Wenstob Timber Resources Manufacturing Forest Products and Memorable Television in Sooke
SOOKE – Cut!
That word has three distinct applications for Wenstob Timber Resources, a forestry company whose mandate is to cut down Vancouver Island trees and manufacture them into a variety of timber products at their Sooke sawmill.
Cut is also the word producers use as they film a second season of Big Timber, the popular Netflix and History Canada television series that features owners Kevin Wenstob and Sarah Fleming and their employees, following their dangerous work as they go to extremes to keep the family sawmill, and their way of life, alive.
Cut, as in cutting through red tape. As chronicled in the Big Timber series, Wenstob is in the midst of trying to cut through provincial government red tape in order to continue operating profitably. BC’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources has levied a $1 million penalty against Wenstob for failing to meet time commitments for clearing a stand of timber along the Alberni Canal.
In a twist of irony, the tardiness was caused when Wenstob identified several large, old-growth ‘legacy’ cedar trees that needed to be preserved. To protect the environment. When they notified the province about the trees, ensuing delays made it impossible to meet the predetermined time deadlines for completing the log harvest.
“It’s an ongoing situation,” Wenstob explains. “There were no allowances for finding the legacy trees on the plot, and no time was added to the contract for them. We didn’t get it harvested according to the contract because of it, and the Minister denied our explanation. . .then we were given a stumpage bill for product we weren’t able to harvest.”
Wenstob is appealing and could find another route for relief through waste assessment on the logging site. But it’s still in limbo – and in the meantime, Kevin and the team have to work harder to see if they can get that $1 million available in case it happens.
It’s real-life, real-time drama in a compelling story that has already captured the attention of viewers. The 10-episode first season was broadcast on the History Canada channel starting on October 8, 2020, following filming from September 2019 to January 2020, and is available on Netflix. Season two has already been filmed, and will appear on History Canada in the summer of 2022.
“The response overall has been absolutely fabulous,” states Fleming. “People have been reaching out to us from all over the world because of it, and for lumber sales as well. We’ve had lots of requests for lumber from the United Kingdom and Asia, and right now we’re so busy.”
Big Timber is not pre-scripted, as film crews follow the company’s day-to-day logging operations, which includes a wide variety of activities, on land, sea and air via truck, boat and helicopter. Wenstob himself is a boat builder and sailor, and can fix just about anything with his mechanical know-how.
“Everything we do is just more cool stuff,” says Wenstob. “When you can do things that are progressive and good for the environment and nature and turn it into an entertainment type of thing that is really cool.”
Their road towards the TV series adventure started fairly innocently. Kevin is “an artist on all fronts”, says Fleming, who has always enjoyed taking photos. In 2018 they moved towards starting a program for YouTube, and created a two-minute “sizzle reel” of their action-packed lives which was partly to promote their business, and also to find possible tenants and clients for their 16,000 square foot sound stage located on their property.
“We never had many quality tenants for it, and our whole idea was to go to Banff and open some doors, and prove our credibility within the film industry,” she states.
Mission accomplished, not just in finding clients for the sound stage, but a place on the world stage through Netflix.
A True Family Business
Wenstob Timber Resources is a family business in every sense of the word. Kevin and Sarah created the business after meeting in their early 20’s. After being an operating room nurse for 20 years, Sarah found herself drawing into the office as needed and is now irreplaceable, the cog around which the wheel turns.
Two sons, Erik and Jack Wenstob, also work in the business, and are masters of fixing all types of company machinery. Jack is also Sarah’s personal trainer.
“Jack does a lot of weight lifting, and one day he said ‘Let’s try to turn back time’. So we started up over a year ago now,” she recalls. “It’s actually pretty addictive.”
Business has grown steadily for Wenstob Timber Resources, with sales increasing each year.
Their secret to success?
“Hard work. Sweat. Tears. . .lots of tears. Pain,” says Wenstob.
“And teamwork. It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of long hours,” Fleming adds. “This is not for the weak.”
Their full-time focus, obviously, is the mill and gathering wood, preferably Western Red Cedar, which keeps the 10-14 full and part-time workers employed in their primary manufacturing facility.
“Out here on the west coast, people like to use cedar for building decks and for siding,” he says. “We also do a lot of fir timber for structural products. . .big timber and small timbers.”
They have typical logging equipment: trucks and grapple yarders, etc., as well as boats that they use for beachcombing. When inclement weather prohibits them from accessing their tree licenses in the mountains, they head to the ocean to find valuable logs that are suitable for milling.
“Beachcombing has been helpful, especially if timber is buried in snow and there is restricted access,” Wenstob notes. “If you can only start logging in the fall, you have to stop when the weather changes, and there’s too much wood left behind.
“We get wood from a lot of different sources, but mostly we use our own,” says Wenstob. “I’ve been doing this forever. I started cutting down trees when I was 12 and it’s always been what I do. I still have all my fingers and toes and I’ve never been squashed, so I’m not too bad it.”
Big Timber Shares Big Picture
That is evident to viewers of Big Timber. It has become an important part of their business as it gives viewers a window into the realities of a family-run small business, from harvesting to cash flow.
“I don’t know if it’s changed our lives too much, but it’s made us a little busier,” Fleming allows. “It’s a bit like looking in a mirror.”
Wenstob chips in: “Everybody gets to reflect about who they are, and think ‘Hey, I don’t look that bad,” which elicits a chuckle from Fleming.
“Big Timber is a great show, and we hope people keep watching,” she adds. “I think season two is so much better than season one. The crew has been great and they make it fun. Every season is going to be better and better, as long as we keep going.”
Writer Mark MacDonald is President of Communication Ink Media & Public Relations Ltd. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org