John and Louise Peters at their mill in Smithers. (Tom Roper photo)

John and Louise Peters at their mill in Smithers. (Tom Roper photo)

The origins of a specialty mill on Tatlow Road

John Peters came from Mexico to logging in Burns Lake and eventually to milling in Smithers

It’s not too often you get to meet a Canadian logger born in Mexico.

John Peters’s family had immigrated to Mexico with the Mennonite church to set up a farming community. It was a hard life and eventually the decision was made to return to Canada.

John’s uncle welcomed the family back to the Mennonite community in Burns lake. John was around five years old and remembers fondly getting off the train and walking barefoot along the tracks to his uncle’s place. It was mid-April with snow still around. The sun was out and the ties were warm.

The family was poor in possessions but wealthy in connections. The area where his uncle lived was nicknamed “little Mexico” because several families had returned. John still likes to walk the rails and reminisce about his return to Burns lake.

The Mennonite community was connected to the sawmills and planer mills of the Burns lake area so it was no surprise when John quit school at 15 he was able to find work.

He had to quit school and find work to help support the family. With 13 brothers and sisters his father could not keep up feeding and caring. Everyone helped and a big chunk of the paychecks went to supporting the family.

New opportunities developed along the way including a wedding in 1970 to Louise and together they purchased a trailer, moved it across Babine Lake to a logging camp and John started skidding for a living.

Over the next 20 years, John and Louise worked hard to get ahead. John and his 740 skidder moved a lot of wood for the local contractors. Henry Dehoog, Obie Helps, Dick Kronemeyer and others benefitted from John’s work ethic. Along the trail, Lisa and Sean were born and the family was complete.

The next break came in the 1980s with the local opportunity wood program administered through Pacific Inland Resources.

Winter work was always long and hard but breakup would come and there would be a little time for fishing. John and Louise had a boat and always had time to invite friends including Lloyd Hovland, Dave Goble and other loggers up to Rupert or Kitimat for a good time. They became infamous as the weekend warriors.

Eventually, it was time to change careers. The skidders were sold and John and Louise were going into the sawmill business. Interesting how the influences from childhood come back around.

Their property on Tatlow Road seemed ideally situated close to the Pacific Inland Resources mill and would prove invaluable. The True Dimension Lumber mill proper was built down the bank along Seymour Lake Creek.

Machinery was added with lots of technical help from Al Rudkavich and the JL Team found a niche. The P.I.R. mill could not handle logs over three-feet in diameter and the JL mill could.

John designed and built a carriage and six-foot chainsaw that would cut the big logs in half. They could then be moved to the Wood Miser band mill to be cut into timbers or boards. An arrangement was scratched out with P.I.R. and has been working well for the past 10 years.

John was good enough to give me a tour and my questions always led back to: “What do you do about the waste, John?”

“See that sawdust pile over there, farmers keep the level down for their cows to lay on in the winter,” he said. “And the flared butts and slabs are thrown in the bins to be used in our wood heater in the barn.”

A quick look at this approximatley 300-gallon, double-lined barrel with an antifreeze piping system to the house and greenhouse is pretty impressive.

“We are able to grow tomatoes and cucumbers almost year-round,” he said.

It looks like he and Louise have built themselves a pretty comfortable lifestyle right here in the Bulkley Valley hey John.

“Well, we are very fortunate to have had the opportunities we have in this country, and, as I like to say, when in Rome do as the Romans do and you can get along pretty good. Let your friends know we are always open for dimensional and custom cut lumber and if you need sawdust, we have it.”

Thanks, John