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Three Generations

For the Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan based Tourand family, operating equipment is in the blood.

— Paul Iarocci

It is 2020 and a teenager walks into the headquarters of Brander Enterprises in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, resumé in hand. She lands a part-time job cleaning up in the shop and office after school. The following year during spring breakup, she cleans the bunkhouses and completes other chores to prepare for the new logging season.

Brander Enterprises is a twenty-year-old company. Founders, Allen, Kris and Jamie Brander, started out in 2004 with a load and haul contract for the Tolko OSB plant that started up in 2003. From there they expanded into harvesting, municipal road maintenance and real estate. Today, the company cuts and delivers a half million tonnes of fibre with a fleet of equipment that includes five feller bunchers, nine processors, seven skidders, seven loaders and 25 haul trucks. Including machine operators, truck drivers, maintenance and support staff, Brander Enterprises employs 100.

Third generation

The teenager is Amy Tourand and after graduating high school the following year, she approaches Kris and Jamie about a full-time job. Amy has proven herself as a hard worker and she wants to run a processor. The Branders see her potential. At age seventeen Amy spends her first summer in the bush. She is trained by an experienced processor operator who also happens to be her father. Jeremy Tourand has been working for the Brander family for seven years.

“When I first came out here, I got to train with my dad,” Amy recalls. “He spent about three days with me on the 568 head and then he ended up having to go skidding for a while. I had a little bit of solo time but we were in the same patch, so he got to watch over me.” Amy’s dad would check in on her, ensuring that her piles were straight and the lengths were correct.


— Kris Brander

Amy is nineteen now. She exudes confidence yet speaks with an almost old-fashioned sense of respect for her peers and a deference to experience. She remembers being with her father in a workshop at about the age of twelve. “We would go and pick my dad up and he would let us come into the shop if he was running a little bit late. We wouldn’t interact but we’d get to stand on the side and kind of watch what he was doing. I remember he was working on a processor, and he had moved it from the back of the yard. He let me climb up in there and he was explaining it all to me. I was fairly young but old enough to kind of understand.”

Second generation

Jeremy got an early start in the logging industry. “The first time I started working in the bush, it would have been when I was about twelve years old; for my dad when he had his own contract. So anytime I wasn’t in school, I was out in the bush working.” Jeremy was hired by the Branders seven years ago. Like Amy, he is on the roadside. He pilots a Tigercat 850 with a 568 head.

“It was a shock when she decided she was coming to the bush,” Jeremy recalls. “The thing is, when she gets it in her mind that she wants to do something, you can’t tell her no because she won’t let it go.”

However, Jeremy thinks it was a good decision – good for Amy and good for the industry. “We’re always going to have to be cutting trees down, so there’s always going to be logging. Right now, it just seems like there’s not enough of the younger crowd. It’s all of us older people out here now that are going at it.”
Jeremy feels that it is not actually operating the machines that turns young people off the industry. It’s what happens when something goes wrong. “Sitting in that machine is all fine and dandy. It’s heated and air conditioned. But the minute a hose blows, they don’t want to get out and pull a wrench. Amy’s got a good work ethic. When she gets a leak in her machine, she’ll actually get out and try and figure it out before she gets on the radio. If it happens to be a loose hose, she’ll grab a wrench and tighten it up as best she can. And if it keeps leaking, well, then she’ll call somebody and say, ‘Well, yeah, I tried to tighten it, but I can’t pull hard enough on that one.’” Jeremy can’t hide his pride for his daughter’s accomplishments. “A couple more years, and you wouldn’t even have to worry about her. She’ll be able to handle all that stuff on her own.”
Amy says that it took about four months of operating to become proficient. She bounced around between different Tigercat H855E carriers, and in the process learned to operate both the 568 and the 575 harvesting heads. Brander Enterprises has a total of eight Tigercat carriers for roadside processing – seven 855 series carriers and one 850 model – with a mix of 568 and 575 heads. She finds the 575 to be a little better handling rough poplar. The 568 edges out in spruce.

With a lot of seat time in a processor, Jeremy has done a fair bit of operator training. “When it comes to the younger kids, the first thing I usually ask them is if they like to play video games,” he says. “Because they’re used to buttons. These processors, they’ve got a million-and-a-half buttons on each joystick, so there’s a lot of memory there.”

Attention span is another critical characteristic. When Jeremy is training, he will operate while the rookie stands behind and watches. Then they will switch positions. “I’ll run it for a couple of hours. That way then I can talk to them and describe what I’m doing while I’m doing it. And then I let them run it. I can kind of gauge how fast they’re going to pick it up and I can predict what mistakes they might make right off the start. Amy picked it up really quick. This is only her second season, and she can cut just as much as I can.”

