Pulp and Paper Canada

Tolko and the Pas, Manitoba

November 1, 2005  By Pulp & Paper Canada

In the past three years, the column Facts, Figures & Faces has profiled huge mill facilities occupying thousands of square feet, as well as small operations housed in more confined quarters. What ties them together is their unique relationship to their immediate environment. The process of papermaking has always been intrinsically connected to the towns and to the rural regions that these facilities call their home base.

The Pas, MA, is no exception. Home to the Manitoba Kraft Papers and the Manitoba Solid Wood Divisions of Tolko Industries, its symbiotic relationship with the forestry industry creates commitment and especially pride among the workers. Mill manager Blair Rydberg has spent 26 years in the industry and still speaks proudly of his father’s 38 year-tenure at the mill in Marathon, ON. Juha Jarvinen, production manager, has lived in The Pas since his father moved the family from their native Finland to Manitoba during the initial construction phases of the mill.

He has logged an impressive 22 years at the same mill that his father originally built. Both men know the meaning of living in a pulp and paper town. As youngsters they grew up near the mill, they later had their first summer jobs at the mill, and now they are involved in the actual running of the operation. Their familiarity and fondness for a papermaking town mirrors their life experiences.


Mill history

The relationship between The Pas and the mill traces its roots back to the mid-60s. An agreement was struck with the Manitoba Development Fund and four companies to create an integrated forestry complex in the area. Final construction was completed in early 1971, and paper rolled off the machine for the first time in Manitoba. In 1973, a Crown company called the Manitoba Forestry Resources was created. A decade later, the name of the corporation was changed to Manfor Limited. In May of 1979 the mill was sold and became Repap Manitoba. Finally in 1997 Tolko Industries acquired the operation.

The Pas

The Pas is located 600 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, on the banks of the Saskatchewan River. It is in the heart of the Canadian Shield near the border between Manitoba and Saskatchewan. There is historic evidence that the First Nations peoples had been meeting in The Pas and the surrounding areas for thousands of years. Between the years 1200 and 1800, the area saw activity from the Ojibwe, Assiniboine, Swampy Cree and Chipewyan. Though with time the other bands moved away, the Cree remained in the region. The establishment of the Hudson Bay Company at York factory in 1684 brought European influence to the area and the tribes began to use the river ways to trade furs. In the 1740s, French traders set up posts at the intersection of the Saskatchewan, Carrot and Pasqula rivers. The competition in the fur trading business helped to open up the region.

In the late 19th century, there was a period of dynamic growth that was fuelled by forestry, transportation and mining exploration. The year 1910 saw the arrival of Herman Finger and the establishment of the Finger Lumber Company. Though the timber products industry has always been a major force in the area, The Pas is also known for agriculture. The rich soils of the Saskatchewan delta provide the surrounding communities with some of the most productive farmlands in the region. Currently, over 7,500 acres are under sustained agricultural production. The modern town of The Pas was incorporated in 1912 on the recommendation of one of its leading citizens, Herman Finger. Initially The Pas was founded as a meeting place between Indian trappers and the English and French fur traders. By the early 20th century it established itself as the Gateway to the North, a title it proudly holds to this day. With its colourful heritage, the area continues to support the forestry, agriculture, commercial fishing and transportation industries.

The Pas is composed of three distinct communities: the town of The Pas, the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and the Rural Municipality of Kelsey. With a population base of over 15,000, the community stands out as one of the oldest and most striking communities in northern Manitoba.


Tolko Industries Limited is a private, family-owned, Canadian forest products company based in Vernon, BC. The company is proud of the progress it has made since its humble beginnings in 1956 with the establishment of a small planer mill east of Vernon. Today the company employs over 4,800 people. While the firm’s roots are in BC, it now has 18 primary manufacturing operations spread over all four western provinces. The Manitoba operations are comprised of two divisions: Kraft Papers and Solid Wood. Kraft Papers is an unbleached sack kraft paper mill that provides product for the multi wall shipping sack market. The Solid Wood Division consists of woodlands and a sawmill that produces kiln-dried spruce, pine and fir stud and random length lumber. Softwood fibre for both the sawmill and the kraft paper mill is supplied by Manitoba Woodlands.

New mill manager

Tolko Industries is unlike many large corporations and prides itself on its decentralized structure. Each division is empowered to act autonomously. It is recognized that each operating area has unique attributes and challenges that the local management team is best equipped to appreciate and manage. While decisions are made locally, they are all guided by the corporation’s vision and values.

It is into this type of environment that Blair Rydberg entered when he assumed the role of mill manager over a year ago. His 26 years of experience have served him well. He has worked extensively in mills in Fort Francis, ON, Whitecourt, AB and in his own hometown, Marathon, ON. Rydberg now calls The Pas home. “I felt welcomed by the town immediately and being the mill manager is one of the highlights of my career,” he stated, adding, “One of my favourite things is to spend time on the floor of the mill, which I do everyday.”

“When he arrived he was a breath of fresh air from the outside,” said Juha Jarvinen, “exactly what we needed to kick-start changes at the mill.” Rydberg had a reputation for creating production increases, for quickly initiating effective power recovery and for working hand-in-hand with all levels of the operation. “His style is positive with the type of optimism that has a slice of realism attached to it,” added Jarvinen.

“He is strongly results-oriented and moves very quickly,” said Bob Snow, technical director. “If there is a bottleneck hindering output, Blair will be there.”

When talking about his own management style, Rydberg was candid and said very simply, “I believe in creating a sense of freedom, allowing people to do their own jobs with less and less outside controls. People should feel that they own their own jobs, and it is my task to create that feeling by putting the right people in the right spots.”

He sees his role as the leader of improvements, not focusing on the day-to-day operations but being prepared for the challenges of the future. Increased productivity, lower energy use, and a more flexible and highly trained work force represent just the tip of the iceberg of issues that Blair Rydberg is tackling. One senses an air of confidence at the Tolko mill, created by the new man at the helm.

PRODUCTION at a glance

Paper grades produced: unbleached kraft paper – SPX (semi and fully extensible), SPK (high performance multi-wall)

Maximum trim width: 243″ (6.17m)

Annual production 2004: 155,000 tonnes prime (projected 167,800 for 2005)

Shipping: truck, rail, ship

Special products: wet strength, un-sized, laminating

The Corporate Mission

Tolko’s mission is to be an envi
ronmentally responsible and innovative company that prospers and grows by serving the needs of diverse customers in world markets, with products derived from the forest.

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