs and keeps all of their crew working.
The team works well together, notes Venasky. “They all talk with each other, and out in the field they plan what they’re going to do, how they’re going to skid, what they’re going to cut, and where they’re going. They’re knowledgeable; they’ll walk around to see what it’s like, or they’ll talk to somebody that knows about the area. They have their maps and they all work together like a team and set the wood down so the skidder operators are able to skid the wood efficiently.
“There’s no big difficulty if there’s any big hills—sometimes there’s pretty rough country. They set it all up, and work together on it. If one of the team thinks, ‘Maybe this should have been corrected,’ they all talk about it among themselves. Plus coming home at the end of the day, they all ride together in different crew cabs supplied by the company, and they have some pretty good discussions,” adds Venasky.
The company produces 10-foot saw logs for the Resolute sawmill in Thunder Bay, and all types of chips, as required. Stud lumber is sent out from the mill all across the globe.
The company owns numerous pieces of equipment, some of which is parked from time to time due to operational changes, as their contract is strictly for cut-to-length.
“At Shuniah, we don’t get rid of any of the equipment,” says Venasky. “We have three mechanics and they keep the older pieces in good mechanical shape. We have a mechanic in the bush looking after the equipment and he’s very, very good at what he does. And we have a specialist in hydraulics at the shop and he does overhauls on equipment for bigger jobs you can’t do out in the field. Then we have another mechanic who looks after the trucks.”
Since the brothers were also partners in an equipment dealership, a majority of the 41 pieces of equipment are John Deere, including 11 skidders (models 748H, 648H, 648GIII, 648G, 748G, 648E, two 748GII, and three 748Es); four bunchers (models 903K, 953G, 853G, 693D); three CTL Processors (models 2554 Logger, 2054 Logger, 693C). The 2554 has a Waratah HTH622 head, the 2054 has a Waratah HTH620 head and the 693C has a Risley Slingshot head.
The equipment line-up also includes three excavators (John Deere models 790E, two 892DLCs); as well as one Hitachi EX330LC excavator, two Tigercat 853E bunchers, three Peterson DDC5000-G full tree chippers, and four Caterpiller bulldozers (D7R, three D7Gs), as well as eight Kenworth chip trucks and 47’ Superior trailers, and two Peterbilt self-loading log trucks with 47’ Superior and LBC trailers.
The company has also been involved with the local safety group for more than 15 years. Venasky also represents Shuniah on the Board of Directors for the Lakehead Regional Safety Council and enjoyed helping celebrate the company’s 2015 win of two provincial health and safety awards.
“The company is very much involved in the community that way, by belonging to these particular groups, including the safety group,” says Venasky. “We also send out newsletters every so often on the safety group and where we’re at. We put them in crew cabs and they go out to all employees. The latest one congratulated the staff for their participation in the Safe Workplace Ontario certification program, and helping the auditors complete all 23 elements of the safety audit.
“I’ve worked in other operations, but these individuals, they get along, they talk about things, and they see somebody not doing something right, they’ll just say, ‘Hey, Joe, don’t do it that way. That’s not the way to do it.’ That’s just the way they are. And that’s why today at Resolute, whenever they have people come in to do external audits, they always come to our operation first because they know things are being done properly, including the environmental program; they know we’re meeting those criteria.
“Before he passed away, Neil used to come out early in the morning when the guys were leaving for the bush around ten to six in the morning; he’d be out there just coming to talk to them and give them their cheques. And he didn’t have to do that. That’s the type of person he was. He’d get up early in the morning and come there to meet them. That’s why it is the way it is, and the people who run the operation know that they have the support of the family all the time, even if they’re not there.
“That’s why they’re so successful. Over the years, a lot of companies have come and gone, but they’re still there. I think they’re the oldest known company that’s still established with Resolute through all the different names changes, from Great Lakes and Bowater, right up to now. They have the seniority as far as companies are concerned.”
In 2015, Shuniah was the proud recipient of the President’s Award from provincial health and safety association Workplace Safety North. “They were pretty excited about it,” says Venasky. “Our supervisor, Dave Buchan, took the trophy around and showed it to all the employees, who were quite happy with it. We had a big meeting and showed the trophy to the people from Resolute, and had a little luncheon right in the shop. I had arranged for the newspaper and television station in Thunder Bay to be there. We like to give credit where credit is due—and it’s to the employees, otherwise the award never would have been attained.
“There’s a lot of companies that have come and gone in the forest industry, and Shuniah is still here,” says Venasky. “Even though nowadays it’s very hard because of costs and everything else, they’re still hanging in there and still employing people. I’ve been with them now about 18 years. I work part-time and I could be retired, but I enjoy it and I enjoy the company. They’re a good bunch of people.”
The Shuniah Forest Products equipment line-up includes three Peterson DDC5000-G full tree chippers, as well as eight Kenworth chip trucks and 47’ Superior trailers.
On the Cover:
The Princeton, B.C. sawmill of Weyerhaeuser Canada has seen some major equipment upgrades in the last few years—but there is more to come, as the sawmill continues its efforts to make operations more efficient, and reduce costs. The two-line sawmill in the B.C. Interior turns out upwards of 300 million board feet of SPF lumber annually, and is undergoing a multi-year upgrade (Cover photo by Paul MacDonald).
Working to keep the risks of Climate Warming at bay
Warming climates up the risk of forest fires, and one community forest, in Burns Lake, B.C., is implementing a fire mitigation project that will help protect the town’s forest industry—and social assets.
Combo mill upgrade project
The Gilbert Smith Forest Products sawmill in Barriere, B.C. recently completed a lumber grading/sorting project that combines the lumber flow from the mill and planer through the same system, which required a good amount of ingenuity and resourcefulness since it involved combining new and used equipment.
Alberta forest industry update
Just in time for the Alberta Forest Products Association AGM in Jasper, Logging and Sawmilling Journal takes a look at what’s going on in the Alberta forest industry, and how the industry is dealing with the duties on lumber going to the industry’s #1 customer: the U.S.
Great equipment fit in the Gaspé
A new Ponsse ScorpionKing harvester is proving to be a great fit for brothers Jean François and Steve Lemieux, and their harvesting operation in Quebec’s Gaspé Region.
Automatic lubrication is the best defense against mill downtime, say Roland Lorenz and David McDougall, of the Beka Group.
Major upgrade for Weyerhaeuser Princeton
Weyerhaeuser’s Princeton, B.C. sawmill is in the midst of a major upgrade that includes the front end of the mill and primary breakdown equipment.
Three important words in B.C. roadbuilding: diversify, diversify, diversify
B.C. roadbuilding outfit Black River Contracting does a fair amount of work for the forest industry, but company owner Kelly Sunderman finds it’s best to diversify their workload—and they may find themselves doing some work associated with the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, if it gets the go-ahead.
A Finnish focus in the forest
Ontario’s Shuniah Forest Products carries out logging the Finnish-Canadian family way, with a strong focus on their employees, teamwork—and their award-winning safety program.
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 and Alberta Agriculture.