By Nathan Medcalf
Devlin Timber Company (1992) Limited, based out of Kenora, Ontario, is a fourth-generation logging company that cuts and hauls timber for several forestry companies in the area—and it has a long and proud history.
“We harvest off the Kenora Forest—about 50,000 metres from our own license and approximately 20,000 from other licenses,” says Howie Adams, one of the company’s four owners.
The other Devlin Timber owners are Carla Devlin-Scott (granddaughter of the founder of the company), Mark Scott (her husband) and John Shodin.
Devlin Timber employs about 15 full-time employees plus they have four sub-contractors (owner-operators) that cut and skid and delimb and slash all of the wood.
The company has a rich history. Devlin Timber was incorporated in 1939, in Rennie, Manitoba by John Devlin. Devlin came to Canada in 1903 from Northern Ireland, and first settled in Saskatchewan doing farming, and even opened a butcher shop. He later moved to Manitoba, spending time farming in many small towns before purchasing a farm in Rennie and moving there in 1936.
The land around Rennie was not suited for agriculture, with too many swamps and low wet areas, so Devlin started a sawmill and began to saw railway ties, lumber and lathes—thus Devlin Timber began. They cut the wood for their mill, and also delivered some to a Kenora mill. The company had a contract with the City of Winnipeg to supply firewood to heat their boilers. Devlin was known to be a very clever businessman.
Ben and Joe Devlin worked for their father starting at a very young age. Ben was driving a logging truck to Kenora in 1952, delivering wood to the mill there at the age of 17. During the winter of 1953, Ben and his helper Karl delivered over one million cubic feet of lumber to the McArthur Falls hydroelectric plant that was then under construction, making two trips a day.
When their father John died in 1954, Ben and Joe took over the company. Ben, who is Carla’s father, was only 18 and his brother Joe was 19 at the time. Logging was very different during these times—trees were cut down with Swede saws and axes, and horses were used to haul the wood to the road. Chainsaws came in 1955, which helped make the cutting of trees easier.
In 1957, the brothers moved the company across the Manitoba/Ontario border. They operated sawmills at Rush Bay and Shoal Lake, and they started to increase the amount of pulpwood they cut and delivered to the Mando paper mill, later a Boise Cascade mill.
Ben married his wife Jean in 1957 and had three daughters and six grandsons. One grandson, Ben, is now working for the company—loading wood in the bush. Joe married his wife Lucy in 1957 and had one son and one daughter and seven grandchildren.
The two brothers—Ben and Joe—were two very different people, says Carla. However, despite being different personalities, they got along and ran the business well together.
Ben and Joe have always been involved in the community and supported many organizations over the years. The four new owners also like to get involved in the community; recently they made a $10,000 donation to the Kenora Rotary Club for their new Splash Park.
In 1989, Carla’s Uncle Joe was diagnosed with cancer, so the two brothers decided to sell the company. A buyer was found from Winnipeg, but a year later, the company was in bad shape. It became insolvent.
Once a receiver was appointed, the management who had worked at the company got together to purchase back the company. They founded Devlin Timber Company (1992) Limited and took over the company from the receiver on January 1, 1993.
Over the years, the company has made investments in its log hauling equipment. The Ontario government recently promised the company $268,010 to help purchase logging trucks that will enhance log hauling service in the region. The total cost of the three new logging trucks was $536,019. Of the money received from the government, $160,806 is repayable.
“Our government is committed to creating good jobs and helping local economies grow,” said Greg Rickford, Ontario’s Minister of Energy, Mines, Northern Development and Indigenous Affairs. “This investment retains jobs in the region.”
Devlin Timber purchased three 2019 Kenworth T800 logging trucks, to upgrade three of their older logging trucks that were no longer reliable for longer hauls, and have since been sold. The new trucks are now more reliable, efficient, safe and more environmentally friendly.
The company has a fleet of five Kenworth trucks, and they are busy. “Right now, we are hauling wood about a 600-kilometre round trip to Ear Falls, and about a 200-kilometre round trip to Kenora,” says Howie Adams.
The company has a fondness for Kenworth Trucks. They have always purchased Kenworth since the four owners bought the company.
“These are our 13th, 14th and 15th Kenworth trucks,” says Howie.
John Shodin does all of the company’s equipment purchases and mechanical repairs. He reports that the availability of parts, and service, is excellent out of the Inland Kenworth truck dealer based out of Winnipeg—two reasons for continuing to purchase Kenworth trucks. Also, the trucks hold up well in what can be some tough work conditions.
Features that make Kenworth T800 trucks durable include a frame built of continuous straight rail constructed of heat-treated steel, heavy-duty cross members, thick bulkhead-type doors that hang on continuous stainless-steel piano hinges, and huckbolts that hold with six times the clamping force of normal rivets, resulting in a cab that’s strong, durable and more rattle-free, says the company.
