Canfor mill sold to B.C. entrepreneur

From forestry to tech and trades

A year after it closed down, the Vavenby sawmill site has been sold.

The Times has learned that Canfor has sold 75 per cent of the land to Brian Fehr, founder and former chairman of The BID Group, a multinational corporation, and current chairman of the board for SmartLam North America, which produces mass timber products.

The other 25 per cent is said to have been purchased by Simpcw First Nation.

“It’s good,” said Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell. “Having seen Brian Fehr’s previous projects elsewhere, he does something with every one of these mill properties that he buys and these multi-company, multi-use industrial parks are exactly what we want to do.”

He added that having many, smaller businesses operating in the area helps to not only diversify the economy, but spreads out the workforce so it’s not all one big volatile industry.

Fehr has purchased the sites of numerous mills that have shut down, including Galloway Lumber in Cranbrook and a Canfor mill in Canal Flats. The latter is renowned as a “brave experiment.”

He purchased the Canfor properties in Canal Flats just a few years ago and transformed them into the Columbia Lake Technology Centre (CLTC), a “high-tech data hub,” which launched in 2018, shifting a town once reliant on forestry to one based in tech and trades.

The CLTC is a hub that houses “value-added” businesses, striving to support a diverse economy by bringing together a variety of manufacturing and technology-related companies, according to their website.

“I think we will be very happy with the sale if we can get something going on it,” said Carol Schaffer, TNRD director for Area A. “I think he’s (Fehr) very positive, so, that’s good for us.”

Crews are currently working to gut the mill in Vavenby, and it may be up to a year before it is known what will replace it. Besides the Vavenby mill, Canfor owns numerous other industrial sites throughout Clearwater, including space out by the eco depot and the Strawberry Flats. It is not known at this time what the company plans to do with those properties.

“There’s huge amounts of property here that has sat dormant,” said Blackwell. “It’s pretty much all our industrial land, so having this go forward at least gives us some hopes in rebuilding industrial life out here.”

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