A tour of a saw mill was something I never expected.
Coming from Ontario, the thought of ever seeing a mill was as foreign to me as seeing a moose in my hometown of Guelph, Ontario.
It just never happens.
But there I was parked in front of Conifex, with boots and hard hat in hand.
Now that Fort St. James was my home, I thought it important to visit one of its largest employers.
Upon entering the main office, I received a warm greeting from Tim Boyes, Safety Chargehand at the mill.
Boyes has been working for Conifex for over 16 years. He has held many roles and positions and has also seen many changes over the years.
“The company has changed hands a few times. It even closed for 18 months which put a lot of people out of work,” Boyes said.
But in 2009, Conifex came to be and the mill reopened in hopes of bringing work and community back to Fort St. James.
And since then, it has.
The mill now employs 45 management employees and 200 hourly employees.
Boyes went on to offer me information about the mill, a brief history and the logging process from unloading to sorting to drying and eventually stacking, bonding and wrapping.
But for Boyes, working at the mill is all about safety.
“Safety is a priority for everyone at Conifex,” Boyes said.
It all sounded overwhelming but exciting. It was then time for the grand tour.
With ear plugs in, Boyes brought to life all that he had explained minutes earlier; all of the machinery, the speed, the technology, it was incredible to witness.
Boyes pointed out a few of the major technological advancements over the last few years that have greatly impacted working conditions at the mill.
“The lumber grading machine has really made life easier,” Boyd said. “Before, we used to have to grade each piece of lumber by hand.”
The machine is now computerized and grades each piece of lumber by photo recognition.
The $7 million dust machine has also made the working environment much cleaner and safer according to Boyes.
Throughout the tour, I felt like one of the many pieces of lumber myself as I was taken through the entire process from the beginning to the final product.
“It’s amazing. There are so many factors that take place to make this whole process happen,” Boyes said.
The mill was filled with welcoming men and women who were working away but were always quick to wave or send a friendly hello my way.
As for Boyes, it’s evident that he loves what he does.
“I’ve been in this role now for five years. I love this job. There’s always something new happening and I love the people. It’s a great place to be.”