Northwestern Ontario’s sawmill industry is on the rebound, with mills opening their doors again and workers collecting paycheques, says one union official.

"We lost so many, especially in the sawmill industry,” said Stephen Boon, national representative for Unifor, the union representing thousands of workers across the northwest.

“Almost every mill in Ontario at some point was down. But you definitely are starting to see a resurgence, especially in the sawmill sector," Boon said.

''You definitely are starting to see a resurgence, especially in the sawmill sector.'-  Stephen Boon, Unifor national representative

Over the last year, pulp mills in Dryden and Terrace Bay have reopened, with hundreds of people going back to work in their home communities —  although jobs are nowhere near the numbers lost in the industry downturn.

About 300 people are back to work at the mill in Dryden, down from the 1,500 that used to be employed there.

Similarly, about 1,000 used to work at the Terrace Bay mill, which is now down to 300 employees.About 300 people are back to work at the mill in Dryden, down from the 1,500 that used to be employed there.

Still, Boon is optimistic about the future of the industry.

"[The Dryden mill] is a shadow of what it once was in terms of paper machines and the kraft production,” Boon said. “But, it's stabilized as a solid, productive profit-making kraft mill that's stabilized in the sense of the community."  

Other mills across Ontario are also set to open up shop again. EACOM Timber Corporations announced earlier this month that the Ear Mills sawmill, which has been idled since 2009, is expected to reopen in the spring of 2014.

The Longlac mill in Greenstone is also currently in the process of reopening after Buchanan Lumber shut it down in 2008.  

Technological changes

Despite the reopenings, one former forest industry executive says the outlook for jobs in the pulp and paper industry isn't so bright because the demand for these products are different now.

"They're never going to be back because we've made a technological change,” said Doug Murray, current CEO of Thunder Bay's Community Economic Development Commission.

“So then all these mills that existed to make paper aren't coming back," he said. "The other sawmills, they won't be back in the form that they were."

Murray cautions although sawmills are now processing lumber, he doubts they will operate at the capacity they were at a few years ago.

List of former/current mills in Ontario

CLOSED:

Nipigon/Red Rock:

  • Domtar (Containerboard Division) - 700 employees
  • Domtar (Forest products division) - 225 employees
  • MacMillan Bloedel Ltd. - 196 employees

Longlac:

  • Kimberly-Clark - 925 employees
  • Weldwood of Canada  - 400 employees

Atikokan:

  • McKenzie Forest Products - 135 employees

Marathon:

  • James River Marathon Inc./Marathon Pulp Inc. - 485 employees
  • Buchanan - 250 employees

Kenora:

  • Boise Cascade Canada - 800 employees

Thunder Bay:

  • Abitibi Price Fort William Division - 360 employees 
  • Abitibi Provincial Papers - 900 employees 
  • Abitibi Thunder Bay - 400 employees 
  • Abitibi Woodlands - 343 employees
  • Northern Wood Preservers - 350 employees 
  • Great West Timber- 175 employees
  • Dynast Forest Products - 150 employees

OPEN

Terrace Bay:

  • Kimberly-Clark (now AV Terrace Bay) - 300 employees (formerly 968 employees)

Dryden:

  • Canadian Pacific Forest Products (now Domtar) - 300 employees (formerly 1,490 employees)

Fort Frances:

  • Boise Cascade (now Resolute) - about 240 employees (formerly 900 employees)

Hudson:

  • McKenzie Forest Products - 130 employees

Thunder Bay:

  • Canadian Pacific Forest Products - about 300 employees (formely 3,725 employees)
  • Resolute - 200 employees