You might have heard that home renovation activity has surged in response to COVID-induced lockdowns. Nobody predicted that, but it was certainly the case in the spring and summer and well reported on.
Well, guess what? It’s still happening, or maybe happening again.
“It’s a great market for panels,” says Trevor Brander, mill manager at Tolko Industries oriented strandboard (OSB) plant near Slave Lake. “For the foreseeable future. We’re at 100 per cent capacity.”
It’s not just 4 x 8 sheets of OSB the plant produces, although there’s plenty of that. It’s also pumping out engineered lumber, Brander says, as well as some of the specialty sizes of OSB for bigger buildings and RV manufacturing. But it’s the red-hot remodeling and renovating market that seems to be making the big difference these days. “Sunny skies,” for the industry, as Brander calls it.
Tolko’s High Prairie OSB mill, by the way, is working at full capacity too. So, no doubt, is the one in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. That’s where Brander transferred from, back in March of 2020. Just in time for a pandemic!
It presented (and continues to) a lot of challenges, Brander says. These include “a lot of measures” to prevent the spread of the virus. It’s extra work, he says, but “the employees are rising to meet it. They’re being troopers.”
About 200 people are employed in mill operations these days. Many more, of course, in the busiest season in the woodlands side of things, which involves planning, harvesting and hauling. Much of it is done seasonally, by contractors.
Brander hails from northern Saskatchewan. He says he loves the north, and is keen to have Tolko play “a key role in the community.” Also, he says he would like to “recruit people from the north.”