With its 48.5-inch set-back front axle, the T800 enables more weight to be transferred to the front end, thereby increasing payload. The truck’s 1,780-square-inch cross-flow radiator can cool high horsepower engines running full power at low speeds, even when hauling heavy loads, says the company. Other productivity gaining features include a multi-function steering wheel, multiplexed instrumentation and wireless communication systems.
The truck’s narrow, sloped hood provides good visibility, both in front of the truck and to the right-hand side.
The equipment used by the sub-contractors in Devlin Timber’s logging operations includes a 2015 Madill 2250C feller buncher, for harvesting. The trees are skidded by a John Deere 848H grapple machine, and then delimbed by a Timberjack 735 equipped with a Denharco 4400 delimber attachment, and are cut-to-length by a Hood 24000 slasher and, finally loaded onto trailers by a Hyundai HX220L High Walker excavator equipped with a wood grapple.
Where they log, the Kenora Forest, is run by the Miisun Integrated Resource Management Company, which has an evergreen management agreement for the Kenora Forest with Miitigoog, and is a 100 per cent First Nations owned company, also based in Kenora.
Devlin Timber has been around for 82 years—they are one of the oldest companies harvesting in the Kenora Forest today. The total logging experience of the company’s four owners is double that. Carla has been working at the company for 39 years, and her husband Mark has been working for the company for 35 years. Howie has been working at the company for 41 years, and John has been working at the company for 52 years.
The four owners have different roles to play at Devlin Timber.
John “Jack” started with the company in 1969 at the age of 19 as a truck driver and then operated various pieces of logging equipment. In 1977, he became the bush mechanic servicing the equipment. Currently, Jack runs the repair shop and supervises the mechanic and truck drivers. He is also responsible for purchasing new equipment.
Mark started with the company in 1986 as a bulldozer operator building bush roads. Now he is a logging foreman, supervising the cut and skid crews, slashing and delimbing. Mark locates all the bush roads, and lays out all the cutting blocks and plans for the yearly cutting locations. He also ensures that all safety and environmental polices are followed including keeping the company’s Safe Workplace Ontario certification up to date.
Howie co-ordinates and oversees all company operations including road and bridge construction and cut and haul operations. He also has the tough job of negotiating all their wood contracts, while still having time to run the backhoe and building bush roads. He began working for the company in 1980 as a logging foreman, supervising the cut and skid crews, delimbing and slashing.
Carla started working for Devlin Timber full-time in 1982 as an Office Clerk. Prior to this, she had worked part-time in the summer in the parts department where the company sold Timberjack parts and Jonsered chainsaws. Today, Carla is responsible for completing all the day-to-day accounting functions including preparing monthly financials and managing the cash flow. She is also responsible for negotiating and signing all financial documents with banks and leasing companies.
“I really think that the company’s success comes from having four owners looking after different parts of the operations—it’s teamwork that keeps us running,” Carla says. “We also have a really great workforce with employees that have been with us for many years. My Uncle Joe always said you are only as good as the people that you have working for you.”
Times have changed over the years, and new equipment has replaced the old. They once had crews cutting trees with chainsaws and now have feller bunchers. The delimbing was done by hand with a chainsaw, and today they are using a delimber. Change is good and has made the operation safer, says Carla.
Experience is a kind way of saying people are getting old. And, as the owners get older, they will be looking to possibly sell the company, if a suitable buyer can be found.
“One of our company’s biggest challenges, as well as the industry as a whole, is retaining people,” says Howie. “A fourth generation isn’t stepping up to take the helm and it is hard to sell a business such as ours. Who is going to invest in something that goes up and down?
“Carla’s son, Ben, has been working with the company since 2016,” Howie added.
Ben loads the wood trucks in the bush, piles brush and helps building road or in the shop when he is not loading trucks, says Carla. “He is the fourth generation to work for the company and is our youngest employee, but I don’t see him taking over the company.”
“Working for a logging company is not a great money maker—but it is a good living,” summarizes Howie.
On the Cover:
The last 18 months have been challenging times, with sawmills looking to meet record-high lumber demand. And for a few firms that were expanding, such as The Westervelt Company, they faced the challenge of how to go about building a new sawmill at a time of COVID. But the company was able to meet that challenge, and in fact were able to finish building their new sawmill ahead of schedule, thanks in part to its project partners, such as B.C.-based BID Group, who built the new mill on a turnkey basis. Read all about the project beginning on page 14 of this issue (Cover photo courtesy of The Westervelt Company).
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Delivering the goods—ahead of schedule
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Upgrading the family logging operation
Ontario’s Devlin Timber has a proud history—with the fourth generation of the Devlin family now working for the company—and has recently upgraded operations with the addition of new Kenworth trucks that are helping it tackle long hauls in northwestern Ontario.
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The Last Word
Jim Stirling says there seems to be a misplaced calm in B.C.’s forest industry as the winter log harvesting season approaches, as there is no lack of concerns.