BIDCo owner Brian Fehr and Premier John Horgan in a press conference Tuesday, June 12th in Canal Flats at the site of the old Canfor mill, which was shut down in 2015 and is now being reinvigorated with a plan for a technology centre. Photo by Dauna Ditson

Former B.C. mill town eyed by province for new high-tech data hub

Canal Flats mill to be transformed into tech centre

The old Canal Flats mill is changing eras and sawing ahead into the age of technology.

A reception area at the mill site was packed with a standing-room-only crowd on Tuesday, June 12th as the co-founders of the Columbia Lake Technology Centre – a business so new it doesn’t yet have a website – revealed their plans to turn the location into a high-tech data hub and training centre.

“We’re pulling from the past to the future,” centre co-founder Brian Fry said. He envisions seeing data centres, greenhouses to take advantage of the heat produced by the centres, training facilities, technical training programs and more.

An old mill in the rural interior might not seem like the ideal location for a cutting-edge venture, but Fry said the site has everything they need: lots of space (1,000 acres), lots of power and a fiber optic network that means the centre will be “as connected as anywhere in the world.”

Being in a rural area away from other technology centres is irrelevant to the business side of things, he said, adding that “we’re milliseconds from anywhere else in the world.”

The location also comes with the advantages of being near “the glorious mountains,” and having access to affordable housing and land to develop, he said.

The mill shut down in 2015. Last year Mr. Fry’s co-founder, Brian Fehr, purchased the land.

Mr. Fehr chairs BID Group, a multinational corporation. His work has taken him all over rural BC and around the United States with high-tech equipment that makes manufacturing more efficient.

“For the past 40 years I’ve been in the business of building and improving saw mills,” Mr. Fehr said. “We want to give back by creating value and opportunity for the people in rural B.C.”

Premier John Horgan, who used to be a mill worker himself, stopped in Canal Flats to cheer on the initiative.

“We all know, nobody more so than the people in Canal Flats, that there’s a transition happening in our forest economy,” he said. “Technology, for better or worse, is reducing our ability to have people working in mills.”

The forestry industry continues to thrive, he said, but technology is displacing workers.

It’s fitting then, that the technology industry is rising up to fill the gap it had a hand in creating in rural areas like Canal Flats.

Over 20 people are already employed at the Columbia Lake Technology Centre site. By the end of the year, Mr. Fehr expects to have 100 people working on location – just as many as had been employed at the mill.

“The Columbia Lake Technology Centre is a classic example of how you can take industrial space, you can take access to energy – which the Kootenay has in abundance – and create economic opportunity” said Premier Horgan.

“What we’re experiencing right here, taking what was a crisis in 2015, and turning it into an extraordinary opportunity just three years later – because of the work of the community, because of the Trust, because of investors that had a vision – it’s just inspiring,” he said.

Mr. Fehr has been impressed by how “welcoming and enthusiastic” everyone has been.

You could even say the community offered its support on a platter. When Base Camp Coffee Shop ran out of serving platters to provide trays of treats for the event, the people of Canal Flats opened their cupboards and brought their platters over.

“When the mill closed, we were devastated,” Canal Flats Mayor Ute Juras said, admitting that the shutdown brought the community to tears.

She is ready for the opportunities the Columbia Lake Technology Centre envisions.

“I’m super excited about this new venture and adventure for this tiny little town,” she said.

Just Posted

Chilliwack man faces Motor Vehicle Act charge for crash that killed pregnant woman

Frank Tessman charged for 2018 Highway 1 accident where Kelowna elementary school teacher died

Changes coming June 30 to bus services in Abbotsford

Several existing routes are being realigned and one route is being discontinued

Nominations open for the 15th annual Arty Awards in Abbotsford

Awards recognize achievement in the arts in nine categories

TRAFFIC HUB: Links to cameras and maps of Abbotsford’s traffic situation

We’ve collected a handful of helpful links to help you plan your commute or weekend travel

Abbotsford council declines to declare climate emergency

Mayor says city is working to reduce emissions, but that procedures preclude immediate action

VIDEO: Clip of driver speeding past B.C. school bus alarms MLA

Laurie Throness of Chilliwack-Kent says he will lobby for better safety measures

Former Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo to retire

‘Bobby Lou’ calls it a career after 19 NHL seasons

Province unveils 10-year plan to boost mental health, addiction recovery services

The plan, called A Pathway to Hope, focuses on early-intervention services that are seeing high demand

Man arrested for alleged indecent act after ‘predatory’ SkyTrain incident

A woman had reported the man had exposed himself while on the train on April 29

Two helicopters reportedly seized by RCMP near U.S. border south of Cultus Lake

Federal Mounties mum on raid two weeks after dramatic raid reported by Columbia Valley residents

Man shot dead in Vancouver’s fifth homicide of 2019

Body was found in an apartment near Main Street and East 35 Avenue

Rock slide in B.C. river may hinder salmon passage

DFO says it is aware that the slide occurred in a narrow portion of the Fraser River

Four-hour tarmac delay violates charter rights of Canadians with a disability: lawsuit

Bob Brown says new rules reduce the distance he can travel by air without putting his health at risk

Most Read