Our History | Tolko Industries

Our History

Our story begins with the Thorlakson family and their values which created Tolko. Three generations later, both are still integral parts of the way we conduct ourselves. It is because of these values that we have been able to face adversity and succeed, and why we are committed to sharing that success with those around us.

Scroll down to check out Tolko's history or click the play button to view our 65th anniversary video.

Founding the business 1955-1972


Harold Thorlakson, his brother Joe, and Joe’s son Harold M. Thorlakson establish a new business near Lavington, BC. They contract Theo Fandrich, who brings his self-built, portable planer to the site, to do custom planing.


Harold purchases his brothers' shares in the business. With this change, Harold becomes sole proprietor of Lavington Planer Mill (LPM) and the business that would become Tolko Industries Ltd. was born.


With the business growing, LPM purchases a planer from Hoover Sawmills Ltd., Harold incorporates on August 21, 1961.


Doug, Harold’s first-born son, joins him at the business. Doug grew up learning the business from Harold, but spent his early working years with some of the interior’s industry-leading organizations at the time, including: Kelowna Grower’s Exchange, S&K Plywood of S.M Simpson Ltd., North Lake Lumber in Beaverdell, and the B.C. Forest Service. Upon rejoining the business, Doug works in the mill and drives trucks before helping to establish the forestry side of the business.

Doug Thorlakson photo


Harold’s youngest son, James A. Thorlakson (who goes by Al), returns to the business to run the manufacturing operations. Before returning, Al attended UBC and obtained his Bachelor of Applied Science in Engineering. He then worked as a Plant Engineer for Weldwood in Quesnel. While at Weldwood, he obtained his Professional Engineering designation.

Al Thorlakson photo


With the help of a core group of employees; including Bruce Jeffers, the mill’s first employee; Derry Ewart, Harold’s brother-in-law and planerman;  Jake Wierenga, a sawyer with a strategic mindset, and Yosh Ouchi, a First Aid attendant and lumber yard planerman/lead hand, Harold establishes a permanent sawmill structure on the Lavington Planer site.


Harold’s second son, John, rejoins the business to manage the mill’s sales business. John also attended UBC and obtained his Bachelor of Applied Science in Engineering. He followed this up with a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from McGill University. John worked in the oil and gas industry and achieved his Professional Engineer designation before returning to work alongside his father and brothers.

Harold, Al & John photo


With all three boys back in the business, the company begins to gather steam.


Lavington Planer Mill Ltd. makes its first major acquisition and doubles in size with the purchase of Hoover Sawmills Ltd.

Hoover Sawmill


Based upon family discussions and Harold's suggestions, the company gets a new name: Tolko Industries Ltd. Many people wonder where "Tolko" comes from – it is composed of every second letter of the Thorlakson name.


Fire destroys the Hoover sawmill operation and the company consolidates both operations at Lavington. A second sawmill line and a graveyard shift are added to help accommodate the growth.


Harold Thorlakson, seeing the business was doing well in the hands of his sons, turns control of the business over to them.

L-R: Al, Harold, Doug, and John Thorlakson.


Matriarch Jemma Thorlakson passes away leaving behind three boys who have grown up to understand the value of an education and working hard to create a better future. Jemma, a nurse and strong, successful career woman in her own right, had used her education to support Harold and the family while they built their dream. She made sure the boys understood the family values and embedded in them a strong vision for the company as a family business.


Founder and patriarch Harold Thorlakson suffers a stroke and passes away. Harold’s legacy as a tough but fair businessman whose handshake was his word, who did what he said he would do, lives on to this day.

Tolko purchases Ernst Forest Products in Quesnel, BC, doubling the size of the company for a second time. Tolko invests in manufacturing improvements and changes the division’s name to Quest Wood.


With an eye to future growth, Tolko initiates its strategic planning process. A mission is defined and the five Thorlakson family principles Harold and Jemma had applied to the daily operation of the business are formally stated and codified as the Tolko values of: Respect, Integrity, Open Communication, Profit, and Progressiveness.


Tolko purchases Balco Industries, doubling the size of the company for the third time. Balco's head office and main manufacturing plant are located in Heffley Creek, BC. The company also has operations in Merritt and Louis Creek. The acquisition includes the Heffley Creek plywood plant, launching Tolko into the plywood business – its first step into product diversification.

Heffley Creek


Tolko purchases Nova Lumber, located near North Vancouver on Burrard Inlet. The division is known as Inlet Cedar and a new product, Tolko Topflight, is introduced. Inlet Cedar operates for nearly 10 years before its closure due to a lack of timber supply.


Product and geographic diversification become fundamental to Tolko’s strategic direction.


Tolko applies to construct an Oriented Strand Board (OSB) mill in the town of High Prairie, AB.


Tolko’s High Prairie Division, the first of what would become known as third generation OSB mills, delivers its first load of OSB to customers.


Tolko moves into the kraft paper manufacturing and sales arena with the purchase of Repap Manitoba.

Kraft Paper


Tolko produces its first Sustainability Report. In the report, the company introduces its Environmental and Aboriginal Policies and formally states its Forest Management Principles. The company also reinforces its commitment to "the well-being of future generations through responsible environmental performance."


