Williams Lake $75M mass timber project sees both setbacks, progress

Facility planned to mass-produce timber housing is still moving forward, said CEO
Gaetan Royer, Massive Canada CEO, from left, Deep Sandhu, chief operations manager, and Williams Lake Mayor Surinderpal Rathor at the May 21 committee of the whole meeting. (Ruth Lloyd photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Massive Canada Building Systems Ltd. said despite some setbacks, they continue moving ahead with their facility for Williams Lake.

Gaetan Royer, the company’s CEO spoke at a Williams Lake city council committee of the whole meeting on May 21, providing an update on the project’s progress, nearly a year after their initial appearance before council.

“We still are very ambitious, we have a plan that is a multi-million dollar plan and we’ve got the backing of the B.C. government,” said Royer. The facility would pre-fabricate laneway homes, apartment units, townhouses and commercial projects using mass-timber building products and systems.

In the past 12 months, Royer said the project has experienced some growing pains and some “pretty major setbacks.”

He gave a verbal update to mayor and council on the project, which in July of 2023 was awarded $10 million in provincial funding towards the proposed manufacturing facility. Royer estimated 85 per cent of the $10 million would be spent in Williams Lake.

Clean up of what was the Jackpine Forest Products site has begun, he said, but the site has a long way to go.

Royer said they have met with some contractors to take a look at the necessary plumbing and electrical work required to get the building operational again. A new transformer will be required at the site and there are multiple hydrants to get operational.

“All of that is going to take a lot of time and money,” he said, noting even since the project began, things have gone missing from the site, so increased security is part of the plan as they move ahead.

According to Royer, they are working with large manufacturing suppliers and have an assembly line being put together in China.

“We’re hoping that the equipment is going to start arriving this fall,” he said.

“We’re still very encouraged by the progress being made,” said Royer, adding the timeline for the funds from the province had been extended.

One of the more major issues the project also now has to overcome is elevated levels of lithium and uranium in the soil, according to Royer.

“It appears that the soil in this part of Williams Lake is rich in lithium and uranium,” he said, noting it is not enough to be mined.

He said it is not a public health hazard and the issue was not found in nearby surface water, but they need further testing to establish it is a natural phenomenon.

Royer said the company will be applying to the city in the next month or so to subdivide the property in order for some of the property to be leased to other companies. They will apply for three industrial lots.

He said Finning International will be leasing one of the proposed lots.

“We’re still very encouraged by the progress that’s being made,” he said, noting it is a very complex project.

Royer also noted the company has been looking at the upper part of the site as a potential location for some housing which they will bring to the city and First Nations on potential development of the site closer to Midnight Drive. He said it could be “mutually beneficial” to use any excess capacity the facility has at different times to produce housing locally.

The CEO said he sees mass timber as the way to resolve the housing crisis.

“If stars are aligned, production would start in 2025,” said Royer, adding the start up period will be slow in order to train staff and ensure safety is maintained as productivity ramps up.

The project has a reported total potential budget of $75 million and the $10 million investment from the province was part of the province of B.C.’s new $180-million BC Manufacturing Jobs Fund.

Mayor Surinderpal Rathor said while they can’t bypass regulations, he believes the council is on board with the city doing whatever it can to support the project.

With files from Monica Lamb-Yorski.