The owners and employees of Harmac Pacific in Nanaimo are playing a critical role in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic with its special western red cedar pulp used to produce medical supplies.
“If you see a blue gown in a health facility, it came from us,” said Bryan Reid, Sr., of Williams Lake, who is one of the owners of Harmac.
“Our production right now at Harmac is around the clock, 24 hours a day, 300-plus workers … I think [the employees] are proud of what they’re doing. I know I’m proud of what they’re doing.”
Reid isn’t the only one to recognize the significance of the company’s efforts. Earlier this week, Harmac’s president Levi Sampson took a call of thanks from Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister and minister of intergovernmental affairs.
“She was impressed,” Reid said of the call from Freeland, adding that the minister expressed gratitude for the work which helps supply product for all of North America. “That is quite an acknowledgment.”
Reid said Harmac Pacific received a request two weeks ago to double their order of pulp from the company that uses their special recipe to make medical-grade masks and garments. He said they are expecting another call any day to triple it.
“There are people at the mill, employees that are concerned about their mom and dad (and not able to see them because of COVID-19) … but everybody is staying there to produce this pulp,” Reid said from his Pioneer Log Homes office in Williams Lake on Monday. “It’s job No. 1 right now. It’s the most important job in the world to us to produce this product so the end user can get these masks and gowns.”
The historic Harmac Pacific pulp mill was built by H.R. MacMillan in 1951.
Facing closure in 2008, the company was saved by a group of private Canadian investors for $30 million which included Reid, his brothers André and David, son Bryan Jr., Reid’s cousins Frank and Mike of FMI, and a handful of other investors such as Harmac president Levi Sampson and his father, Ed Sampson. As well, the deal saw mill employees buy a significant share of the company to secure everybody’s future.
“It was a very big decision for them, and it was a very, very big decision for us,” Reid said of the purchase.
“After we met some of the employees over the months (in 2008), you know they seemed just like Pioneer people. They wanted to work. They wanted to do what they do best. Make pulp, run a mill. It’s been very satisfying too because it keeps 300 people working. Not off shore, but right here in North America. The only people looking at it (to buy in 2008) were going to part it out and take it to Asia.”
The Harmac mill produces high-quality kraft pulps made from custom blends of Douglas fir, western hemlock, balsam fir, interior SPF and western red cedar. The pulp is sold in Asia, Europe, North America and Australia.
The pulp being used for the medical garments is solely made of western red cedar sourced from Alaska, B.C., Washington state and Oregon, identifiable with its long fibres.
Located on a deep water port in Nanaimo, the mill is well-suited for cost-effective export of pulp and receipt of raw materials such as the wood fibre.
When asked if he ever would have thought Harmac Pacific would play a critical role in fighting a global pandemic, Reid said, no, not a pandemic, but yes in terms of manufacturing.
“We’ve imagined that we would play a role in keeping manufacturing in North America, but I think now is when it counts. [When we considered buying Harmac] we didn’t want the jobs to go to Asia. We wanted them to stay right here in B.C. You know, those are good paying jobs. Those are jobs where people can buy a new car, send their kids to college … it’s some of the highest-paid tradesmen in British Columbia,” Reid said, noting the COVID-19 pandemic is an example of why countries such as Canada and the U.S. have to keep their manufacturing at home.
“I think it’s going to teach us all what we did at Harmac, to try and keep some manufacturing in North America and when it becomes a crisis you know you can only count on your own backyard. What are we going to wait for a ship to come from China with our Tylenol? I mean, that’s terrible. What if they don’t get out of port or what if they all get a disease .. it’s too fragile. The supply chain is too fragile. We have to keep it here and keep these good-paying jobs. It’s a hard way to learn it but it is the way it is…
“If you want to buy knick-knacks from China that’s fine, but the nuts and bolts of life, we better keep it here.”
Reid, who is also recognized from his time on the HGTV show Timber Kings, is one of six who sits on the board of directors for Harmac, guiding them through business decisions. The COVID-19 pandemic is like nothing we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes, he said.
“History is being written as we speak,” Reid said. “We’re writing the manual.”
Reid also stressed how proud he is of the staff at Harmac “from the janitors to the tradesmen, to the management — the whole group.”