Tolko wraps up its acquisition activities of the 1990s with the purchase of another sawmill in High Level, AB. The operation is one of the largest lumber producers in the province and becomes known as the High Level Lumber Division.


Tolko announces its intent to construct a second world-class OSB mill near Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. 


Tolko Marketing and Sales Ltd. is launched to handle Tolko’s marketing, sales, and transportation functions.

Following two years of construction, Meadow Lake OSB Limited Partnership begins production. In addition to the advanced technology and operational capacity, the mill is a milestone in Tolko’s relations with Aboriginal communities. Partners in the project include Meadow Lake Tribal Council, which represents nine First Nations communities, Northwest Communities Holdings Ltd., which represents seven Metis communities, and provincial government agency Investment Saskatchewan.

While great things are happening in Meadow Lake, tragedy strikes in British Columbia as wildfires rage across the province. On July 30, 2003, despite the heroic efforts of staff on site, the McClure-Barriere fire consumes Tolko’s Louis Creek sawmill. After a thorough analysis, the difficult decision is made to not rebuild.


Tolko makes two purchases. The first is an older OSB mill in Slave Lake, AB, formerly a Weyerhaeuser mill. Tolko uses this purchase to expand their panel business and enhance their wood supply in Alberta. Later this same year, Tolko makes the largest acquisition in its history with the purchase of B.C.-based Riverside Forest Products. Overnight, the company acquires 2,500 employees and eight primary manufacturing divisions.

Riverside Forest Products photo


The growing company needs a headquarters that reflects its commitment to a green future, so Tolko starts planning for a new corporate headquarters in Vernon, BC. In true family values style, employees are asked for their input throughout the planning process.


In a demonstration of Tolko’s commitment to its values and policies, Tolko wins both the Energy Conservation Award and a B.C. Export Award.


An economic downturn challenges Tolko and the industry to expand their horizons.


Just as things are looking brightest with Tolko opening its new corporate office in downtown Vernon, the economy collapses. The downturn coincides with the devastating invasion of the mountain pine beetle, which decimates the forests of British Columbia. To deal with these situations, Tolko consolidates its holdings and curtails operations at its High Prairie OSB location.

Vernon Corporate office


As the economic downturn shows no signs of relenting, Tolko is forced to close its Creekside Mill and mothball its new Athabasca engineered wood/OSB mill. 


In an effort to minimize the impact of the downturn, Tolko Marketing and Sales Ltd. substantially expands into international markets, particularly China. Before the end of the downturn, these will come to represent nearly 50% of Tolko’s product market.

China market


As one era ends, a new vision for the future begins to emerge.


Al Thorlakson moves into the Executive Chairman role for the company while his son, Brad, assumes the role of President and CEO.

Brad Thorlakson photo


Tolko introduces its new strategic plan “Join the Journey.” A Balanced Scorecard approach, this strategy is rolled out to employees across the company.


Under Brad’s leadership, the company continues to focus on international markets as the downturn continues to negatively impact North American housing which keeps the price of lumber and other products at an all-time low. To demonstrate his belief in the potential of these markets, Brad commissions the Lulu Island Terminal. The reload is designed as an all-inclusive warehousing and transportation solution that can meet the company’s export requirements. Tolko also wins another BC Export Award.

Lulu Island Terminal photo


With the economic recovery underway, Tolko restarts its engineered wood product (EWP)/OSB mill in Athabasca, AB. This state-of-the-art facility has the longest continuous press in North America, and it produces its first board by December 2013 followed by a grand re-opening celebration in mid-2014.

Athabasca opening photo

The company also introduces its new strategic plan, “Good to Great,” which will take the company through to 2018.


As the vision for the future begins to take hold, Tolko partners with Pinnacle Renewable Energy and begins construction on a state-of-the-art pellet plant at its Lavington Division. The plant uses new technology to dry the chips and dust for pellets, lowering emissions and improving overall air quality for the mill. The plant represents a $47 million investment and creates an additional 25 jobs in the community.

Lavington pellets photo


Sometimes you have to get smaller to grow, so Tolko makes the difficult decision to sell Manitoba Kraft Paper Division after nineteen years in the community. Despite many attempts and innovative ideas, the business is not a viable interest for Tolko and is sold to a U.S. buyer with little job or benefits lost.

Later this same year, Tolko is faced with another hard decision as it closes its Nicola Lumber Division because of shrinking log supply due to reductions to the BC annual allowable cut and the impact of the mountain pine beetle.


Buoyed by record high Oriented Strand Board markets, Tolko reopens its shuttered OSB mill in High Prairie, AB. With input and support from the community, as well as new and former employees, the mill produces its first board before the end of the year.

In November, tragedy strikes and a fire closes Tolko’s Lakeview operation in Williams Lake. No one is injured, and the mill will be rebuilt. The spirit in Williams Lake is dampened but not down as employees look forward to the mill reopening in 2019.


