If you drive west from Edmonton, Alberta, on the Yellowhead Highway, you can’t help but notice the twin stacks some two hours into your journey. Rising above the gently rolling foothills of oil, gas and timber country, they belong to Canada’s first OSB plant.
Owned by Weyerhaeuser since the late ’80s, the plant sits just east of Edson, a close-knit community of some 8,000 people. With about 150 employees, the operation — like many Weyerhaeuser facilities — is one of the town’s largest private employers.
While the plant has been a fixture of the Edson landscape for decades, its inner-workings have remained a mystery for most Edsonites. That changed in October, when Edson OSB opened its doors to the public for its 30th anniversary.
“A lot of people were amazed by the process,” says Tony Ramm, plant manager. “I think they had a bit of an misimpression, assuming we just put on our boots and grabbed an ax.”
Ramm says many townpeople asked about the process for breaking down and reassembling logs, and why the wood strands are oriented a certain way. Others had questions about the chemicals used and environmental controls. Others wanted to understand the difference between the various Edge products. But what impressed people most was the operation’s clear commitment to safety.
“From machine guards to the cleanliness of the shop floor,” Ramm says, “everyone walked away knowing that we don’t put our people in unsafe situations.”
About 300 people participated in the event, with 200 touring the facility. Children younger than 12 weren’t permitted in the plant because of fit concerns with personal protective equipment. In a sense, however, some made their way inside anyway.
“We’ve taken pictures of family members to display in the mill entry,” Ramm says. “They remind us why we need to work safely each day and why we need to remind others to work safely.”
While everyone had the chance to enjoy hot dogs, hamburgers and cake, the celebration was really about making connections and acknowledging the public’s unwavering support over the years.
“The community has treated us well,” Ramm says. “We wanted to give them a chance to get to know the team. It’s a good group of employees. Many have worked here their entire careers. We’re all looking forward to keeping it going for another 30.”