The local sawmill at Lac Seul First Nation is looking to expand its business as company officials say the four-person operation can't keep up with demand for its products.

"It's a good problem to have," said Bert Hennessey, the general manager of Obishikokaang Resources Corporation (OCR) — a forestry company owned by the First Nation that oversees the sawmill.

Lac Seul is about 400 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.

saw mill

Small 'micro' houses are one of the sawmill's products. (Andreas Zailo)

The community-owned sawmill was created to build local infrastructure and create jobs. While the facility produces lumber for construction, it also makes finished products, such as floating docks for tourism camps, picnic tables and two small A-frame houses for the local school.

The company has been receiving orders from Sioux Lookout, Dryden and Thunder Bay, Hennessey said. The demand has prompted the sawmill's management to focus more on profitability.

sawmill

The sawmill in Lac Seul has produced a number of structures. The manager says they get orders from a number of northwestern Ontario communities. (Andreas Zailo)

"It was mostly internal needs and not so much worried about the costs of the products," said Hennessey. "Whereas now, we are very concerned about the costs of the products, the margins, the profitability."

The company is looking to work with the federal and provincial governments to receive funding for capital investments for expansion. They have also been given support from Resolute Forest Products and FPInnovations, a non-profit organization that specializes in keeping the Canadian forest industry innovative and competitive.

Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown visited the community earlier in October.

"It's about relationships just as much as getting the sawmill up and running," said Hennessey, adding that the mill is hoping to mechanize some of its operations to keep up with orders. The company recently started a website for clients to view their products and services.

sawmill

The company says it wants to work with the federal and provincial governments to receive funding to help its expansion. (Andreas Zailo)

"We hope that it will be 100 per cent First Nation employment, not necessarily all from Lac Seul, but we will certainly do what we can to employ people from Lac Seul," said Hennessey.

All employees are currently from Lac Seul First Nation. 

"It's important to employ local people," Hennessey continued. "We are making local products that have high value and there is a certain amount of pride when you make your own products locally."

Hennessey said he hopes that the mill will be able to expand to up to 20 people next year.

A frame house

Company officials say they hope, after expansion, the workforce will be comprised entirely of Indigenous people. (Andreas Zailo)