Ulf T. Runesson
Faculty of Natural
955 Oliver Road,
Thunder Bay, Ontario,
Canada P7B 5E1
Despite increasingly intense competition from forest producers outside the region, the future of Northwestern Ontario's wood product industrial base seems generally assured.
The Ontario government's recent "Hardwood Initiative" that encouraged increased harvest and use of poplar has led to a significant round of expansion. A $110-million oriented strandboard plant has opened in Barwick, near Fort Frances, and a $21-million specialty hardwood mill in Thunder Bay. A new sawmill is being built by Weyerhauser Canada Ltd. at Ear Falls and Tolko Industries of British Columbia is planning a large OSB plant in the Vermilion Bay-Kenora area. Buchanan Forest Products is considering a new sawmill at Nakina.
But the strongest push within regional industrial and economic development circles is to promote value-added initiatives and to recognize the social and cultural values of the forest rather than increasing timber extraction.
One such initiative is being pursued by Development Thunder Bay, the city's economic development agency. Under the title "Forest Centre of Excellence," DTB's Forest Sector Strategy Task Force seeks ways to increase value-added manufacturing, increase research and development and technological development within the region's wood industry.
Though far from major markets and manufacturing centres, Northwestern Ontario has a tradition of innovation that has been exported outside the region.
Jack Eynon, a construction superintendent with Abitibi Power and Paper Company Ltd. (now Abitibi-Consolidated) invented what became known as the Eynon load-aligner. Eventually licenced to Koehring-Watrous for manufacture, it continues to be used throughout eastern Canada and northeastern United States wherever short-length pulpwood (250 cm) is cross loaded on truck-trailer units. Another of Eynon's innovations was the Eynon panel-camp. This modular-design camp virtually replaced log construction and solid frame camp buildings and remained for more than 20 years the prime mode of construction until the advent of trailers.
Another Thunder Bay native Edward Maradyn applied his skills of invention and innovation to the forest sector for more than 30 years. Maradyn, manager of Nesco Engineering, and Ole Olson created the first tree-length portable slasher, a machine that allowed a three-man crew to handle either pulpwood or sawlogs. The late Ross Silversides, one-time Design Engineer for Abitibi, described Ed Maradyn as a true genius in the design of harvesting and silviculture forestry equipment.
In the 1950's site preparation of harvested areas in the Boreal Forests of Ontario was in its infancy. Amongst those who were instrumental in advancing on-ground innovations in this field were Jack Flowers and George Brown who worked with the then Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. Different configurations of site-preparation equipment were designed in a matter of a few years starting with concrete-filled barrels and anchor chains.
Mechanical inventor Bob Larson developed the first single tree-length harvester in the 1960s. It was mass produced by Beloit, sold and put in operation throughout eastern North America and parts of Europe.
The Tree Farmer skidder was produced under licence by Canadian Car (presently Bombardier Inc.) of Thunder Bay. The local plant was responsible for later developments and improvements to this line of machinery. This was the first application of articulated frame steering in forestry equipment and led to the development of other skidders and heavy forestry equipment.
Another example of advanced technological application is the expansion of Spectrum Nurseries in Dryden. The private tree seedling operation is building a two-hectare greenhouse that will produce eight million seedlings a year. The facility will incorporate a closed-loop flood irrigation system to eliminate environmental risk from fertilizers, special floor heating and a new roof retractor system.
But nothing has nurtured forest-related research and practical talent more than Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. Formerly Lakehead Technical Institute, then the Lakehead College of Arts, Science and Technology, it established the first forest technology program in Ontario in 1947. Lakehead also created the first co-op forestry program in North America. It is the only university in Ontario with accredited baccalaureate degree forestry program. The Faculty of Forestry operates three masters-level programs, including an MF Distance Education program, the first in Canada, and has a special Chair in Forest Policy and Management.
Lakehead Forestry has 21 faculty and teaching staff. There are more than 200 degree students and 30 graduate students. The Faculty is also fortunate to have the Centre for Northern Forest Ecosystem Research, funded by the Ministry of Natural Resources, right on campus. Its researchers serve as adjunct professors, although not generally in instruction.
LU Forestry's field laboratory areas include 35 hectares of nearby George Burke Park, the 1059-hectare Jack Haggerty Research and Wood Lot, a 288-hectare forest at Silver Mountain and the 7,144-hectare Raith Research and Demonstration Forest (in collaboration with Abitibi-Consolidated).
Research and technical development at Lakehead has had considerable influence on the province's forest industry during the last 30 years. Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing (GIS/RS), silviculture, harvesting and sampling design are but a few of the areas where LU's Forestry Program has contributed to the forest industry.
Related research on campus is also at the Centre for Northern Studies. Staffed by six cross-appointed professors, its research specialties include pulp and paper chemistry, ecology, transportation and forest industry economics. The centre has hosted two conferences, one an international meeting of circumpolar universities.
Other major forest-related work includes:
The Wild Rice Research Project, which has made Lakehead a national centre of expertise and quality testing. It also offers a technical extension service to growers' associations in five provinces.
The Lakehead University Seedling Technology Research Cooperative (LUSTR Co-op) is a collaboration involving the Forestry and Biology departments and the Thunder Bay Tree Growers Association to conduct applied research and provide ongoing advice to growers.
Lakehead is also one of several universities across Canada engaged in a federal Centres of Excellence research project into pulp and paper processes. LU has researched aspects of mill control systems, peroxide bleaching and the photostability (yellowing) of mechanical pulps.
A joint province/industry-funded project between the department of Physics and Northern Wood Preservers to improve the kiln-drying of lumber to European specifications.
Forest R&D at Lakehead is not confined to science and engineering. Another venture blending applied and basic research is the Centre for Archaeological Research Prediction, a unique interdisciplinary project using GIS data to predict the location of ancient cultural sites.
The desirable future of forestry in Northwestern Ontario might be exemplified by Lakehead's successful bids in two national competitions in the past year; both funded by the Canadian International Development Agency. One is a $2.5 million program in northwestern Ghana, West Africa and the other a $750,000 project in Nepal, south-east Asia. Both are five-year ventures and each involves forest conservation and community outreach initiatives. Five partner-institutions will participate in the Ghana program and three in Nepal with Lakehead the lead university in both instances and Dr. J. Naysmith of the Faculty of Forestry as Program Director. At the announcement this fall Diane Marleau, Minister for International Cooperation said the selection of Lakehead makes the University a leader in the world scene of international forestry.