Pulp and Paper Canada

Bowater Canadian Forest Products : Thunder Bay Mill Operations

June 1, 2005  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Bowater Incorporated, headquartered in Greenville, South Carolina, is a global leader in the production of newsprint and coated mechanical papers. With 12 pulp and paper mills in Canada, the United St…

Bowater Incorporated, headquartered in Greenville, South Carolina, is a global leader in the production of newsprint and coated mechanical papers. With 12 pulp and paper mills in Canada, the United States and South Korea, the company also produces uncoated mechanical papers, bleached kraft pulp and lumber products. These operations are supported by 1.4 million acres of timberlands owned or leased in Canada and the United States, and an additional 30 million acres of cutting rights here in Canada. There are 12 North American sawmills which also produce softwood and hardwood lumber. Bowater is one of the world’s largest users of recycled newspapers and magazines. It also operates two facilities that convert a mechanical base sheet to coated products. With all of these assets, the firm stands out as a leader in both the forestry and the pulp and paper industries.

Thunder Bay


In Thunder Bay, Ontario, Bowater operates the largest pulp and paper complex in the country, occupying 300 acres beside the Kaministiquia River. The manufacturing facilities include three paper machines, two kraft pulp mills, a recycling plant, a thermomechanical pulp mill (TMP), and secondary effluent treatment plants. Bowater Canadian Forest Products Inc., Thunder Bay Mill Operations is one of the largest industrial employers in the region, with a staff of approximately 1,100. The woodland division employs an additional 400 people. The sheer size and the shared history make the mill and the city of Thunder Bay inseparable.

Rich history

Thunder Bay’s history dates back centuries before the Europeans first arrived in the 17th century. Its location in the middle of the continent and at the headwaters of the Great Lakes, were key ingredients in the creation of a thriving community based on the flow of trade. It was in 1798 that the North West Company built Fort William, which rapidly became home to Scottish traders, French voyageurs and Native trappers. At this time, the region was nicknamed “Baie de Tonnerre”, or Thunder Bay. In 1820, the Hudson’s Bay Company acquired all the assets of the North West Company, ironically at a time when fur stocks, their primary business, were declining in the centre of the continent. In the mid 1800’s with the final links in the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway completed, the twin cities of Fort William in the south, and Port Arthur in the north, secured themselves as significant ports for grain travelling from Western Canada and ore from northern Ontario. The region continued its growth with the addition of shipbuilding and the forest products industry, the latter attracting large numbers of immigrants from Finland. To this day, Thunder Bay boosts the largest settlements of Finnish peoples outside of Finland.

Interestingly, it was not until 1970 that Port Arthur and Fort William merged into one city. In the plebiscite to select the municipality’s new name, the voting was very close with “The Lakehead” coming in third with 8,477 votes, “Lakehead” coming in second with 15,302 votes, and Thunder Bay, the name original settlers gave the region centuries earlier, coming in with the winning 15,831 votes.

Mill’s early years

Bowater Thunder Bay Mill Operations traces its roots back to 1919, when it was founded by Backus Brooks Enterprises of Minneapolis, MN. Great Lakes Paper Company was formed in 1936, after the original company went into receivership during the Depression. A series of name changes followed the mill operation, but what did not change was the presence of the familiar red and white stack that dominates the skyline.

“The mill is part of the very fabric of our city,” said Dr. Fred Gilbert, president of Lakehead University, “and forestry and especially pulp and paper have been a part of the lives of the people here for more than three quarters of a century.”

Rick McMullen, operations manager at the mill, added, “We are the largest pulp and paper complex in Canada and our historical evolution is strongly intertwined with that of the city.”

