The region's lumber industry continued to grow during this period, which was also marked by the closure of some sawmills and the sale of others to larger companies.

Towards the late 60s and early 70s, circular saws in sawmills were replaced by ribbon saws to reduce waste and increase production. To guarantee their new mill's profit, entrepreneurs had to increase their short and long term timber supply. Selin's closure let other companies obtain logging rights in private townships owned by Transcontinental Timber (these private townships were sold to Domtar in 1976).

A turning point occurred when the MPP for Cochrane-North, René Brunelle, became Minister of Lands and Forests in 1971. Mr. Brunelle allowed holders of logging licences on Crown lands to increase their harvest by 10 000 cords. 

It was also in the early 1970s that companies started installing dry kilns for their lumber. This development followed incidents in 1971 where lumber shipped by local mills was returned from the United States because it was infested with worms (the wood came from trees knocked down by a hurricane in 1968 north of Fushimi Lake Provincial Park). Roland Cloutier, a United Sawmill partner at the time, explains:

“The only way to kill worms is to dry the lumber. From there (this incident), the first dry kiln was bought” (Excerpt from an interview with Roland Cloutier, July 2005).

The drying of lumber was required in the United States because it also reduced torsion in wood. Following the installation of dry kilns, sawmills from the region and elsewhere began exporting more wood to the United States. In order to protect their producers, American authorities increased custom duties on Canadian lumber. It is the beginning of a commercial war that would last several decades.

Meanwhile, working conditions continued to evolve. Unionization was established permanently in all lumber enterprises and a few strikes occurred during this period. Like mill workers, forest workers left camps to live with their families. Forest work was increasingly bestowed upon contractors and many workers became owners of their equipment. 

In 1974, Newaygo Timber, a pulpwood company, undertook the construction of a modern, $5 million sawmill in Mead. Exploitation took place in the company's private townships where it had harvested pulpwood since the 1920s for its paper mill in the U.S. The shutting down of this paper mill incited the company to build a sawmill rather than end its operations in the region. 

For other lumbermen, wood supply was a major preoccupation in the 1970s. For example, in 1974, Levesque Lumber bought out logging concessions belonging to Spruce Dale Lumber, owned by the Christianson family of Mattice. Their mill was closing after only three years of operation.

The Hearst Lumbermen Association continued to put pressure on the government in hopes of obtaining larger logging territories for companies. The long term survival of the industry and of the town of Hearst were at stake.

An epic battle was fought over logging rights along the Hornepayne road. The Ontario Paper Company was then the holder of these logging rights. However, the Hearst Lumbermen Association contended that the forests in question contained a large amount of jackpine, a type of tree not used by Ontario Paper for pulpwood. After years of lobbying, the Minister of Natural Resources, Leo Bernier, finally granted four and a half townships to local entrepreneurs. Local bosses claimed that without the granting of these logging rights, the industry and the town of Hearst could not have survived.

In the early 80s, with the help of Minister of Natural Resources Alan Pope, the Hearst Lumbermen Association concluded third party agreements with Kapuskasing's Spruce Falls and Longlac’s Kimberly Clark to allow lumber enterprises to pay to harvest timber on their territories. Pulpwood companies had a reduced need in timber since sawmills were able to feed them wood chips. 

In 1980, the BioShell factory was built in Hearst. The factory, owned by Shell International, was the first in Canada to compress residues from sawmills into wood fiber bricks usable as industrial fuel. Sawmills thus had a way to get rid of bark and wood residues hitherto destined to burners. Beforehand, lumbermen had considered the construction of a power plant using those residues.

The early 1980s was marked by the consolidation of enterprises. Partners of United Sawmill, who were doing business separately, united to operate under the lone name of United Sawmill Ltd. In 1982, Lecours Lumber bought out Gosselin Lumber along with its 32,000 cords logging licence for $3.5 million. In 1984, plagued by various problems, the Newaygo sawmill was forced to close down.

Later on, difficult negotiations began between lumber enterprises and the Ministry of Natural Resources in order to create an agreement governing the management of the forest surrounding Hearst (Forest Management Agreement, or FMA). Such agreements already existed elsewhere in the province and were aimed at coordinating the harvesting and regeneration of the forest. Despite Levesque Lumber's refusal to join in, the agreement (Hearst Forest Management Agreement) was signed in 1985 by Lecours Lumber Co. Ltd. and United Sawmill Ltd. In order to ratify the agreement, these two companies requested that three townships north and two townships west of Opasatika be added to the Hearst forest. In accordance with the agreement, companies' logging licences fell under the jurisdiction of the Hearst FMA and were redistributed to the companies. Roland Cloutier became the Hearst FMA’s first manager. After retiring, he was succeeded by Denis Cheff, Hearst FMA’s current manager.

The early 1990s are marked by the end of local ownership of local sawmills.

In 1989, United Sawmill Ltd. shareholders decided to sell the company to Malette Inc. of Timmins. 

Forced to harvest timber from the Caithness Township that had been ravaged by spruce bud worm in the 1980s, combined with a reduction in lumber and wood chip markets, Levesque Lumber suffered serious financial hardships and closed down in 1992, bringing about the loss of 400 jobs. Its 58,000-cord Crown lands logging licence was split between the Malette-United and Lecours Lumber Co. Ltd. sawmills. 

In 1994, Tembec bought the Malette company. Shortly afterwards, Levesque Plywood was sold to Columbia Forest Products, an American company.

In 2006, Lecours Lumber Co. Ltd. is the last remaining large independent sawmill in Ontario. It constitutes the last stand of local entrepreneurs who established the regional lumber industry.

 


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