Domtar’s Windsor Paper Mill continues to support the local community with new innovation making this the intersection of tech and forestry

This year, millions of Canadians celebrated the country’s sesquicentennial, that is, the country’s 150th anniversary. That means the Confederation that unified modern-day Canada happened way back in 1867.

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The entrance to Domtar’s Windsor Paper Mill in Windsor, Canada.

What you may find surprising, is that a paper mill has been running in the Canadian town of Windsor, Quebec since before that. In fact, paper production has been a part of this area’s history since 1864.

Located in the Eastern Townships Region, Windsor boasts Canada’s first chemical pulp facility. But don’t let its extensive history fool you – today’s Windsor Paper Mill (located upriver from the original site) is anything but antiquated.

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Landscape of the Stoke mountain range, which Domtar has managed for over 150 years.

I recently got to visit this cutting edge facility and witnessed the intersection of technology and forestry for myself. Whereas the majority of the forests that Domtar sources from are controlled by outside parties, the company actually owns nearly 400,000 acres of land around the Windsor Paper Mill.

This ownership gives the site’s foresters greater control over management of the land – making this 100% certified to third-party forest management standards. The standards ensure great attention is paid to the current needs for forest products without compromising the future health of the forests.

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Photo of responsibly managed Domtar forestland that supplies the Windsor mill.

Even so, Domtar-owned lands make up a small portion of the mill’s wood fiber supply. That means collaboration with the over 10,000 local landowners is a must. Luckily, the Windsor Paper Mill has great relationships in the Eastern Townships, due to the ongoing commitment to sustainability.

One way they do this is by leading a regional working group, educating small woodlot owners about managing their lands to create resilient forests, despite risks like invasive species and a changing climate.

As a result of these efforts, the Windsor Paper Mill’s wood supply from local landowners has recently increased by 25%, generating higher income for these individuals. Due to these responsible forestry practices, there are actually more forests in the region today than there were a century ago.

In walking through the forest, I had the chance to view how the mill sort through the different types of wood grown from the land. In other words, trees are not just cut down indiscriminately for making Domtar’s products, which generally use only the lowest value fiber.

Rather, great care is put into allocating trees to their highest and best use:

  1.  Very high quality – used for products like veneer
  2.  High Quality – used for hardwood lumber
  3.  Average quality – seen in things like wood pallets
  4.  Pulpwood quality – the material used to make pulp and paper

Wood is carefully stacked by value, with only the lowest quality used for pulp and paper products.

I also saw how every part of the tree is used, as well as the closed-loop efficiency the mill employs. For example, the different products listed above make their way to different local sawmills, which in turn supply the Windsor Paper Mill with wood chips and bark for the pulping process and cogeneration of steam and electricity.

After the production of pulp and paper, even the mill’s manufacturing byproducts, like ash and lime, are used with little waste left. These nutrient-rich materials are applied to the same forests the trees were harvested from as soil amendments, fertilizing the ground and helping grow future generations of Maple and Poplar trees.

Another misconception that many people have is around the harvest itself. I would wager that when asked, most people still envision relatively low-tech means of harvesting timber. You know, the iconic lumberjack decked in plaid, harvesting the trees with his trusty ax or chainsaw.

Not the inside of a cockpit, but rather modern, GPS-driven harvesting equipment.

Modern forestry requires precision, and remains a far cry from this this Paul Bunyan figure. GPS-guided equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, decked out with enough electronics and touchscreens to rival an airplane cockpit, is used to ensure harvesting is done accurately and with minimal impact.

You can view a video of just how precise the harvesting is at Windsor Paper Mill (hint: it can be done within a few inches) here.

Finally, after visiting the woods, I got to see first-hand the mill’s connection to the local community during a stop at an ancient local landmark. Completed in 1893, the McVetty McKenzie covered bridge was a key structure in the early days of settlement by Scottish immigrants in this part of Quebec. Unfortunately, years of neglect left the bridge in shambles by 1980.

Years later, in preparation for the bridge’s centennial, the township reached out to local companies, including Domtar, to help restore the bridge to its former glory. The company was happy to help out, donating wood from the region to rebuild the structure so that future generations could appreciate its history.

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The McVetty McKenzie covered bridge was originally constructed in 1893.

Sign acknowledging Domtar’s donation of wood to help with reconstruction of the covered bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forestry has been a part of this area for over a century. This trip illustrated how, with the assistance of modern technology, it can continue to be present for centuries to come. That’s the true meaning of sustainability.