By Robin MacLennan
Ontario Construction News staff reporter
Revisions to Canadian building codes that allow taller wood-framed structures are good news for Northern Ontario’s forest industry.
The design possibilities, aesthetics and green values behind the mass-timber construction movement have architects, engineers and builders in Canada’s largest housing market increasingly considering wood structures, according to Christine Leduc, public affairs director for EACOM Timber. “Timber is making a comeback, and it’s coming to Toronto.”
Leduc was one of the three speakers on a panel discussing future regional growth industries at the Northern Policy Institute’s State of the North conference in Sault Ste. Marie, Sept. 26.
The Montreal-based sawmilling giant has six operations in Northern Ontario, including its engineered I-joist mill in the Sault.
With lumber prices crashing and producers being severely impacted by US softwood lumber tariffs, mass-timber construction projects in the Greater Toronto Area represent an exciting prospect for companies like EACOM, she said.
Mass-timber construction uses glued lumber to form panels, beams and columns that can be used for tall wood structures like high-rises.
The Ontario government unveiled a new provincial building code in 2015, allowing wood-framed buildings to go from four to six storeys – a formative step enabling the industry to move beyond single-family home construction.
Leduc said industry research shows mass timber systems are just as structurally strong and safe as steel and concrete structures.
British Columbia is Canada’s leader in this construction category with the 18-storey Brock Commons demonstration project in Vancouver, a 404-bed University of British Columbia residence building.
However, tall wood is coming to Toronto with The Arbour, a 10-storey mass timber building for George Brown College’s waterfront campus. Construction gets underway in 2021. A 14-storey academic building is also planned for the University of Toronto.
The Ontario government is investing close to $5 million in the province’s first automated cross-laminated timber plant in St. Thomas, creating 60 manufacturing jobs. A $2-million grant was also awarded for the project by the Centre for Research and Innovation in the Bioeconomy, a Thunder Bay-based forestry research group.
Patrick Chouinard, a co-founder of Element5, the operators of a proposed $32-million facility in St. Thomas, said the fibre sourced for their operation will come from the White River area.
Element5 is a Toronto and Montreal-based design, engineering and fabrication group specializing in mass timber buildings. Their main product, CLT, is a wood panel made from gluing sawn lumber together. It’s used in ceilings, walls and roof structures.
The company is positioning itself to be on the forefront of the North American wood high-rise construction movement, targeting markets in Eastern Canada and the U.S. with a range of products for use in wood-framed buildings.
The St. Thomas location is roughly an hour-and-half drive from the Windsor-Detroit border and about two hours from the bridge to Buffalo.
Chouinard’s firm also operates a CLT plant in Ripon, Que. that is being expanded with a new building and equipment toward producing 10,000 cubic metres of CLT and Glulam (glue laminated timber).
The St. Thomas plant will use mostly 2-by-6 SPF lumber coming largely from mills near the north shore of Lake Superior.
Ground hasn’t been broken yet, but Chouinard said operation should begin by December 2020.
The finished product will be CLT panels; Glulam, used for columns and beams; and nailed laminated timber (NLT), used for floors and roofs.
Initially, production capacity at St. Thomas will be 45,000 cubic metres each year. The company bought 20 acres in the north end of the St. Thomas for the facility, with the option of buying an additional 20.
A rail spur runs onto the property and Highway 401 is close, providing flexibility for receiving and shipping product by both rail and truck across the central and eastern seaboard of the US.
Leduc says she hopes that the interest in wood construction drives interest and creates a connection between southern Ontario urban dwellers and the Northern communities that depend on forestry for their livelihood.