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The great Canadian chopstick war of 1986

With so much wood, Canada would seem a natural place to make chopsticks. And in 1986, there were two rival companies looking to corner the market.

Saskatchewan manufacturer suddenly had competition from B.C.

An upstart chopstick manufacturer threatens an established player. 2:51

Wang Park had carved out a successful operation in Saskatchewan: he made chopsticks.

The Korean-born businessman was president of what CBC reporter Dan Bjarnason called "the biggest chopstick plant on the continent."

Wood for the eating implements was trucked in from northern Saskatchewan to Park's Regina plant, called Western General Trading Ltd., according to a sign.

"The Canadian aspen, particularly Saskatchewan aspen, is the best quality in the world," explained Park, who said people called him "the father of chopsticks."

"Some people call me the father of chopsticks," said Wang Park, president of a Saskatchewan manufacturer. (The National/CBC Archives)

According to a 1985 profile in the Globe and Mail, Park had 22 employees at that time.

CBC cameras captured the chopstick manufacturing process for The National in July 1986.

The timber was cut into footlong cross-sections, which were then steamed and de-barked.

Workers at a Saskatchewan plant that makes chopsticks manage a step in the process that rolls wood into long strips. (The National/CBC Archives)

Turned on their side, the logs were processed into long rolls that were the thickness of a chopstick. 

"Finally: chop chop chop chop, by the kazillion, it seems, into chopsticks," said Bjarnason.

Not quite. The plant turned out 400,000 pairs each day, shipped "mostly to New York City, San Francisco, and Korea," according to the reporter.

The chopstick upstarts

Yugin Pak (left) and Jay Ahn were planning to churn out three to four million pairs of chopsticks per day at their B.C. plant. (The National/CBC Archives)

Northern British Columbia had wood too, of course.

"There's a chopstick duel developing in this culinary struggle," said Bjarnason, introducing another Korean businessman.

Jay Ahn was hoping to produce three to four million pairs of chopsticks each day.

"And that's just the Korean market alone," said Bjarnason. "Tomorrow, maybe the world."

Ahn, with translation by company director Yugin Pak, said the B.C. plant was the largest in the world.

Not just chopsticks 

Park was extending his Saskatchewan factory's offerings beyond chopsticks. (The National/CBC Archives)

In response, Park had extended his factory's capabilities beyond chopsticks.

Wood could be turned into other disposable products like coffee stir sticks, tongue depressors, and popsicle sticks.

He was also considering moving his plant closer to the raw material.

"Back on the west coast," said Bjarnason, "They're beavering away, trying to close the chopstick gap."