“I was always out there,” Allen Macsemchuk says of growing up in the bush. “I finished high school, and I’ve been working in the forest ever since.” A third-generation logging contractor, Allen spent his childhood in the bush; camping, fishing, hunting grouse and learning the family business as he grew. Today he’s a supervisor running bush operations at Firesteel Contracting, a logging business in O’ Connor Township founded by his grandfather 45 years ago and still, in spite of an industry slump of a decade and a half, wholly owned by family.
Allen lives with his wife and two young sons in Conmee, a neighbouring township, along with ten or fifteen of the other people employed by Firesteel. The family business took a big hit during the slump – they had to cut back to 15 staff at one point, leaving many of Allen’s neighbours without their primary source of income – but, as Allen says, “there’s light at the end of the tunnel!”
Five months ago the demand for raw lumber started to rise again. Today Firesteel is operating at capacity, with the largest number of staff they’ve ever had working at one time. Forty-two staff members – including 35 loggers working in the field – are now employed full-time at Firesteel to help fill orders for the local Resolute saw and paper mills.
Despite feeling cautiously optimistic about the future of his family business, Allen stays realistic about the bumpy road ahead. “Even just four or five hours down the highway, guys’ livelihoods are in trouble,” he says of mill shut-downs in other communities in the region. “The less wood they need at the mill, the less loads we bring them. The less loads, the less bush jobs. The less bush jobs there are, the more of us are out of work.”
Like most people in Northwestern Ontario, Allen’s familiar with negative propaganda surrounding the forestry industry, but says there is a real commitment to sustainability and that he and his crew see tree-planters out on the cuts all the time replanting. “It’s not a bad thing, what we’re doing,” he says. “A lot of what we’re cutting is full of blow-down and rotted wood. It’s a fact that trees don’t last forever, and this lets us clean it out and start fresh.”