It is this shared growth between Thunder Bay and the mill that creates a special bond of mutual respect. “The challenge that I face is to have our mill continue to be a significant and supportive part of the community,” said vice president and resident manager, Don Campbell. He described one of the unique features of the mill operations which is the manner in which it opens its doors to the public, especially to young people from the surrounding area. Guides, who Campbell refers to as “our ambassadors,” offer organized tours. One of these, Clarence Merko, a native born Thunder Bay resident, retired from his job at the mill after forty years of service but returns to guide others through the mill. “I have an incredible respect for this company and all the opportunities that it gave me. Now that I am retired, I feel that it is my duty to give something back, by showing young people how the mill facilities operate, and also what a significant contribution the operations have had on so many local people’s lives,” said Merko. “I started in the mill sweeping the floor and worked my way up to a supervisor, so it is not unusual for me to feel that the mill is my home, away from home,” he added. Clarence Merko’s story is symbolic of many employees and once again reinforces the strong bond between the citizens of Thunder Bay and the mill.

Don Campbell

As vice-president and resident manager, Don Campbell is responsible for all aspects of the pulp, paper and woodland operations in the Thunder Bay region.

He is an electrical engineer and has held various positions of increasing responsibility within Bowater and its predecessor companies since 1978. He started his career in the industry in Thunder Bay and has provided overall management of maintenance, engineering and recovery operations within the Thunder Bay mill. He was general manger of Bowater’s Gold River pulp mill and also served as corporate manager of Capital Projects and participated in electrical and control systems installations in greenfield and existing production facility projects across North America.

“What makes him a uniquely strong leader is that he worked his way up the ranks with this organization,” said Bob Altree, human resources manager. Insiders say he is a ‘devil for the details’ and given the complexity of his position, they wonder how he finds the time to get involved as extensively as he does. “He sets a very high standard for himself,” added Rick McMullen, “and consequently that cascades down to others.” Campbell simply told me that, “It’s a 24/7 operation and I believe in trusting and relying on the people around me.”

Beyond the mill, Campbell is a member in good standing of the Professional Engineers of Ontario, a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and a member of PAPTAC. One of his passions is serving as vice-chair of the Board of Governors of Lakehead University. This institution is one of the leading academic powerhouses in Canada, supplying the pulp and paper and forestry industries with graduates. Dr.Fred Gilbert said, “His contribution to us is invaluable, since he brings a strong business sense and logical attitude to our academic circle.”

Your comments and suggestions are welcomed at zsoltp@pulpandpapercanada.com


* 1979 Great Lakes Forest Products Ltd.

(to reflect company’s expansion and diversification — newsprint, kraft pulp, stud lumber, waferboard; latter two products no longer manufactured at this location)

* 1988 Canadian Pacific Forest Products Ltd.

(result of merger between CIP Inc., Montreal, and Great Lakes Forest Products Ltd., Thunder Bay)

* 1994 Avenor Inc.

(publicly-owned Company; CP Ltd. no longer majority shareholder: name change was inspired by the Latin root for advantage, meaning “going
forward” and from the word, “north.”

* 1998 Bowater Pulp and Paper Canada Inc.

(through the acquisition of Avenor Inc., July 24, 1998, Bowater became the second largest producer of newsprint in the world and the third largest producer of market pulp in North America)

* 2002 Bowater Canadian Forest Products Inc.

January 1, 2002, amalgamation of two of Bowater’s subsidiaries, Bowater Pulp and Paper Canada Inc. and Bowater Canadian Forest Products Inc. (formerly Alliance Forest)


Paper Machines

* PM3 was built in 1957 and is currently indefinitely shut down.

* PM4 was built in 1958 and is still in operation.

* PM5, part of 1989’s $500 million expansion/modernization program, was built to replace the now-defunct PM1 & 2

* Together, PM4 &5 produce 1,100 metric tonnes per day of newsprint and specialty basestock.

Two Kraft Pulp Mills

* “A” Kraft Mill began operation in 1966

* “B” Kraft Mill was installed in 1976.

* Together, these two kraft mills produce 1,500 tonnes per day of product.

Recycle Plant

* Built in1991; expanded in 2000, produces approximately 450 tonnes per day from 85% newspapers and 15% magazines.

ThermoMechanical Pulp (TMP) Mill

* Part of 1989’s $500 million expansion/modernization program.

* Was built to replace the sulphite pulp mill and the older of two groundwood mills.

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