View From British Columbia
November 1, 2007 By Pulp & Paper Canada
This month we travel west to Chetwynd, BC, a town nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the northeastern region of the province. Home to approximately 2,800 inhabitants, the town first op…
This month we travel west to Chetwynd, BC, a town nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the northeastern region of the province. Home to approximately 2,800 inhabitants, the town first opened its doors to the pulp industry when, in 1990, Louisiana-Pacific Canada Pulp Company constructed a state-of-the-art bleached-chemi-thermo-mechanical pulp mill (BCTMP) in an open field, 25 kilometres east of the town.
We explore the many changes that have occurred at the mill since then — now owned by Tembec — through the eyes of Mill Manager Wayne Clement, Local Union CEP 448 President Jim Maher, and Daniel Dumas, the former Human Resources Superintendent at Chetwynd.
Chetwynd, often referred to as the southern gateway to Peace River country, is rich in oil, gas, coal and timber. Its historical growth is intertwined with these natural resources. First known by the name of Little Prairie when early settlers arrived in 1912, it adopted its present name in honour of provincial politician Ralph L.T. Chetwynd, one of the town’s founding fathers.
There is a certain spirit of optimism at the nearby Tembec mill that stems from having survived closure, and from re-establishing an operation that is ready for the challenges of the future. “We also happen to live in a part of Canada where the economy is booming,” added Clement, “We are almost like a side-show here, with the gas industry invariably on centre stage.”
The success story of Tembec’s Chetwynd mill harkens back to the beginnings of Tembec, the present owners of the Chetwynd mill.
Over 34 years ago, the economic lifeblood of the town of Temiscaming, QC, was in peril when the town’s pulp mill was closed by its multinational owners. Some of the mill’s former employees and the town residents united to save their jobs and to save their town. They fought back by organizing themselves into a company and purchasing the mill. This event catapulted the town’s name into national prominence. Their efforts created an unprecedented spirit of cooperation between unionized employees, entrepreneurs, the community and various levels of government. The word “impossible” was redefined in Temiscaming, and this very spirit remains alive to this day.
Clement, who grew up in Temiscaming, recalled the spirit that drove everybody in the town. “I was still attending college at the time, but my father and uncles worked at the mill. The thought of all of their livelihoods coming to an abrupt end was impossible to accept,” added Clement. This story is not unique as so many families relied on Tembec.
The National Film Board of Canada’s documentary, A Town that Wouldn’t Die, chronicles the events that confronted Temiscaming and the steps that were taken to save it. The principles adopted at this time — encouraging employee ownership, profit sharing and active employee participation — remain a part of the company’s philosophy.
Like Clement, former Tembec employee Daniel Dumas was also raised in Temiscaming.
Union President Jim Maher jokingly added: “Working with Clement and Dumas, you can’t help but appreciate the significance of what happened in Quebec. They pass it down to all of us, almost through osmosis.”
The Tembec of today is an integrated forest products company with extensive operations in North America and France. The growth in the last 34 years positions Tembec as a world leader in forestry related industries. The company has annual sales of approximately $3.5 billion and employs 9,000 people. With over 50 manufacturing facilities, the company is involved in the production of five distinct types of products: paper, pulp, paperboard, wood products and chemical products. The company is also involved in the management of 40 million acres of forest land in accordance with sustainable development principles.
The Tembec Pulp Group is organized into ten business units with manufactured products that fit into three categories: kraft pulp, high yield pulp and specialty cellulose pulp. Total annual capacity from all of Tembec’s pulp mills has grown to 2,040,000 tonnes, making Tembec one of the top three pulp producers in the world. The High-Yield Pulp Division with three mills in Canada produces 750,000 tonnes of Temcell High-Yield Pulp annually.
The Chetwynd Operation is a BCTMP mill that uses aspen fibre. This is consistent with the company’s objectives to use all available resources. Aspen is a medium-length fibre with similar strength properties to hardwood kraft, but it is bulkier and drains faster. Aspen can also be tailor-made with a wide range of freeness, brightness and strength specifications. As a groundwood substitute, it has low freeness and low brightness. As a supplemental fibre in a coated freesheet it can have a higher freeness and brightness and can be very strong. The typical end uses are: copy paper, cast coated paper, light-weight coated paper, printing and writing papers.
With the successful startup of the new tertiary refiner line at its High Yield pulp mill, the production willincrease by 10,000 ADMT.
“The increased capacity as a result of this startup will enable us to meet the growing demand for our product in the marketplace,” said Yvon Pelletier, executive V-P and president of the Pulp Group. Tembec is one of the world’s leading market pulp producers. This optimization will raise the total capacity of the Company to approximately 2 million tonnes.
Spirit of Chetwynd
What makes this mill operation unusual is its physical location. It does not sit near a body of water, nor is it located in an industrial zone, as is usually the case. “The mill’s neighbours are farmers growing hay and oats and ranchers raising their cattle,” pointed out Clement.
To understand what makes this mill click, one merely has to look at its relatively brief but equally turbulent history. Louisiana-Pacific, the original owners leased management of the mill to Millar Western in 1999 but the operation was not successful and was closed in October 2001.
“We all knew that it was a sound operation that could resurface if we found the right buyer, one who appreciated the uniqueness of the operation and was also willing to invest in modernization,” said Maher, who had worked at the mill since 1994.
Clement, Mill Manager in Temiscaming at the time, was sent to Chetwynd as part of the due diligence team from Tembec. In October 2002, Pulp and Paper Group President Terrence Kavanagh stated, “This mill is an excellent fit with our existing high yield pulp assets and will provide significant synergies with our Temiscaming and Matane operations.”
Four months later, the mill reopened with Clement as the new Mill Manager. “The prospect of rebuilding a mill was a challenge that I could not turn down,” remembered Clement.
The economy was booming. “It was not easy to attract experienced people back to the mill, recalled Dumas. “Many (of the former employees) had found positions in other industries, but we persisted and succeeded.” Many of the former employees did return and the stage was set for a fresh start at the Chetwynd Pulp Mill.
“Collectively — with help from every level — we turned a stagnant enterprise into a world-class operation,” recalled Clement. And this aura of confidence is still alive in this mill today, providing a platform for future growth and success.
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In September 2007 the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) honoured Tembec with the 2007 Winds of Change Award for its ongoing contribution to safeguarding forests.
“I am very proud to receive this FSC award on behalf of the employees of Tembec,” said James Lopez, Tembec’s President and Chief Executive Officer, when he accepted the award. “This prestigious award recogn
izes our ongoing commitment to our FSC partnership and the leadership role that Tembec has taken in responsible forest management.”
Tembec is not resting on its laurels, however. At the Chetwynd operation, “We are in the process of preparing for FSC certification, with a target date of July 2008,” added Clement proudly. “All of our certifications have been acquired since Tembec took over the mill operation.”
(160 Tembec, 40 contracted)
* At purchase: 160,000 ADMT
* Currently: 217,000 ADMT
* Health and safety OHSAS 18001
* Environment ISO 14001
* Forestry FSC certification — Targeted date July 2008
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