Then & Now: Iconic lumber outlasts economic ups and downs

Drive and a belief in people motivated the whole Gorman family to work hard to make the sawmill operation a success.

Brothers John and Ross Gorman founded Gorman Bros. Lumber 63 years ago.

One of the Okanagan’s largest employers, Gorman Bros. Lumber Ltd. has thrived throughout multiple fires, industry changes and an increasing scarcity of raw material.

And one big reason for that business longevity is due to the dedicated work of its employees.

It’s a story well known all over the Okanagan: A menacing fire broke out in Glenrosa in 2009, quickly ravaging the mountainside and charging toward the Gorman Bros. sawmill, where 400 families were dependent on the mill’s continued operation. When the evacuation order came, every employee on staff the day the fire broke out, disobeyed.

Mary Tracey, daughter of mill co-founder Ross Gorman, says that the mill employees worked well into the night and the following day, keeping the fire away from the sawmill along Highway 97.

“Without exception, every single employee said, ‘We’re not leaving. We are going to save this mill.’ We have amazing pictures of people with forklifts moving flaming piles of lumber away from the main building,” Mary reflects.

“I remember my husband called and said, ‘We’re really hungry here.’ So I went to Wendy’s, and they put extra staff on to make hundreds of hamburgers to feed us.”

The fire story is just one example of the Gorman family’s people-first philosophy. Tracey says that one of the major lessons she’s learned in her years with the company is that putting employees first is always a smart strategy.

First machinery

“My dad and my uncle didn’t take a wage for a long, long time—they took what was left over. I think nowadays, we have it backwards. If you genuinely put the business and the people ahead of your own desires, you’ll succeed,” she says.

It’s that drive and that belief in people that motivated the whole Gorman family to work hard to make the sawmill operation a success.

Tracey’s mother was the mill accountant for 15 years. Ross and co-founder John Gorman’s wives, Eunice and Edith, served as critical support figures for the brothers. It’s these close family ties that Tracey cites as the best part of working for the company.

“My dad just passed away in October, and the number of letters and emails and cards we got was just astounding. There were great memories from 30, 40, 50 years ago. It just shows it’s hard to separate the business from the personal life. When my dad passed away, it was nice to know that we gave people steady employment.”

The family-oriented environment at Gorman Bros. was immediately obvious to employees and even visitors, particularly in the sawmill’s early days. Tracey says that the mill made accommodations for its employees out of a deep-rooted respect and personal connection.

“During the early days, it was local people who worked when they could. If it was hunting season, everyone would take the day off and go hunting. Or if someone was an orchardist and they had to take a few days off to pick their cherries, it was no big deal. It was a casual, family-oriented environment.”

Still today, that family environment is still evident among the Gorman Bros. employees.