Canfor reopens its Radium sawmill after a $38.5-million investment

The community of Radium Hot Springs is celebrating the return of a vital economic presence

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It's been a long three years since people in the village of Radium Hot Springs, B.C., received the devastating news that Canfor's sawmill was closing down in the community. On October 29, 2012, a lot of the hardships and sorrow that came from the closure seemed to melt away. The town is now rejoicing and celebrating the fact that with a $38.5-million investment from Canfor, the mill has reopened.

The official reopening and ribbon-cutting ceremony took place on October 29 at the completely upgraded sawmill and the brand new planer mill.

Better for staff, better for families

The reopening of the mill means incredible things for local jobs. Christine Kennedy, vice-president of public affairs and corporate communications for Canfor, said by the end of this year, there are going to be 136 people employed directly at the mill—and this will increase to 144 positions when full production is reached in 2013. Beyond that, there are other functions involved in forest management and supply procurement as well as other things associated with the mill.

"All in all, it’s a pretty significant job contribution to the area, particularly for this community of around 800 permanent residents," said Kennedy. "There were also 123 employees that were eligible for recall to their positions—and of those, 86 returned, or about 70 per cent. We’re very pleased with that result for sure."

It was poor market conditions (i.e. very low market prices for lumber) combined with outdated technology at the mill that drove the indefinite closure of the mill in 2009. This forced many of Canfor's workers to move away from Radium Hot Springs in order to find work at mines in Elkford and Sparwood, B.C.—even as far away as Fort McMurray, Alberta. Men and women had to leave their families behind and work two weeks on, two weeks off or a similar shift scenario. Now that the mill has reopened, workers have flooded back to Radium Hot Springs to reunite with their families and their old jobs.

"I think it's certainly wonderful for families and for employees themselves to be able to live at home and be there with their families," said Kennedy. "Many people had left the community in order to work, and their families remained back at home—so it’s the opportunity to be there and work in the community where they live and to be with their families. That’s pretty important."

According to the Canadian Press, the reopening comes as the U.S. housing sector, a key market for Canadian lumber, appears to be starting to recover. A recent report suggested that U.S. housing starts should reach 900,000 next year and just over one million in 2014.

Kennedy said Canfor is certainly seeing some very positive signals out of the United States market, and the U.S. has always been a major customer for Canfor and for all of the B.C. forest industry.

"We’re pleased to see the early signals of economic recovery there, but our industry—whether it’s for the Radium mill or any of our other operations in Canada and in the U.S.—relies on a diversified base of markets including Canada, the U.S., China and in other parts of Asia as well," Kennedy said. "We’re very grateful for the work the provincial government has done to support the industry in developing new international markets. And we are focused going forward on being sure to maintain that diversified portfolio of customers around the world, including the U.S."

The reopening of the Radium sawmill included the following capital projects:

  • Log weigh scale relocation and upgrade;
  • Cut-to-length conversion, debarker and log-infeed upgrades;
  • New hog (biomass) system complete with truck bins for hog storage;
  • New biomass-fired thermal oil energy system for lumber drying to replace the propane-fired system;
  • New kiln and conversion of existing three kilns to thermal oil (instead of propane-fired).

The new planer mill complex includes:

  • New tilt hoist and lumber-infeed transfer;
  • New transverse machine-graded lumber tester (A-grader);
  • New high-speed Gilbert planer.

This is just a small example of what the $38.5-million investment went towards. Kennedy said most important was the new planer system and the installation of a biomass-fired thermal oil energy system that replaced the previous propane-fired system that was there for the lumber-drying kilns.

The full site upgrades are designed to increase productive capacity to 60+mfbm/hour, and will ensure that the operation has the cost structure to produce high-quality lumber products for distribution to Canfor's highly valued customers around the globe.

The planer facility officially opened on October 15 and has been processing lumber delivered from the neighbouring Canal Flats mill. 

Karen Kornelsen

Karen Kornelsen, a writer for Kootenay Business Magazine, has a degree in jounalism. She enjoys finding and reporting the news from the business community. View all of Karen Kornelsen’s articles

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