Building with wood – especially mass timber products such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) – “is taking off” in Ontario and it is a reason a group of southern Ontario architects, engineers and building union leaders toured forestry and mill operations in Timmins recently.
“We’re starting to see architects, engineers and governments at all levels around the world recognizing the benefits of building with wood,” says Scott Jackson, director of indigenous and stakeholder relations, Forests Ontario, which helped organize the tour that included a visit to EACOM, which at 100 years of age is the region’s oldest and sawmill.
Jackson sees “a tremendous opportunity in Ontario to provide the resources – the wood products – to promote and sustain mass timber building in Ontario and Canada.”
One of the participants on the tour was David Moses, principal of Toronto-based Moses Structural Engineers, a supporter of the mass timber building sector movement.
He says strategic investments by government into CLT timber manufacturers such as Element5 are smart because of the growing demand for buildings made of mass timber which has typically been imported to Ontario.
Last month the provincial government announced an investment of close to $5 million towards Element5’s $32 million CLT facility in St. Thomas, Ont. It will be one of the North America’s first fully automated plants.
When Ontario mills are “tooled to supply” the lumber required for products such as CLT used in the fledgling mass timber building sector, “it closes the loop on supply and demand in the province,” Moses says.
CLT is usually comprised of commodity two by fours made of spruce, pine and fir, says Jackson.
Moses says that while attention is on Element5’s decision to locate a manufacturing plant in southern Ontario, northern Ontario mills are instrumental in providing lumber supplies for the finished products made by plants like it. Element5’s plant “will hopefully put the importance of the northern forest sector to the top of mind of our politicians and Ontarians.”
Making the connection between the north and the south working together could spur other manufacturers to follow in Element5’s footsteps, he says.
“The question to government will be: ‘What needs to be done to ensure that the economics of sustainably harvesting Ontario’s forests is competitive to feed these new manufacturers?’”
Professionals from Moses Structural, EllisDon, Simpson Strong-Tie, Moriyama & Teshima Architects, Carpenters Local 27, studioCANOO Architecture Inc., and Moote Architect were on the tour. They began the day observing active logging operations and regenerated sites.
Jackson says the forest and mill operations tour in Timmins was part of the Forests Ontario’s It Takes a Forest awareness initiative.
As the mass timber building sector grows, architects and engineers are asking questions about where the wood is from and if it is being produced “from a well-managed forest . . . a sustainable jurisdiction,” he says.
“The fact is if we get our wood from Ontario we have assurances it is coming from a sustainable jurisdiction.”
Jackson says that forest harvesting in Ontario “emulates natural disturbance patterns.”
The dominant disturbance agent is fire and looking at the fire history of a region helps the province determine what should be harvested and when.
“If you emulate those (natural disturbance patterns) than you are maintaining the ecosystem processes that should allow all flora and fauna to survive,” he adds.
Jackson says typically the rule of thumb is that for every tree harvested in Ontario, three are planted. “Not every tree is going to survive but where you do artificial regeneration you make sure to plant enough trees so that you have a healthy growing forest.”
The tour was sponsored by Forests Ontario, EACOM and Rayonier Advanced Materials.