Logging communities in Canada range from remote woodlots to large pulp and paper and sawmill towns, which sustained unique settlement patterns and employment structures. Forestry based settlement on the east coast dates back to the 1700s. British Columbia, by contrast, is still harvesting first growth forests. Also by way of contrast, in BC the forestry industry has been largely government owned and administered, whereas in New Brunswick it developed on private, smaller scale woodlots.
While a significant resource on both coasts, the forestry industry also contributed to economic instability. Weather conditions and commercial market fluctuation led to wide fluctuations in the demand for and price of lumber and wood products. Employment was also often dependent on seasonal or contract work. The employment span in pulp mill towns could be longer than in sawmill towns, meaning the labour force in sawmill towns was often comparatively transient, and much like boom-and-bust mining towns, the infrastructure reflected this.
Logging and mill communities developed distinctly, with logging starting in many areas as a winter occupation when the sap was not running and labour was cheaper. Mill towns were located strategically so that the process of getting from woodlots to the mill and from mill to market was economical – usually both water and rail transportation was used, often determining location.
The economic reality of remote logging towns varied, but there were common hardships. Often wages were paid not in money, but in tokens or vouchers that could only be exchanged at the company store. Up to 90% of the value of these vouchers was lost if used to buy goods elsewhere, leading to a relatively closed economic system which didn’t always lead to investment in community infrastructure.
The decline of the forestry industry has come in part from the reduced use of newsprint, increased competition from developing countries (central and south America, for example), the decline in use of wood in construction industry, as well as devestation caused by the pine beetle in BC and Alberta.
Many single-industry towns have struggled to identify new economic drivers, or have turned to diversified forestry products within the non-timber economy: a focus on value-added forestry, community forests, bioenergy or biofuels, and non-timber foraged products such as berries or mushrooms.