Ontario’s Papasay sawmill

Papasay Value-Added Wood Products’ ultimate goal is to produce niche, value-added wood products, and the mill is looking at purchasing additional equipment to support the move into more value-added products.

Small sawmill prepares for BIG INVESTMENT

Ontario’s Papasay sawmill is preparing for some significant equipment investments as they continue the move into value-added wood products.

By Nathan Medcalf

After several years of planning, construction and equipment acquisition, Ontario’s Papasay Value-Added Wood Products (PVAWP)—a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek (BNA), which is also known as the Sand Point First Nation—finally commenced operations in August 2017 on its small-scale sawmill located in the community’s industrial park.

And true to its name, it expects to have a very strong focus on the value-added wood sector.

“From our work in the forestry sector and with prominent foresters and experts, PVAWP is convinced that the value-added wood products market is the way to proceed for our facility,” says Art Gladu, Sawmill Manager, PVAWP.

Ontario’s Papasay sawmillArt Gladu, Sawmill Manager of Papasay Value-Added Wood Products.

“The forestry sector in northwestern Ontario has massively fluctuated over the last few decades, leading to many mill closures and high unemployment and displacement throughout the region. Diversifying PVAWP’s product line by including value-added wood products will assist in providing a necessary buffer to these large fluctuations by focusing on niche and highly-sought after products, rather than just pumping out rough board-feet.”

Gladu describes PVAWP as a small, nimble and progressive Indigenous wood products company that strives to sustainably utilize the forest to provide employment to First Nations people, provide revenues for the continued development of BNA’s reserve land—and develop relationships with neighbouring communities, businesses and industries. It’s located two hours northeast of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

“We believe that the value-added wood products market is a market that must be explored further by Indigenous communities—both throughout Canada and internationally—who are interested in utilizing renewable natural resources that grow right in their territory,” says Gladu.

“It's also important to note that PVAWP is an Indigenous company, wholly-owned by BNA First Nation. Therefore, providing value to products like cedar and other culturally-appropriate wood species can also provide an added market benefit for buyers interested in Indigenous art and products. This will be explored in greater detail through the marketing and business planning underway.”

And they have done their homework, in terms of the market.

“The PVAWP sawmill business planning has gone through many changes over the years—from large, multi-shift regional powerhouse to small, niche and nimble Indigenous product development,” says Gladu. “We are currently finalizing our business plan in order to properly map out the way forward for the future value-added line so that we are able to produce the most valuable products for the market.”

Ontario’s Papasay sawmillThe PVAWP Sawmill is located in the heart of the Lake Nipigon Forest—close to the vast natural resources of the region from which they source all of their raw materials, and to several large markets for timber and value-added wood products.

While PVAWP’s goal is to ensure a feasible and profitable business, the First Nation has other important goals. “Employment for BNA members is a critical goal for the First Nation, as this has a positive effect on families and the community as a whole,” says Gladu.

And another critical goal of the PVAWP sawmill is to act as an “economic engine” or “economic anchor” for future development. “BNA is a displaced community and is in the process of re-developing its reserve lands,” says Gladu. “Having an operating sawmill that can employ its members and will soon be able to produce the lumber needed for community buildings and homes will help in bringing members back to the land, and to re-create the community that was destroyed by government many years ago.”

Unfortunately, until the mill can afford their own value-added equipment line, they will only be able to produce rough-sawn, air-dried lumber and products. Any value-added products that the facility produces in the future would be for the first time.

Currently, PVAWP is producing the following lumber and products: 1 x 4, 2 x 4, 2 x 6, 4 x 4, 6 x 6, 8 x 8 and10 x 10.

“We are producing at all lengths, from 8-foot to 16-foot and utilize all species—spruce/pine/fir, cedar, poplar, tamarack and birch. All of our orders are based on what the customer is asking for. We are able to cut any species and any length. This puts the PVAWP mill in a unique advantage over larger facilities, as our equipment is able to cut oversized as well.”

