ASSIGNMENT 8: PORT ALBERNI AND THE FOREST SECTOR
This week’s assignment will be structured around the online readings assigned for this week, which focus on British Columbia’s forestry sector and the town of Port Alberni.
British Columbia’s forest resources were a significant draw for early European settlers. The large, centuries old trees on the coast were more valuable than any other softwood on the planet while they lasted. In the early days of the sector, logging and milling was concentrated on the coast, most notably on Vancouver Island and around Burrard Inlet in the Lower Mainland. Water routes were needed to transport the large logs from the extraction site to the mills and finally to buyers. With the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway, an alternate means of transportation was realized, which allowed new areas to be opened up for logging and for wood to be transported east more easily to burgeoning markets on the prairies. The completion of the Panama Canal in 1914 led to massive exports of BC forest products as it made east coast markets much more accessible. However, it was in the late 1940s that the real boom period began. Interior forests began to be exploited to a greater degree as new logging roads and sawmills were developed throughout the province. By the mid-1970s, however, things shifted and the once prosperous industry slid into a period of uncertainty, downsizing, and job losses has been the norm for much of the last four decades.
Hardest hit by this decline have been the province’s many single-industry forestry towns. Port Alberni is a classic example of a British Columbian single-industry resource town. It was, in fact, one of the earliest single-industry forestry towns to develop in the province with sawmilling operations established in 1861. The town grew rapidly at the beginning of the 20th century, with an additional sawmill, plywood, cedar shingle, and pulp production added to the original sawmilling operations by the mid-1940s. In 1951, all of these operations came under control of one company, MacMillan Bloedel, who added newsprint and paperboard operations to the production complex. By 1960 Port Alberni was one of the largest most diversified sites for wood processing in the province. Population soared, incomes were high, and the town prospered. That began to change, however, in the early 1980s. Mills began to close, people lost their jobs and their livelihoods, population declined and social problems became more prevalent.
This assignment focuses on understanding the development of the BC forest sector and its implications for single-industry resource communities by exploring the case of Port Alberni.
To do well on this assignment, you will need to first complete the readings assigned for this week. I would suggest reading them in the following order:
1. Ben Parfitt (1998). A tale of two forest cities. In, Forest Follies: Adventures and Misadventures in the Great Canadian Forest. Harbour Publishing: Madeira Park, BC (Read pages: 66 to 76, 82-83, 3rd paragraph on p.90 to 103)
2. Trevor Barnes, Roger Hayter and Elizabeth Hay (2001). Stormy weather: cyclones, Harold Innis, and Port Alberni, BC. Environment and Planning A 33 (Read the section entitled ‘Port Alberni and forestry in British Columbia,’ pages: 2135 to 2144)
3. Ben Parfitt (2017). The great log export drain. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (Read both parts).
Once you have completed the readings, answer the following questions:
- During the Long Boom period, Port Alberni was an incredibly successful single-industry resource town. Barnes, Hayter and Hay (2001) recognize three sets of institutions important to the success of this period. Provide a summary of each. /12
- Why do Barnes, Hayter and Hay (2001) suggest the success of Port Alberni began to unravel in the mid-1970s? /4
- Why was 1991-1992 a devastating year for the local economy in Port Alberni? /1
- Land ownership is one of the key areas of difference between the forest sectors in British Columbia and Alabama. Describe land ownership in British Columbia. What advantage does this give the government and people of British Columbia? /2
- Parfitt (1998) notes that the oligopolistic nature of the BC forest sector is an impediment to economic diversification and community stability. Why? /2
- Although forests are a renewable resource, Parfitt (1998) suggests that the popular 1990s forest sector slogan, “forests forever” rings hollow in the British Columbia case. Why? /2
- Why are so many raw logs being exported from coastal BC rather than processed in domestic mills?
- What is the relationship between sawmill closures and raw log exports? /1
- Why should we be concerned about raw log exports? /1
- Why has it historically made economic sense to co-locate sawmills and pulp and paper mills? With sawmills closing, where are BC’s pulp and paper mills sourcing their wood? /2
- 2003 marks an important turning point for BC’s forest sector. Why? /3