Community dreams

Andru McCracken headshot
Andru McCracken, Editor

By Andru McCracken


Creating useful and valuable things out of the trees that surround us: That is who we are as a community.

It’s not just a thing we have done in the past: it’s a part of us now. Maybe the good part.

I’ve been known to wax poetic about what once was: the hundreds of mills that dotted the forests and mountainsides back when it was cheaper and better to move the mill into the bush than to move the timber to the mill.

It was a time of relative wealth (though richer times were to come) but more importantly autonomy. When we were all championing the creation of community forests as the major mills pulled up their stakes, this is part of the vision we held.

Now the Dunster Community Forest’s acquisition of McBride’s Syncra Forest Products brings me right back to that time. It is a positive sign and an interesting step. It’s a notably different track – a different kind of economic development than we’re used to contemplating these days.

James Vanslyk’s representation of a local mill b.1907 d.1961. Check out his work at the permanent exhibition at the Valemount Museum.

While the rest of us have begun collecting branches and twigs to turn into blackpellets to burn in Japan (neo-coal as I like to call it) and preparing to titillate international guests in a gondola enroute to a year round glacier skiing destination, Dunster Community Forest’s grand plan here is to turn local wood into local products for local people.

It all seems remarkably feasible. Eminently doable. It’s just missing the grandiose bit of promising everyone everything we ever wanted. And in that sense it is refreshing.

I’m not suggesting for a minute it will be easy, I don’t have the insight to know if it will work, but it does seem like a great intention.

When we think about the kind of economic development promised by community forests, what Dunster has proposed is what many of us had hoped for. That somehow community forests would lead to stronger local economies, small growth, local jobs, the ability to unhinge our economy from the unpredictable commodity market. That the community forest could service local needs however, is a new twist for me. I hadn’t considered the local market as big enough to serve, and by admitting this deficit of understanding I’m really admitting that I hadn’t really understood the thing at all.The stakes of this venture seem about right. If the community forest’s venture succeeds we’ll have a few more jobs, more and better local wood products. If it fails, housing prices aren’t going to crash (even if they should).

The Dunster Community Forest isn’t inventing a new wheel here. The mill they are taking over already exists and there are lots of little mills making a go of it steadfast through time. Few of them are full time ventures, not many make the paper on a regular basis but they are important threads in what is left of the worn but beautiful rag carpet of our economy.

It goes without saying that we’re all breathlessly awaiting the opening of Valemount Community Forest’s similar but different venture: the mill for wood nobody else wants. Oversized and undersized wood that can’t be sold otherwise will be turned into something else. Hey, it’s better than hauling it away at a loss.

But it’s also interesting to hear about the different tack taken by the Dunster Community Forest: one focused not just on local jobs, but also local products.

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