Two Economies, One Province: Kalesnikoff Lumber and Leslie Forest Products make wood work

With deep roots in their communities, Kalesnikoff Lumber and Leslie Forest Products profit from working together

Credit: Courtesy of Leslie Forest Products 

Delta-based Leslie Forest Products opened in 1972

With deep roots in their communities, Kalesnikoff Lumber and Leslie Forest Products profit from working together

Sometimes places just have the perfect name. Take the West Kootenay settlement of Thrums, for example. The word “thrum” refers to a continuous humming sound, and anyone who has made the journey along Highway 3A between Castlegar and the region’s most populous city, Nelson, will often hear exactly that.

Kalesnikoff Lumber Co., a member of the Nelson Chamber of Commerce, has been making noise in these parts since 1949, when now-CEO Ken Kalesnikoff’s great-uncle Koozma started a bush mill with his two brothers. Back in those days, the three men would set the mill up where the logs were instead of bringing wood to a set location. 

“They worked six days a week, came home Saturday night out of the bush, got their clothes cleaned, washed, and back to work Sunday night to start Monday morning,” Kalesnikoff says. 

By the time current chief executive graduated from high school and rolled up his sleeves, the mill had a permanent home in tiny Thrums (conveniently located across the street from the local fire hall). In 1982 he helped introduce Kalesnikoff Lumber to the modern era by leaving his job on the mill floor to handle sales. Soon the younger Kalesnikoff convinced his father (Koozma’s nephew, Peter Jr.) to change the way the company did business. 

“A lot of people were taking our lumber and making value-added products with it—so, siding and panelling and things like that,” Kalesnikoff recalls. “So I thought, ‘Well, we need to be doing this, because it would just take our lumber further.'”

In 2000, that thinking led to the creation of Kootenay Innovative Wood, a plant that makes softwood products. In 2011—after the passing of Peter Jr. in 2006—Kalesnikoff Lumber invested $18 million on new technology that would allow it to keep making specialty items the big mills weren’t producing. The company now employs some 150 people and churns out roughly 100 million board feet of wood per year, or enough to construct about 10,000 houses, Kalesnikoff estimates. 

To succeed as a medium-sized mill in B.C.’s southeast region, Kalesnikoff Lumber has needed some help. Among the more than 30 urban companies it works with is Delta-based Leslie Forest Products Ltd., another family business that has spanned three generations. Launched in 1972, Leslie has about 50 staff and is run by brothers Ron and Dave Sangara, as well as Ron’s wife, Jas. 

The Leslie-Kalesnikoff relationship is one of mutual convenience: both parties take turns acting as supplier and customer, with Leslie providing lath (thin, flat strips of wood often used to form the foundations of the plaster in walls or the tile in roofs) and dunnage (pieces of wood used to keep cargo in position). In return, Leslie receives about half a million board feet in specialty items annually from Kalesnikoff’s mill.

Both companies do extensive trade with Asian countries, particularly Japan and China, but they know that working with other B.C. businesses is crucial. “In an industry where our marketplace is the world, urban and rural is just part of the equation,” says Ron Sangara, president of Leslie Forest Products. “Most sawmills are located outside of the Lower Mainland, so we deal with many rural businesses. Where the world is our marketplace, rural and urban businesses are essentially neighbours.”

Kalesnikoff agrees. “It’s a big circle, so to speak,” he says. “We all make up the spokes in the wheel that make this province go ’round.” And those that make it hum.