Since 1951, Gorman Bros. Lumber, the founding company of the Gorman Group, with headquarters in West Kelowna, B.C., has been recognized for the highest quality lumber products, responsible forest management, and connection with community.
The winter of 1949-50 was unusually bitter in British Columbia’s fertile Okanagan Valley, one of Canada’s main apple-producing areas—so harsh that orchards, including those owned by the Gorman family, were frozen.
Looking for alternative ways to support their families after losing their crop, the Gorman brothers, John and Ross, along with their wives Edith and Eunice, began building and selling wooden fruit boxes, using trim ends they purchased from nearby sawmills and working out of a shed on their property.
In 1953 they set up their own small sawmill, with the first at Dobbin Mountain and then another behind Last Mountain, and launched Gorman Bros. Lumber. In 2017, recalling those early years, Ross Gorman wrote in Timeline Stories, “The logging was done by horse. We stayed at the camp because at that time it was too far to drive back and forth. There was no such thing as four-wheel drive, and the roads weren’t snow plowed as they are today.”
Much has happened since those days when Edith and Eunice supplied their husbands and the other camp workers with home baked bread and pies, and Eunice took care of the bookkeeping.
The Gorman Group
Today, the Gorman Group, created in 2008 after the John Gorman family sold their shares to the Ross Gorman family, is led by CEO Nick Arkle, Ross and Eunice Gorman’s son-in-law. The company directly employs 1,000 people, and also works with independent contractors.
High-value products from the Gorman Group are marketed and sold in 30 countries worldwide, including Canada, the U.S., Mexico, China, Japan, India, a number of Middle Eastern countries, several North African countries, and the UK.
In addition to the Gorman Bros. Lumber Company, which produces high-quality finishing boards made from white wood, mainly Lodgepole pine and spruce, the Gorman Group includes other wood product companies which the Gormans either established or acquired. Among them are Oroville Bin & Pallet; Lumby Pole Division (for cedar utility poles and Douglas Fir pilings); Downie Timber (for Douglas Fir, cedar and Western Hemlock specialty lumber); Selkirk Specialty Wood (providing cedar and hemlock boards); and Canoe Forest Products (offering plywood).
But no matter how many expansions or acquisitions have been made, the foundation of the Gorman Group remains the same: to get the highest value product out of each log that comes into the facility, and to let nothing be wasted.
Wanting to learn more, we recently enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation with two long-time employees, Randy Hardy, a Registered Professional Forester (RPF), who works as a Planning Forester and Certification Coordinator for the Gorman Group; and Matt Scott, RPF, grandson of Ross and Eunice Gorman who also works as a Planning Forester with a focus on Indigenous relations and sustainable forest management.
Both men have fond memories of the Gormans, their humbleness, their work ethic, and their values. Hardy, who’s from Alberta and has been with the company for 30 years, told us that, “Ross Gorman envisioned a company where people stayed long-term because it would provide a really good working environment and a place where people could support their families.”
Scott, who grew up in Vancouver, recalls his grandfather as being “a very humble man, with no formal post-secondary education, who had been a farmer and then went into this business. He was a hard worker, worked until the day he went into the hospital at age 94. Right up to the end he was always concerned that the value of the wood was being maximized and nothing was wasted.” He also has fond memories of his grandmother, who worked alongside her husband, and who passed away a year ago at the age of 100.
Forest management—working with First Nations Elders
The Gorman Group operates in the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Secwepemc, Sylix/Okanagan and K’tunaxa peoples. Scott says right from the beginning his grandfather wanted to work with First Nations people. He told them, “We’re all here for the long run, so we need to figure out how to work together.” That sort of approach has led to a variety of business arrangements with several Bands, all built on a strong land ethic and mutual respect.
This relationship, he says, has evolved significantly over time. Whereas in the beginning the discussion with First Nations was only about where the company wanted to log, now the approach is to involve First Nations in the entire process, where they are active in planning, processing, harvesting and reforestation to make sure all the values of the forest are accounted for.
