Pulp and Paper Canada

TEMBEC SKOOKUMCHUK: A strong history of making pulp

December 1, 2005  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Where the Rocky Mountains rise skyward along the length of the continent, at a point north of the 49th parallel, lies the city of Cranbrook, surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks, lush green valley…

Where the Rocky Mountains rise skyward along the length of the continent, at a point north of the 49th parallel, lies the city of Cranbrook, surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks, lush green valleys and crystal clear lakes.

The oldest known tribe to call this area home are the Ktunaxa whose history does not speak of any other home. For over 10,000 years the Ktunaxa’s presence has been felt in this region and their name (pronounced ‘k-too-nah-ha’) has been bestowed on this Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia.


Cranbrook is the largest city in the Rocky Mountain region with a population base of just under 20,000 inhabitants. Known as the sunniest place in British Columbia, the city is located near the junction of Highway 95A and Highway 3. The sister cities of Cranbrook, Kimberley, and Skookumchuk form a triangle of population pockets in the area. The three are interlinked, as illustrated by the fact that the pulp mill is located outside of Skookumchuk, (a Chinook name meaning turbulent water), yet has a mailing address in Cranbrook.

Early settlements

David Thompson, an early explorer, was the first white person to explore the region in the early 1800s. Fur traders, missionaries and prospectors soon followed, establishing a relationship with the Ktunaxa that was based on trade. The area became known as “Joseph’s Prairie” because the leader of the band was called Joseph. It was renamed Cranbrook by the city’s founder, Col. James Baker, who named the land he had purchased after his ancestral home of Cranbrook in Kent, England. Officially, the city came into existence in 1898 with the arrival of the Crowsnest Pass Railway. The station, the tracks, and the rail yards have all evolved in the past century, but have generally remained in the same locations. This railway link to the outside has and still serves as an integral part of Cranbrook’s economy. The town was incorporated in 1905, and this year celebrates its centennial. Today, forestry, mining, manufacturing, tourism and transportation make up the economic backbone of the Kootenay region, and Cranbrook is the hub of all the activity. Besides being home to Tembec, the city serves as the leading distribution and service centre for the mining industry. Westar Mining and Fording Coal produce and export metallurgical and thermal coal to markets as far away as Japan.

History of forestry

The same year the railway arrived in the region, the largest forestry company in the area took shape as a partnership mill between Tom Leask and Jim Slater. The company soon became Cranbrook Sash and Door, a name it kept through most of the early 20th century. It survived the turbulent times of the two World Wars, the Great Depression, forest fires and beetle infestations. In 1956, the timber interests of Cranbrook Sash and Door merged with the company owned by Creston lumbermen Burns and Farstad to become Crestbrook. In 1966 Crestbrook formed a joint venture with Japanese companies Mitsubishi Ltd. and Honshu Paper Manufacturing Ltd, to build a pulp mill at Skookumchuk. In the 1990s the company extended its influence into Alberta with the Alberta Pacific Pulp Mill. In April of 1999, Crestbrook was purchased by Tembec.

Tembec and the mill

With over 1,200,000 metric tonnes of softwood and hardwood kraft pulp produced annually, for applications that include printing and writing, tissue and towelling and paperboard uses, Tembec prides itself on its ready ability to meet the needs of the global market. It operates three northern bleached softwood kraft mills in Canada: Marathon, ON, Smooth Rock Falls, ON, and Skookumchuk, BC. The latter’s product line is called Crestbrook, as it has been known for over a quarter of a century. Interior Mountain Fibres is a 100% softwood blend, predominantly comprised of pine and spruce. Six hundred and fifty metric tonnes are produced daily at the Skookumchuk mill. This premium grade NBSK possesses unique characteristics for freesheet, mechanical grades, tissue, board, towelling, and specialty applications.

Mill Manager

On May 15, 1975, a date that rolls easily off Brian Clifford’s tongue, he walked into the Skookumchuk mill. A native of St. Catharines, ON, with a degree from Queen’s University, Clifford admitted, “ever since my first visit to a paper mill, which was in Thorold, ON, I knew in my heart that I wanted to eventually work in papermaking.”

The little boy dream came true for Clifford, and this year marks his 30th anniversary at Skookumchuk. His career spanned positions such as process engineer, technical superintendent, technical manager and assistant mill manager until he was appointed mill manager in 1989.

“He has an amazing knowledge of the mill process, and knows every corner of this operation,” said Dan Kennedy, human resources manager. “Add to this his extraordinary commitment, and we could not ask for a stronger leader.” Gavin Baxter, technical manager, added, “he cares for everybody’s career advancement, while at the same time caring for their family life. He seems to know the right balance.”

Clifford is a humble man who feels the spirit of survival that is prevalent in the mill is based on the fact that the 275 employees carry a unique pride in working at the mill. “We have a less than 2% turnover rate and that is a true indicator of what makes this place tick,” said Clifford. Today the mill is also one of the smallest in the province of BC and everyone interviewed agreed that this made them work harder to continue the process that was started in 1898.

“Everybody at the mill is committed to paying more attention to detail on every level, and it is this quality that ensures our future,” said Clifford. A sense of history plays a significant role at the Skookumchuk mill, and one cannot help but see the analogy with Tembec’s origins. Created in 1973 in Temiscaming, QC, when a community and its people refused to give up their livelihood and future without a fight, Tembec’s present motto is, “A company of people building their own future.” These words echo through the mill at Skookumchuk. “We are proud of our heritage, and how we have overcome challenges in the past 100 years to remain a significant player in the industry,” said Kennedy.

Training for the future

Having been a past chairman of PacWest, ongoing involvement with PAPTAC is important to Clifford and he encourages the mill’s technical manager Gavin Baxter in his role on the Executive Council. “Especially during challenging times in the industry, the role of PAPTAC as a source of training, contacts, and exchange of knowledge is paramount,” explained Baxter. A member of PAPTAC for 16 years, Baxter values his past two years on the council. He applauds the manner in which the organization helps people acquire the skills they will need in an evolving industry.

Brian Clifford talks about the product produced at the mill with pride, about the future of the operation with confidence and about his career as a papermaker with a quiet glow of satisfaction.

“We are very open to the community here, and we give guided tours on a regular basis,” he told me. “To see retired employees conducting these tours to youngsters and passing on the spirit of this mill to the next generation is fantastic.”

With a little luck, the spirit that inspired Brian so many years ago in Thorold, will inspire other youngsters to be fascinated by the process of papermaking.

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



ISO 14001 EMS – 1997 certified

All pulp ECF (elemental chlorine free)

AOX in effluent – 0.17 kg/ADMT


ISO 9002- 1994 certified

PASS – Individual bale tracking


Total annual capacity in Canada and France has grown to over 2.4 million tonne
s, making Tembec one of the top three market pulp producers in the world.

Kraft Pulp * High Yield Pulp * Specialty Cellulose Pulp


With five manufacturing facilities located in Canada and France, Tembec produces over 1,200,000 metric tonnes of softwood and hardwood pulp:

Northern Bleached Softwood Kraft * Bleached Softwood Kraft

Bleached Eucalyptus Kraft * Northern Bleached Hardwood Kraft

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