Over 85 Years of Wood Products Research
The date is Friday, December 13, 1915.
Time -- 12 noon.
Place -- 700 University Street, McGill University Campus, Montreal,
The occasion -- a ceremony, attended by the Honourable W.J. Roche,
Minister of the Interior, to mark the official opening of the first
Canadian Forest Products Laboratory.
The idea of establishing a facility for forest products research
was accepted in 1913 by the Honourable W.J. Roche, Minister responsible
for the Department of the Interior, Canada. Later that year, A.G.
McIntyre was appointed superintendent of the Forest Products
Laboratories. In 1914, temporary quarters were set up at McGill
University in Montreal, with an advisory committee and six technical
staff appointments. Although it was a year of preparation, documentation
and planning, three publications were prepared and research testing
began towards the end of the year.
The inauguration of the Forest Products Laboratory at McGill University
established a unique pattern of government, university and industry
co-operation and partnership that is still ongoing today. Some issues
at the time are still faced by today’s wood sector—the areas for
investigation recommended in the year 1913 Report of the Director
of Forestry were timber physics, timber tests, wood preservation,
wood distillation, and pulp and paper.
establishment of a Forest Products Laboratory in Vancouver in 1918
marked the beginning of forest products research in Western Canada.
Although the 1925-26 Annual Report of the Director of Forestry would
later point out that the reason for the establishment of a research
facility in Vancouver was to "deal with problems of wood utilisation
in Western Canada which require local treatment or which cannot
be dealt with to advantage in the Montreal Laboratory on account
of the great intervening distance and consequent high transportation
costs on test material", the more immediate concerns at the
time were related to the wartime needs of the aircraft industry.
In fact the establishment of the Vancouver Laboratory was initiated
by the Department of Aeronautical Supply of the Imperial Ministry
of Munitions. Wood was used extensively in aircraft construction
during World War I and there was little information available about
the suitability of various Canadian species for this purpose. Although
Sitka spruce, available only in the Pacific Northwest, was widely
used for aircraft construction, the Ministry of Munitions wanted
more specific data than was then available.
The first Western Laboratory was set up in a commercial building
on the campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC), then
located near the present site of the Vancouver General Hospital.
It began, like its eastern counterpart, with a staff of six. After
a shaky beginning in the post-war years, both government and industry
had come to realise by 1922 that there was a continuing need for
research to serve the rapidly expanding western forest industry,
and plans for expansion began. In 1925, the Laboratory moved to
new buildings erected specially for UBC at the Point Grey site.
Forest products research in Canada continued to be centered in
Montreal and Vancouver until 1927, a year of major changes in eastern
Canada that would establish the pattern of work to the present
day. In 1927, the timber testing, wood preservation, timber physics
and timber pathology laboratories were transferred from Montreal
to larger facilities in Ottawa. Only the pulp and paper laboratory
remained in Montreal (known today as PAPRICAN). In this way, research
in wood products
was separated from that for pulp and paper. In 1958, the Eastern
Laboratory was again moved to new research facilities erected
by the Department of Public
works on Montreal Road in Ottawa. In the same year, the Western
Laboratory was also moved to a new location on Northwest Marine
Drive in Vancouver, on the campus of UBC.
On August 1, 1978, in an address on national television, Prime
Minister P.E. Trudeau proposed cutting the size of government in
order to release resources to sustain a national growth target of
5%. He set the government expenditure reduction target at $2 billion.
On August 16, 1978, the President of the Treasury Board, the Honourable
R.K. Andras, presented a statement which detailed an across-the-board
cut in operating costs with a target to eliminate 5,000 civil service
jobs. This announcement contained two appendices. Appendix II, which
was entitled "Illustration of Specific Program Cuts within
Department Allocations," contained the following statement:
" Forest Products Laboratories -- 1979-80 Reduction
privatise Ottawa and Vancouver
product development laboratories
with supporting federal contribution
Thus the decision to privatise the two forest products laboratories
was made. Consequently, Forintek Canada Corp. was established as
a private, non-profit corporation and commenced operation on April
Despite the changes and disruptions stemming from the privatisation
of the Vancouver and Ottawa laboratories, and some periods where
dramatic shifts in focus took place, notably during World War II,
the pattern of co-operative research, involving both industry and
government, has been one of steady progress. A consistent theme
running through Forintek annual reports over the years is the emphasis
on steady growth in the number of enquiries from industry and the
need to respond to these issues.
The research program expanded over time to respond to demands from
the forest sector. As a consequence, the research facilities were
struggling to function effectively due to size limitations and age.
The problem was
particularly acute for the Vancouver laboratory. In 1988, the industry
came to an agreement with the federal and BC governments for funding
of a new western building for Forintek. In December 1990, the present
research facility at 2665 East Mall opened its doors, on land leased
1994, with funding support from industry as well as the federal
and Quebec governments, the eastern research laboratory was moved
from Ottawa to Quebec City. Forintek now serves its members from
these two world class, leading-edge technology research facilities,
as well as from satellite offices in Ottawa, Prince Albert, Edmonton
and Prince George.
Today, Forintek is more vital than ever in conducting focused research
and development, touching every key element of the wood products
sector value chain. The biggest challenge since its privatisation
in 1979 has been to lead a traditional research institute into becoming
a powerful, highly responsive team, capable of guiding the technological
development of the wood industry towards higher value. The continued
support from members shows that Forintek is a successful model of
co-operation and partnership. Excellence, at Forintek, is defined
in terms of both scientific innovation and business impact.
Forintek, FERIC and Paprican
On 1 April 2007, after 28 years of exceptional services as an independent
institute, Forintek merged with FERIC and Paprican to create FPInnovations.
The three institutes, together with the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre
of Natural Resources Canada, have become the largest not-for-profit
forest research institute in the world.