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First Nations chief carves career in forest industry (3/03)

What started as a joke has turned into a fully operational saw mill for one man in the Temagami area.

What started as a joke has turned into a fully operational saw mill for one man in the Temagami area.

Over four years ago, Chief Alex Paul of the Temagami First Nation was working in the bush doing silviculture and tree thinning when the band manager told him about applying for grants to buy a sawmill. The two joked about the idea at the time.

“It was not serious at the time and when I went home I talked to my wife about it and she told me to get the application,” says Paul, owner of Temagami Cedar. “We made it in before the deadline and got the grant and purchased the sawmill.”

Paul says he has always had an interest in the forestry industry and waited for his chance to get his foot in the door.

After securing the sawmill, Paul intended on supplying log-home kits, but the venture did not turn out as planned.

“I did not have access to the timber needed for the venture,” Paul says.

With his first attempt failed, Paul continued, unfazed in his determination to carve out a place for himself in the forestry industry.

A white-birch mill in the area at the time had a supply of cedar they could not utilize and the mill owner had asked Paul to submit a proposal on what he could do with the cedar.

“I was able to obtain first right of refusal on the amount of cedar being cut, and that is where I was able to secure the volume I needed for the cedar venture,” Paul says.

Paul acquired a gravel pit and finally had the site to establish his sawmill.

The mill produces conventional-sized lumber.

“I can produce lumber in sizes from one by two all the way to 10 by 10, when the log is sound.”

Paul also sells the waste product from the processing.

“We sell cedar slabs for gardens, siding and firewood,” says Paul. “There is also a garden centre, which uses the waste to make cedar chips.”

Even the shavings from the planer are utilized.

“I have sold the shavings to people for bedding for pets.”

Paul has shipped his timber across the province to contractors from Sundridge to Mattawa across to the Tri-Towns area.

“Most of the business is in the local economy with contractors and home owners looking to build retaining walls or decks.”

Already in the fourth year of operation, Paul sees a bright future for the cedar industry.

“In the future I imagine I will end up going into big consignment orders, and that would give me enough to keep the business going and hire more personnel.”

At present, Paul is working on developing clients in Sault Ste. Marie and Nova Scotia. The Sault venture would involve a big consignment order and the Nova Scotia venture would involve the byproduct of cedar wood processing. Paul also believes cedar will become more prominent in the future because of its durability and because of the squeeze on pressure-treated lumber.

“Cedar is an all-natural rot-resistant type of lumber with no contaminants in it.”

Paul works at the sawmill part-time because of his other job. His wife, Tracy, works part-time at the sawmill assisting with bookkeeping matters.

Paul points out without the hard work of his only full-time employee, Steve Laronde, the business would not be where it is at now.

“He is a dedicated employee who knows all the ins and outs of the business.”

Over time Laronde has received his scaling certificate, operates all the heavy equipment and knows all the rigging.

“I do not think we would be where we are today without his dedication.”

The sawmill is not a First Nation initiative, but has received written support from the First Nations.

“Most of the stuff done to date I have achieved on my own merits.”

Paul enjoys his work and life in the bush and is looking forward to the future.

“I think with the work we are doing we are establishing a market for cedar and because the product is healthier for the environment, the demand will pick up.”