As Covid retreats, our future looks promising.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that not everyone in the world is celebrating right now or looking forward to what the year will bring.

Next to Ontario, Alberta has the largest Ukrainian population of any province in Canada. What’s happening in the Ukraine is a human tragedy at a scale we have seldom seen since the Second World War.

It’s a reminder that regardless of the good fortune that may come our way, we are not isolated from events happening elsewhere.

In recognition of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Ukraine, Vanderwell has made a donation to the Canadian Red Cross Ukrainian Humanitarian Crisis Appeal.

Ken Vanderwell

Spring is always a time of new beginnings and being thankful. Temperatures rise, snow melts, hibernating animals wake up and dormant plants begin growing again. But this year, there’s lots more to celebrate than just the usual, both here at Vanderwell and in the wider world as Covid largely retreats.

All of us regardless of where we live can rejoice in the fact that Covid’s impact is going down. Yes, there are increases in Covid numbers that we all see happening outside of Canada and the U.S., but the severity of the cases detected appears to be less. In our own province, almost all public health measures are removed which means we can get out more and enjoy each other’s company.

And despite Covid, there’s a lot we’ve achieved at Vanderwell over the past few years that has prepared us well going into the future.

On February 8, 2022, we reached one year without a Lost Time Accident (LTA). Anyone who has ever worked in a labour-intensive, industrial workplace knows what an accomplishment that is. Then add Covid restrictions and you have an even more challenging work environment. If there’s one thing, more than anything else that really tipped the scales and made sure we reached that milestone, it’s the people who work at Vanderwell — looking out for each other and working as a team with safety always the first consideration.

Sounds simple, but it isn’t. A lot of hard work goes into building a strong, safety-first culture. The right processes and procedures lay the foundation of a safe workplace, but what really made sure we reached that finish line was every single person’s commitment who works at Vanderwell to be safe.

And we believe that safe work attitude has benefits that reach out into the larger Slave Lake community. Like many people in our region, several Vanderwell employees volunteer as firefighters, on-call 24/7 when they’re not at work, and sometimes even when they are. People like Devin Attfield – one of our heavy equipment and professional truck driver operators, and Michael Therrien – our chief financial officer.

We are also proud of all frontline employees, supervisors and managers who went the extra mile during the pandemic to continue production at the mills, often with many co-workers away due to Covid. During Covid, Canada’s lumber industry was classified an essential service and the demand for our product skyrocketed. Everyone at Vanderwell stepped up to meet the challenge and opportunity.

Just this past winter of 2021-22, we harvested and hauled the required volume of timber that will keep our sawmill operating at full capacity though the rest of the year. This wasn’t an easy task since temperatures fluctuated wildly between above zero to bone-chilling ‑35 degrees Celsius along with rain, sleet and extremely heavy snowfalls in many of our harvesting areas.

We also put back into our business and invested in new mobile yard equipment and trucks and trailers. In early March, we accepted delivery of three shiny, rugged-duty Kenworth trucks. That’s after we purchased two new Kenworth tractor truck units last year and two new Caterpillar rock truck units for forwarding timber out of the log-yard.

All of these achievements are great and really speak to the long-term health of our company and the industry overall.

But just in case you think we’re all work and no play, we did manage, before Covid numbers started to go up again mid last year, to host a barbeque for everyone at Vanderwell.

Now that it really does look like Covid may be in our rear-view mirror, or at least manageable with less serious health consequences, plans are underway for another barbeque sometime in May or June.

Happy Spring!  Here’s hoping it’s a great one.

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