Commitment to the pursuit of excellence in all that we do.
Who we are
NorSask Forest Products is owned by the Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC) and operates in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. Not only is it the largest First Nations-owned sawmill in Canada, profits generated support economic development, social programs, employment and infrastructure in the nine First Nations communities represented in MLTC.
Our sawmill is one of the few First Nations-owned sawmills in the world and we have remained in continuous production due to our ability to offer reliable employment, through many downturns in our industry. Currently, we employ approximately 100 full-time employees.
We produce high-quality SPF (spruce, pine, fir) stud lumber sold in Canada, the United States and overseas. The site consists of a sawmill with three log breakdown lines, a wood yard, and four dry kilns. The mill’s production capacity is currently in excess of 140 million board feet of lumber annually.
Through our woodlands management team, Mistik Management Ltd, we sustainably manage 1.8 million hectares of boreal forest and we are committed to stewardship of the environment. Mistik is the licensee in a perpetual forest management agreement with the Province of Saskatchewan and is certified to the standard of the Forest Stewardship Council. For more information about Mistik’s certifications and services to us, please visit Mistik.ca.
NorSask is committed to maintaining its success for the long term benefit of its First Nations shareholders.
Dedication to the development of each employee.
Define and exceed customer expectations by providing exceptional customer service.
Ethical and environmentally responsible conduct of our individual and corporate activities.
Parson and Whittemore, a New York firm that owned Prince Albert Pulp Mill built the Meadow Lake Sawmill. They operated the sawmill as a satellite of the pulp mill, with its primary function to supply softwood chips, a by-product of the milling process, to the pulp mill in Prince Albert.
The Province of Saskatchewan acquires the wood product and mill assets of Parson and Whittemore.
The Province sells the Prince Albert Pulp Mill to Weyerhauser and continues to own and operate the Meadow Lake Sawmill.
Worried that the sawmill would be sold to an investor who would divest its assets, the employees established a company called TechFor Services Limited and sold shares to raise money to buy the mill. At the same time, the Meadow Lake Tribal Council engaged with Techfor Services Limited and came alongside the employees in a 50/50 partnership. Eventually, Millar Western Industries became a 20% owner in NorSask with MLTC retaining 40% and Techfor Services Limited retaining the remaining 40%.
The partners negotiated a Forest Management License Agreement (FMLA) with the Province and began operations as NorSask Forest Products. This license gave NorSask the right to harvest both soft and hard woods within the forest management area. However, the sawmill used softwood conifers only (spruce, pine, and fir), so an important part of the FMLA was finding a user for the hardwood, mostly aspen. By bringing in Millar Western which opened a hardwood pulp mill in Meadow Lake, NorSask met this requirement of the FMLA. That pulp mill is now owned by Meadow Lake Mechanical Pulp.
Our Annual Report from 1997 refers to this period as The Turnaround Years. We invested millions in modernizing the mill and in 1992 the community response to increased production brought about a new approach to forest management. Following Elders’ meetings, co-management boards were organized to combine traditional knowledge with modern science and technology in managing the forest resource. Co-management has been absolutely integral to NorSask’s success.
Production more than doubled from 40 to 87.5 million board feet annually. In 1994, 250 board feet of lumber were recovered from each cubic metre of wood brought to the mill. This represented a 30% increase from the 195 board feet recovered in 1988. This improvement was attributed in large part to significant investment in computerized milling technology – a winning strategy that NorSask has continued to build on in the intervening years.
NorSask received an ABEX award in recognition of its sound business practices.
Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC) acquired 100% ownership of NorSask and the company has since achieved consistent profitability and solid growth.
The protracted US housing market downturn and the global recession had a severe impact on sawmills throughout North America. Many sawmills in Canada ceased operations. NorSask was the only studmill in Saskatchewan that maintained continuous operations throughout this extended economic downturn. NorSask’s survival during this period was a result of focused commitment from the shareholders of the sawmill and the hard work and creativity of the employees. Ongoing lumber production throughout this difficult period allowed NorSask to ensure ongoing service to its highly-valued customers throughout North America.
NorSask has been in operation since 1971 (almost 50 years). Over that time there have been ongoing capital upgrades to the sawmill that ensure ongoing production of quality lumber. Since 2013, there have been millions of dollars invested in capital upgrades to the sawmill that include a refurbished log infeed system, upgraded scanning technology on canter lines, upgrades to equipment controls software, a refurbished planer, a new lumber auto-grader and finishing line, new kilns and a variety of other improvements that will ensure that NorSask keeps producing quality lumber products into the future.
