Deck: West Fraser Mills celebrates 60 years

Chet Chit-Chat

What a great day to celebrate history! 

Sixty years ago, the Ketchum brothers started West Fraser Mills. On Nov. 28, 1955, the temperature in Quesnel was a cloudy and foggy -1 C. Chetwynd, known then as Little Prairie, was just starting to set down its roots.

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Twenty-four years later, in 1979, the brothers decided to expand the company, and purchased a local mill originally started in the early 1970s by Lorne Dalke, Frank Oberle and Tom Wilson, known locally as Chetwynd Forest Industries (CFI). In addition, they purchased land from BC Rail and 15 acres from Charlie and Edie Lasser for a spur line for loading cars.

With the additional space, they were able to purchase and relocate the mill from Dawson Creek to Chetwynd for their expanded operations.

Thirty-six years ago, the Nov. 28 temperature in Quesnel was -13.8 C while in Chetwynd it was -3.5.

In celebrating 36 years in operation in Chetwynd last month, company representatives enjoyed a balmy Nov. 28 temperature of 6 C while Quesnel was 3 C with fog in the forecast. Approximately 1,000 local residents joined the anniversary celebrations, which included a free lunch of hot dogs, hamburgers, salads, beverages, and historical displays. This fantastic display portrayed the company’s growth and diversification into retail markets, investment in its employees, operations, reforestation efforts and the communities in which it does business. 

Ray Ferris, vice-president woodlands products of the Quesnel branch, commented, “The company is very proud of their success, growing and prospering from one small mill in Quesnel to a major corporation doing business in many communities.”

Ferris stressed the importance of the relationship between the company and its employees, and how supporting the employees’ personal development benefited the company in kind. A strong bond of loyalty exists between the company and the communities in which they have invested, he said.

He also expressed the future importance of the company and the industry’s investment in reforestation to ensure a long-term supply of timber to sustain the industry.

In 1973, Cutting Permit #1 was logged. In 1975, the area was planted with spruce, five years after the first manual tree planting was started in B.C. The picture above is a prime example of tree slabs harvested from that first cut. The photos portray the difference between trees grown from seed dependent on nature, versus manually planted seedlings in reforested areas. The slabs are both 40 years old. It is clear that corporate investment in reforestation is imperative.

Todd Vader, general mill manager, said he was proud to be part of the team, and supported the company’s philosophy to support and encourage personal development of its employees, corporate investment and participation within the communities where they do business.

The company is very proud of its overall investments in Chetwynd. In the last four years, it has invested more than $130 million in the industry, including the start-up of the new Chetwynd ORC (Organic Ranking Cycle) plant.

“The company is continually investing back into their operations to ensure the mills are operated and managed efficiently and that as much of the resource material is utilized as possible,” Ferris said.

Overall, the folks of Chetwynd had a pleasant afternoon enjoying a great lunch, gathering information and a good visit with company representatives.

Congratulations to the West Fraser Corporation for 60 years of success in business, and 36 years investing in Chetwynd.

With the company’s investments in Chetwynd Forest Industries and the new ORC, we look forward to decades more of a wonderful community partnership!


Betty Deck lives in Jackfish Lake and owns Memory Lane Greenhouses. If you have a Chetwynd story to share, email her at

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