Their Father’s Shed
The bitter winter of 1949-1950 resulted in the Gorman’s orchards being frozen so the brothers needed to find an alternate way to provide for their growing families. Various farming options were bandied about, but ultimately, they decided to make and sell fruit boxes. Using their father’s shed (which still stands at the entrance to the mill property) and their own practical skills and knowledge, John and Ross began their journey in the forest industry.
The Old Sawmill
In 1953, the brothers decided to set up a small sawmill. “The first one was at Dobbin Mountain behind Glenrosa. We operated there for approximately two years and then moved from there to another camp behind Last Mountain, near the present day Crystal Mountain ski hill. The logging was done by horse. We stayed at camp because at that time it was too far to drive back and forth. There was no such thing as four wheel drive and the roads weren’t snow plowed as they are today.” ~ Ross Gorman
Bunkhouse at Logging Camp
The sense of ‘family’ that has been a Gorman Bros. trademark over the years was already evident. The logging camp was a perfect example of how everyone pitched in to help. Clarence Fenton supplied venison, while Eunice and Edith (the wives of John and Ross Gorman) baked bread and pies for the men to take to camp.
Oroville Bin & Pallet
In 1964, John and Ross decided to set up Oroville Bin & Pallet on the American side of the border in the former Zippy building to address the demands of the American market. The company faced many changes and challenges but its strength was in its versatility. They produced fruit bins then ammunition boxes during the Vietnam War when they were needed. In 1999 the Oroville plant changed its name to Oroville Reman & Reload to reflect the company’s current function of producing and shipping full length Gorman Bros. boards.
On November 21, 1969, disaster struck when an electrical short caused a huge fire that destroyed the mill. Employees and townspeople helped the firefighters battle the fire throughout the night but all they could do was reduce the flame. They saved the planer mill, the dry kiln and offices but had to let the sawmill go. “In the space of about two hours, 18 years of expansion had been destroyed by fire. I’m sure it would have meant the end for many people faced with the same situation, but Johnny and Ross had the strength and determination to carry on. I have been thanking them every day since.” Bobby Johnson (1976)
After the fire, John and Ross decided to rebuild, but rather than building a dimension mill, they would build a one-inch board mill. The BC economy was struggling with a recession and the forest industry was hit the worst. The mill went through some difficult years but together the company pushed forward. In 1978, the Gorman Bros. employees came up with an incredible gift to thank Ross and John for Christmas. The usual gift ideas just weren’t enough, so 62 employees decided to head in to work on a snowy Saturday in January. They went, not to collect overtime pay, but to work for free. They processed $2,333 worth of lumber simply as a thank you.
By 1982 it was evident that Gorman Bros. needed more timber. When MacGillis and Gibbs Company Ltd. of Lumby was put up for sale including the assets of 19,000 cubic meters of AAC (annual allowable cut), Gorman Bros. was interested. They purchased these assets as well as the pole manufacturing plant, fencing plant and a small saw mill. The pole manufacturing plant continues to be in operation today managed by Marjorie Wiens, daughter of Ross Gorman.
In 1990, the Gorman family purchased Downie Timber in Revelstoke, BC which is known for providing premium quality cedar, fir and hemlock products. Downie Timber’s family legacy and commitment to quality proved a good fit with the Gorman Group of companies which already included Lumby Pole and Oroville Reman and Reload.
By the 4th decade of operation, the payroll had grown to 230 direct employees with an additional 100 trucking and logging contractors. The modern plant had found a niche in the specialty markets. On May 11, 1991, Gorman Bros. had a ‘family reunion’ – well, it actually was a 40th anniversary celebration but it felt like a family reunion. More than 600 present and past employees and their families joined in celebrating past achievements. Cliff Serwa, member of the provincial legislature summed it up when he noted that people employed at the mill “worked with the Gormans not for them.”
John Gorman retired in 1996, passing on his responsibilities to Bill Reedy. At the same time, Ross Gorman turned his responsibilities over to Ron Gorman. John was 79 – long past official retirement age but even at this point said, “I’m not the kind of guy that can quit completely… I loved my work and I learned a lot.”
The Gorman Edge
In 1999, the company decided to focus on the finished quality of the lumber. They created a 60,000 square foot lumber storage facility to keep the lumber dry until it was wrapped and ready to be shipped. The new Waco Molder replaced the old planer making Gorman Bros. the first to use a moulder to create boards with a furniture finish edge. The result of the “pursuit for excellence” is proving to be long term satisfied distributers that feel like family.
Mill in Danger
In 2009, a forest fire threatened the mill. Gorman Bros. employees joined firefighters in the battle against the fire – volunteering their time and effort. Though the fire raged across the hill where the mill is situated and even jumped the highway to continue its destructive path down to the lake, the mill was saved.
Today the “Gorman Group of Companies” is co-managed by Ross Gorman’s two sons- in-law: Nick Arkle and Doug Tracey. They each bring with them many years of expertise in leadership and in the forest industry. More than that, they live the value of family and continue to honour the Christian principles the company was founded on.