Probably more so than any other machine in a forestry system, the processor – with its complex and high-functionality control system – provides an array of production data. The resulting performance indicators and real-time feedback is something Amy really appreciated, especially when she was starting out. “Of course you can get a pretty good idea of how your production is improving because I can see everything,” she explains.
Amy performs her own greasing routines, takes responsibility for fluid checks, replenishes chain oil, and changes bars and chains. She keeps her cabin interior, windows and door handles clean. Kris appreciates that she is hands-on and takes care to maintain the machine – traits that are often difficult to find or instill in new operators.

“Our biggest issue is finding people,” says Kris. “We’re a small community of 5,000 people and with multiple people in forestry and the forestry sector. I mean there’s not a whole bunch of available people out there that are operators.”
Building on Amy’s successful integration into the crew, Kris is on the look-out for more young people to seed the company. “We’re trying to bring up a younger crowd. If I could have five or ten more Amys, I’d be laughing.”

Kris stresses that the older segment of his workforce is going to age out. “We do have some older guys up here that are in their seventies. They continue to want to work here so we must be doing something right,” he says, while acknowledging that it can’t go on forever. The oldest member of the harvesting crew is Eugene Tourand, Amy’s grandfather.

First generation

At age 77, Eugene has been working in the bush for over 50 years. He purchased a contract in 1985 and put together a three-man crew along with two cable skidders. He spent the next twenty years hand falling, manually topping and limbing, pulling lines and setting chokers. It wasn’t until 2005 that the mill decided it was time to move on to fully mechanized operations with feller bunchers and grapple skidders. Eugene went to work for his brother-in-law, another Saskatchewan contractor, trading his old line skidder for the relative comfort of a grapple skidder. He has been operating one ever since.

Winter logging in north Saskatchewan is not an easy life. The working hours are long, there is not a lot of daylight, and the locations are remote. Cell service is hard to come by. Amy says having family around – her father, grandfather, and her uncle Myron helps. She concedes it was a lot tougher for her grandfather, who for decades didn’t have the benefit of mechanization and climate controlled cabs.
However, when young people are contemplating a career, they don’t often benchmark the working conditions of two generations previous. To many, Amy’s typical day might be viewed as arduous. It starts with a 4:00 am wake-up that gets her to the truck, lunch in hand for 5:00 am. After gathering fluids and supplies, it can be up to a half-hour drive from camp to the cut block. At that point the nightshift operator is completing the shift change maintenance routine, putting Amy in the seat by 6:00 am. At 5:15 pm, Amy shuts down the machine and goes through the greasing routine, cleans the cab and windows and is back to camp for 6:00 pm.

Amy has persevered and now, two seasons in, she is an accomplished operator and a respected member of the crew. She earned respect by pitching in, pulling her weight, and helping others with anything and everything at every opportunity. And when Amy has run into the inevitable problems that come along with living in a bush camp during often brutal Saskatchewan winters, her efforts have been reciprocated by her team members.
Eugene Tourand doesn’t just tolerate the Saskatchewan winter, he embraces it. Speaking of the difference between logging in the past versus today, he says he appreciates the modern conveniences like a warm cab, but also doesn’t complain about the days of setting chokers and tramping around the bush. All that physical activity kept him warm, he says with a hint of nostalgia.

Eugene likes being outside and enjoys doing things that are familiar and natural to him. The task that is most familiar is operating a skidder. “I’ve been outside all my life. I was born and raised on the farm. We would farm in the summertime and then we’d go to the bush in the wintertime.” I ask Eugene how many more years he plans to work. He responds that he doesn’t really know. “Until I can’t.”

Like his son, Eugene has a lot of positive things to say about Amy. “She amazes me. I’m so proud of her. She wanted to run a processor but she had to graduate first. She graduated and she came to work, and man she picked it up.” Eugene says it’s in her blood.
Amy also has a welding scholarship with Saskatchewan Polytech. During last spring break-up, Amy leveraged her high school welding courses by working on some projects with Lee Dull, Brander’s full-time welder. This year, once the season finishes, she hopes to continue welding. “I honestly would really like to be a journeyman welder. Working on heavy duty equipment would be nice. I don’t mind travelling. I don’t mind being around this big equipment, and a more male dominant crew and stuff like that doesn’t bother me. It’s not as scary as I thought it was going to be when I first came out here.”

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Three Generations

For the Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan based Tourand family, operating equipment is in the blood.

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