Tolko moves into the U.S. Partnering with family-owned Hunt Forest Products, Tolko enters a joint venture to construct a state-of-the-art sawmill near Urania, LA. The mill will consume approximately 850,000 tons of timber annually, produce 200 million board feet per year, and have three continuous dry kilns and a planer facility. To ensure the facility continues Tolko’s commitment to green operations, all wood chips, sawdust, planer shavings, and hog fuel will go to Drax Biomass, which operates a 450,000-ton wood pellet facility adjacent to the sawmill. The mill begins operations in December.

Louisiana mill

Building on the hits and misses of the “Good to Great” strategy, the Tolko Leadership Team rolls out “The Power of Great,” a five-year strategy designed to help the company achieve its strategic vision.

In November, Tolko Industries and Southeastern Timber Products announce a 50-50 joint-venture partnership in a lumber mill in Ackerman, MS. The mill, which employs 150 people, is rebranded as Southeastern Timber Products LLC, an STP-Tolko Partnership.


Tolko saw many highlights in 2019 as well as some tough changes for the company. The year started strong with our High Level Division becoming the first of our operations to reach 750,000 hours without a single recordable injury. Soda Creek and Lavington followed with 250,000-hour milestones, and High Prairie passed one full year without a recordable safety incident.

Our Lakeview division returned to full operations in April following a devastating fire and a year-long rebuild, while in May, the shortage of economic fibre led to the permanent closure of our Quest Wood sawmill in Quesnel, BC and a shift reduction at our Kelowna division. High log costs and weak market conditions in BC would continue to impact our operations and several locations took limited periods of downtime during the year. Following a curtailment in September, it was announced in November that our Kelowna division would permanently close in the New Year.

Offsetting the closures, Tolko celebrated the May grand opening of the LaSalle Lumber Company sawmill, a joint venture in Urania, LA with Hunt Forest Products. Later in the summer, construction began on Tolko and Pinnacle Renewable Energy’s limited partnership pellet plant in High Level, AB.

Tolko’s products and the way we promote them got an update with a refreshed Tolko website, a new product guide mobile app, and the introduction of T-TEC: Tolko’s own line of Laminated Strand Lumber (LSL) products.


Our primary focus at Tolko is the health and safety of our employees, and that was more critical than ever in 2020 as we all faced the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the strengths of our company is our ability to make changes and quickly adjust during a crisis or tough times. We were able to do that while continuing to run safely — a testament to the engagement and commitment of our employees. Everyone pulled together, stayed focused, and continued our important work as an essential service to safely and efficiently make quality products for our customers.

We continued to expand our product line in 2020 with the introduction of our Engineered Wood Floor System, our T-TEC Premium Flooring, and our Parallel Laminated Veneer (PLV).

Jasper logoIn November, Tolko and Jasper Lumber Company announced a partnership in an existing sawmill, shavings, whole log chipper, and trucking business in Jasper, AL, U.S.A. The 50-50 joint-venture is known as Jasper Forest Products LLC., A Jasper-Tolko Partnership.

In December, Pinnacle Renewable Energy began producing pellets at their new facility in High Level, AB, which is 50% owned by Pinnacle and 50% by Tolko through a limited partnership.

Pinnacle pellets


The Northern Pellet Limited Partnership in High Level, AB, which Tolko jointly owns with Pinnacle Renewable Energy, won the “Groundbreaker of the Year Award” at the 2021 International Biomass Conference & Expo.

We continued to expand our reload network in 2021 with a new centre in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. With nearly 30 locations in Canada and the United States, these facilities put us closer to our customers by ensuring quick delivery and a consistent supply of Tolko products.

Hunt and Tolko logosTolko and Hunt Forest Products announced in July that a new, $240 million, state-of-the-art sawmill would be built in Bienville Parish, near Taylor, LA. Construction is expected to start in early 2022.

This year, Tolko celebrated our 65th anniversary. Our story began in Lavington in 1956 with the Lavington Planer Mill and has grown many folds since then. Throughout those 65 years, Tolko has been driven forward by our core Values — Safety, Respect, Progressiveness, Integrity, Open Communication, and Profit. Tolko’s Values have helped shape the innovative and nimble company we are today, and the biggest reason for our long-term success has been our people. Tolko people are known throughout the industry for their hard work, commitment to getting the job done, and working safely.


In May, there was a serious press fire at Tolko's High Prairie mill. Unfortunately, the damage to the press and press building was significant, and much of the equipment was a total loss. Tolko decided to rebuild the site and replace the existing press line to be better than ever. It is estimated that the mill will see the first new board before the end of Q4 2023.

Southeastern Timber Products lineThe Board of Directors of Southeastern Timber Products LLC, an STP-Tolko Partnership (STP), announced a $150 million USD capital investment in the STP lumber mill in Ackerman, Mississippi. The partnership is a joint venture between Tolko Industries (U.S.) Ltd. and STP Holdings, LLC. The investment is the next step in an expansion project that will upgrade the mill from 120MMFBM to 250MMFBM annual capacity. The project will be concluding in the first quarter of 2024.

Western Red CedarFollowing a trial project, Tolko began offering Western Red Cedar, a product known for its natural beauty and durability.

In July, Tolko officially joined the Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA). Since we are always looking forward and planning for our future, we saw joining the AFPA as a valuable way to continue to advance sustainable forestry in the province of Alberta.