Lumberjacks aboard a load of timber on a horse-drawn sleigh, northern or central Saskatchewan, early 1900s.
Courtesy Saskatoon Public Library – Local History Room.
It must have been a happy crowd that greeted the first train to arrive in Meadow Lake in 1931. The train would bring a steady flow into town of needed supplies and also provided for the steady outflow of the area’s agricultural and forestry products.
Easy transportation to the Canadian and American markets bode well for the many logging camps, railroad tie camps, and mills in the Meadow Lake region. But forestry was tough work. It didn’t pay very well and usually only provided winter employment. Workers were housed in cramped, rough quarters, the pay was $1 a day, and the work went on from dawn to dusk. Trees were cut with two-man cross-cut saws and were initially hauled out of the bush by horse until the roads improved and trucks could be used.
Lumber, railroad ties, and pulpwood went their way by train out of Meadow Lake. Wood was also used locally by the Northern Millworks which made boxes for the area’s berry harvesters and fish processors.
Mistik Management’s goal was to establish a forest management plan that was based on both science and traditional knowledge. They talked with scientists, naturalists, elders, trappers, fishermen, loggers, sawmillers and pulp makers. Not everything went smoothly at first. Northerners saw that modern mechanical harvesting methods were replacing traditional methods, and year-long blockades were staged at Canoe Lake and Waterhen.
This crisis actually spurred on the communication process with the northerners, and several co-management boards were formed to ensure that traditional ways and community concerns are incorporated into the forestry activities. There are now eight co-management boards and two advisory boards. The boards meet monthly with Mistik and help make decisions on such things as the size and locations of harvested areas and the methods of harvesting and replanting. The Boards’ ideas will also be incorporated into decisions concerning wildlife, hunting, tourism, and recreational resources, within their respective areas. This cooperative Integrated Resource Management approach is unique in Canada.
In 1997, Mistik became the first-ever Saskatchewan forest management company to receive Ministerial approval for their environmental impact statement on a Twenty-Year Forest Management Plan. The plan went far beyond short-term logging goals, instead producing guidelines that reach 220 years into the future.
NorSask Forest Products
From those early days through to the 1960s, sawmills were often operated by farmers as an additional source of income. Then, in 1971, the New York firm of Parsons & Whittemore built the Meadow Lake Sawmill. This mill was a major development in the local forestry sector and employed 80 to 100 people under a management team from Parsons & Whittemore.
The Parsons & Whittemore management team left after a few years and the sawmill languished, mainly because it had not been designed to meet Canadian weather conditions. The poor design often resulted in reduced production and there were long layoffs, particularly from November to January. In 1986, the mill was sold to the provincial government.
When rumours soon arose that the mill was going to be sold yet again, an employee buy out group, called TechFor Services, was formed, and partnership discussions began with the Meadow Lake Tribal Council. The result, in 1988, was that TechFor Services bought 40% of the shares of the mill, with the Tribal Council buying another 40%. The remaining 20% were later bought by Millar Western when that company built a pulp mill here in 1992. The new owners operate under the name NorSask Forest Products Inc.
In early 1998, the Meadow Lake Tribal Council became sole owner of NorSask, thus becoming the largest First-Nations forest products company in Canada. With the mill’s ownership finally secure, the goal was to ensure year-round operations by obtaining a secure wood supply and by upgrading the mill. The secured wood supply came through signing a Forest Management License Agreement with the Provincial Government which provided NorSask with a 3.3 million hectare landbase from which it could harvest 5,000 hectares annually.
Mill improvements, often done under adverse financial conditions, overcame the handicaps built into the original mill and helped the mill better utilize its logs. Within five years, new computerized equipment was maximizing the lumber recovery from each log, and the mill had doubled its 1988 production with premium lumber that was well above grade and was being shipped across North America. During 1997, the mill achieved record production levels, producing 101 million board feet of lumber.
On the morning of January 12, 2017 a fire broke out in the slasher deck area of the sawmill. Later that day, by the time the fire was extinguished, the fire had impacted the entire log infeed system of the sawmill (infeed deck, debarkers, slasher deck, sorter bins and log & waste conveyors). A plan was quickly put in place to rebuild the front end of the sawmill. The BID Group, along with the assistance of a variety of other engineering, equipment and technical service providers, had the mill fully operational within nine months. NorSask’s new log infeed system is a state-of-the-art asset that will ensure long term mill efficiency and quality outcomes for the NorSask sawmill for years to come.
Today, the mill’s production facilities are in excellent shape, plans are being made for secondary industries, and cooperative management agreements with northern communities will ensure that the mill’s activities will benefit all northerners.