“We work with the Traditional Ecological Knowledge Keepers (TEKK), the Elders in the community who have historical knowledge of how to manage the forest that has been here for thousands of years, so we are incorporating that knowledge into our practices as we work with them as consultants,” explains Scott.
The Gorman Group also employs silviculture specialists, who prepare the sites for planting and who ensure that when the land is turned back to the province all legal obligations are met. Hardy noted that the company is also working with First Nations and other agencies on several ecological issues, including forest fire prevention, a research project on mule deer, and another project to enhance endangered caribou herds around the Revelstoke area.
The Gorman edge in quality
Each of the mills in the Gorman Group makes different products, Hardy explains, “so we focus on getting the right log to the right mill, just so we can utilize that log to its fullest potential. We have highly skilled, trained loggers who make sure that each tree they cut will be a fit with our products, and then send it to the facility that will get the best return on that log.”
The Gorman Group also partners with other companies who may be able to use a log that is not of suitable quality for a finished board but is still structurally sound, so that it can be used behind a wall as a 2 x 4 while retaining the finer logs for “appearance grade” products. No part of the log is wasted.
Over the 30 years Hardy has worked at Gorman, he says the company has continually upgraded its processing facilities to ensure they are state-of-the art and positioned to get the best recovery.
After the logs have been sorted, scanned and ‘squared up’, and approved for boards, they move to the technologically advanced Thin Kerf Edger, which has a series of extremely thin side-by-side saw blades that rip them into boards, thereby reducing the amount of loss of fibre as sawdust. Then a molder, designed for fine finish work, creates the furniture finish, splinter-free edge for which Gorman boards are known. Next, a Bioluma Grade Scanner looks for geometric shape analysis to ensure accurate grade sorting so that the boards can be rerouted to different finishing centres.
Finally, Gorman boards move to the drying kilns, which use a low temperature and a slow drying schedule to produce a more stable board than those dried in the industry standard high-temperature, fast-drying kilns. This process reduces warping and meets International Heat Treatment Standards.
All Gorman boards are then carefully graded to ensure builders are getting the right board for the project, and all are graded above NLGA and WWPA standards.
While the lumber industry, in general, is dealing with a reduced fibre supply, the Gorman Group respects the forest and the trees that are harvested by ensuring every part of the tree is used. For example, trims from finished lumber are collected to be manufactured into finger-jointed boards. Trim ends from cedar, in addition to being used for finger-jointed boards, are used to build planter boxes and raised garden beds, while narrow cedar boards have found a market in the culinary industry for planked salmon.
To further avoid waste, wood chips are used as raw material to produce pulp and paper, shavings and sawdust are used as animal bedding and as biofuel when converted into wood pellets, and the bark is used for landscaping or as renewable biomass energy.
Overall, the forest industry, which contributes $13 billion to the B.C. economy, provides 100,000 jobs, annually plants 300 million trees, and has managed to reduce 40 percent of industry-related emissions, is facing huge challenges.
Wildfires are an ongoing issue for all logging companies. While we were speaking with Hardy and Scott, a fire just southwest of Penticton was burning partly in the Gorman Group’s operating area, and last year the company was impacted by fires in the Shuswap.
“After a fire comes through, we focus on burnt timber, rather than on harvesting green timber,” Scott said. “Trees still have a shelf life while standing dead, particularly Douglas Fir, because it has a thick bark to protect the wood inside from the fire. By harvesting those, we can replant and get the forest growing again,” he shares.
“The forest industry in B.C. is facing big challenges,” he continues. “There are wildfires, there’s a reduction in fibre supply, and there’s climate change, so there are a lot of challenges for us. However, we look forward to developing new products and producing optimal value from what we do harvest. We want to keep everyone working, and we want to adapt to the changing environment. That is the future for us.”