Ontario’s Papasay sawmillThe Papasay Value-Added Wood Products sawmill has a focus on Wood-Mizer equipment, and they have a LT50 Wood-Mizer and a LT40 Wood-Mizer unit. On the mobile equipment side, they have a Volvo 720 grader, a John Deere 310 SG backhoe and a Cat D3 dozer.

PVAWP is currently selling all of its products locally and regionally. “We have not yet entered the American or international markets,” explains Gladu. “We have sold products to the large regional mills, to local housing contractors and other individual purchasers, as well as to local hardware stores.”

Both BNA and Papasay have received provincial and federal government funding for capital costs (sawmill building and equipment), business planning costs, and employment and training costs.

BNA, in partnership with its training organization, Anishinabek Employment and Training Services (AETS) and the Confederation College, put on a sawmill worker training course in 2015, and trained nine BNA members in this work. AETS, the Confederation College and BNA once again hosted a training course this past July, where trainees experienced working in a small sawmill (PVAWP), as well as larger sawmills in the region, including White River and Resolute.

New hires receive basic training on the equipment by the sawmill manager and other workers, as well as health and safety training. PVAWP uses Superior Strategies, a locally-owned First Nations company, for all of its training needs.

PVAWP currently has three employees: Sawmill Manager Art Gladu, and two sawmill workers, one a BNA member and the other a member of Rocky Bay First Nation (a neighbouring community to the south). They plan on hiring more sawmill workers as they get their value-added equipment line in place, and the operation grows.

Presently they have a LT50 Wood-Mizer, a LT40 Wood-Mizer, a dry kiln unit (no chamber), a 250 Wood-Mizer edger, saw blade sharpener and saw blade tip straightener. On the mobile equipment side, they have a Volvo 720 grader, a John Deere 310 SG backhoe and a Cat D3 dozer .

PVAWP’s ultimate goal is to produce niche, value-added wood products. However, it still lacks the necessary equipment, such as a dry kiln chamber and planer-moulder among others, to begin developing this line. So PVAWP commenced operations in order to get the community members working, as well as to begin developing the important business relationships necessary for a successful operation, while continuing to pursue all possible avenues to acquire the necessary equipment to launch the operation into the value-added line.

The mill is looking at purchasing the following new equipment to support the company’s value-added wood products operations:

  • Baker Sawline. This machine allows for a more mechanized process, while decreasing labour needs. This feature is handy, because it can be difficult to find skilled labour near the location of the sawmill.
  • Dry Kiln Chamber. The mill currently has a KD 450 Wood-Mizer kiln, but it is not equipped with a chamber. The chamber is critical to be able to sell structural lumber and be able to enter into the value-added line.
  • Planer-Moulder. This is another critical piece for the value-added line, since it allows the mill to provide a finished lumber option.
  • Front-End Loader. A loader is required to unload logs and move product around the yard. The mill is currently using backhoe to perform this job.
  • Biomass Boiler. This unit is designed to heat the sawmill facility by using waste products.
  • A complete planer line with trimmer, stacker-de-stacker, chains and conveyors.

“In order to prepare the sawmill for the addition of the value-added line, we need to add 14-feet on to the sawmill building on the south-end wall,” says Gladu. “We also require a conveyor system for chips dust and trim ends. A blower system would also need to be added to the production-line.”

In order to make the sawmill ready for value-added products, the sawmill plans to complete their business assessment by leveraging funding from government where possible, and private entities, such as banks, where required in order to finance the new saw line and value-added equipment line; conduct appropriate marketing for local, regional, and potentially international sales for new product lines; make necessary infrastructure additions to the sawmill building in order to prepare for new product lines and hire an appropriate number of new workers from BNA First Nation in order to meet the demands of the new sawmill.

Papasay Value-Added Wood Products’ ultimate goal is to produce niche, value-added wood products, and the mill is looking at purchasing additional equipment to support the move into more value-added products.

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