Thomson: Gorman Bros. Lumber: Building something from nothing

As with any job, there are some roles and responsibilities you enjoy more than others.

As with any job, there are some roles and responsibilities you enjoy more than others.

One role I’m particularly looking forward to is later this month, where I will have the pleasure of honouring a truly iconic Kelowna company.

Gorman Bros. Lumber Ltd. is celebrating 60 years in the region. While you may be familiar with their business, you may not know their story.

It’s worth telling, because I think their tale represents Kelowna and our community well.

The company started from very humble origins. West Kelowna brothers Ross and John Gorman were struggling to pay their bills and survive on what their orchards could produce.

It wasn’t enough, so they acted on their idea they could improve on existing fruit packaging, and started a second business making fruit boxes.

Their idea did so well, they were able to parlay that success into founding Gorman Brothers Lumber, and in turn, into building a small sawmill in 1953. How small?

They had a grand total of two saws. Today, Ross’ sons Ron and Doug are the company’s CEO and project manager, respectively, of a company that employs 300 people.

The Gorman’s talent for innovation didn’t stop with improved fruit boxes and a sawmill.

Compared with just 15 years ago, Gorman recovers 30 per cent more lumber from the same number of trees.

This is possible because of continually re-investing in new technologies.

Anyone who believes lumber is a low-tech industry need only ask about finger jointing, thin kerf edging, or bio-scanning for trimmer optimization.

This kind of innovation is necessary to successfully navigate the ups and downs of the forestry and lumber industries.

In 2009, their story took a dramatic turn. The Glenrosa forest fire came literally right up to the sawmill door.

It seemed as though the mill would certainly be lost—again.

Unbelievably, had the Glenrosa fire destroyed the mill, it actually would have been the second time. In 1969, a fire caused by an electrical short grew out of control. The family’s response was not to give up, but to rebuild and improve.

So what happened in 2009? The mill was literally saved by its workers.

At one point, the roof actually caught fire—but they managed to put it out, and spent the night on a vigil. They put out small fires and watched for sparks.

That’s remarkable. Gorman employees went out of their way to save their workplace—at no small risk to themselves.

As the mill manager said at the time, this communal effort didn’t come as a surprise, because “it’s more than a family business—it’s an extended family.”

Coming from a family with similarly long roots in Kelowna, I take pride in local success stories like the Gormans.

Coming from humble origins 60 years ago, the family has built a well-respected local firm employing some 300 members of our communities—and they have done so on the virtue of good ideas, innovation, hard work, and treating their employees well.

That’s a legacy we can all celebrate.

Steve Thomson is the Liberal MLA for Kelowna-Mission.



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