Three Northwestern Ontario First Nations formally marked their $4-million stake in Hornepayne’s resurrected lumber mill on Wednesday, calling the move “ground-breaking” and a model for future Indigenous business partnerships.
“This is about creating resources to invest back in the healing of our people and to create opportunities for our people to live a good life,” Netamisakomik Anishinabek (Pic Mobert First Nation) Chief Johanna Desmoulin said following a ceremony at the mill.
Hornepayne Lumber went into production in January, about two years after former long-time operator Haavaldsrud Timber went out of business.
Pic Mobert, along with the Chapleau Cree and Missanabie First Nations, are also partners in Hornepayne Power - a resurrected cogeneration plant that burns wood waste to provide the mill with steam heat for drying lumber.
The mill and cogen plant have 90 and 17 employees respectively.
Veteran forestry executive Frank Dottori, who is president of both Hornepayne companies, said the $4 million will be used to make various equipment improvements that will include the cogen’s water treatment system and upgrades inside the mill.
Dottori said the upgrades “will make us more competitive, and thereby ensure a more stable future.”
Pic Mobert is also a partner in White River’s sawmill, which Dottori also heads.
Dottori said the partnership-based business model that breathed new life into White River’s shuttered mill should also work in Hornepayne.
“This model can be replicated in other communities with First Nations as an important community development catalyst,” said David Flood, president of the consortium of the three First Nations that invested in the Hornepayne operations.
“This is what full participation can look like.”
Before Haavaldsrud went out of business, it received millions of dollars in provincial loans and loan guarantees to help it stay afloat.
The province also invested heavily in the cogen, which supplied power to the provincial grid.
The cogen closed down after a former operator could not come to an agreement with the government on what it should be paid for the electricity it supplied to the provincial power grid.
Hornepayne Mayor Morley Forster, who attended Wednesday’s ceremony, called the mill’s partnership with the First Nations “a step in the right direction” after a “dismal” two years.
Forster said the town is looking forward to the possibility that the lumber mill may add additional shifts creating a demand for housing “and more tax revenue for our municipality.”
The town is not a direct partner in the mill or cogen, but does support the operation in other ways, such as allowing the mill to harvest trees on municipal property, Forster said.