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The company was incorporated as Alaska Pine Company Ltd. on May 16, 1939 by the Koerner brothers, Leon Joseph (1892–1972), Otto (1894-1946) and Walter C. (1898–1995). From a wealthy, fourth-generation lumber company in Czechoslovakia, they fled Europe in 1938-1939 and settled in Vancouver.
The Koerners gained a foothold in the lumber business in British Columbia through the innovation of seasoning Western Hemlock, a species previously regarded as inferior and almost unmarketable, and rebranding it as “Alaska Pine.” They successfully marketed it by exporting to the UK and Europe; during the war they supplied 75% of the ammunition and ration boxes used by the armed forces of the British Commonwealth. The Koerners began by assembling some of their old firm’s highly skilled personnel from Europe, and acquired idle or run-down sawmills, including International Products Co., in New Westminster. They followed in by acquiring a box factory in Marpole, incorporated the subsidiary company, Universal Box Company Limited, on January 28, 1943, which became Universal Lumber & Box Company Limited on November 3, 1949.
Working at first without their own timber holdings, in 1940 they gradually made acquisitions on the coast, on Vancouver Island, in the Fraser Valley and the Queen Charlotte Islands. In 1942 they acquired Jones Lake Logging Co. Ltd (incorporated June 17, 1942) and the following year acquired control of Pioneer Timber Co. at Port McNeill, and set up a subsidiary, Northern Timber Company Ltd., (incorporated August 29, 1945) to acquire timber land in the same area.
In 1946, the Koerner brothers, together with an Australian businessman and shipping line owner, Sir Walter Randolph Carpenter, purchased Lake Logging and Lumber Limited which had operated at Cowichan Lake since 1933. On September 24, 1946 they incorporated Western Forest Industries Limited (WFI). This new company continued the logging and mill operations at Cowichan Lake, functioning as part of the lumber division of Alaska Pine Co. Ltd. (this lumber division continued to include Alaska Pine Co. Ltd. sawmills at Marpole and New Westminster). The president of Western Forest Industries was Leon J. Koerner, and Carpenter served as vice-president. Other directors included Clarence H.V. Carpenter, Randolph B. Carpenter, Walter Koerner and Leon J. Ladner.
The Lake Logging and Lumber Limited assets which were transferred to Alaska Pine (operated by its affiliate, Western Forest Industries) included the plant at Honeymoon Bay and timber assets which were some of the largest stands of accessible timber on Vancouver Island. On October 29, 1946 the Koerners also purchased the old-established Victoria firm, the Canadian Puget Sound Lumber and Timber Company Limited, including its logging operation at Jordan River on Vancouver Island. That company had previously had assets transferred to it (May 12, 1941) from Island Logging Company, Limited (incorporated February 14, 1921).
In the late 1940s the Koerners decided to expand into pulp production and began to negotiate the purchase of the British Columbia Pulp and Paper Company Ltd. from the Isaac Walton Killam Group. In the Toronto-based Abitibi Power and Paper Company Ltd. they found a partner to help finance the deal. In 1950 this purchase was completed, and the combined properties of Alaska Pine Company Ltd. and the British Columbia Pulp and Paper Company Ltd. were merged. On April 25, 1951 the British Columbia Pulp and Paper Company Ltd. became Alaska Pine and Cellulose Ltd., with ownership split between the Koerner interests and Abitibi. The company now owned the pulp mills at Woodfibre, near Squamish, B.C., and at Port Alice, on northern Vancouver Island, and in total employed 4,950.
On December 15, 1954, the Koerners sold their controlling interest in Alaska Pine and Cellulose Ltd. to Rayonier Inc. of New York. Leon Koerner retired from the presidency of the company and Walter Koerner became president. Alaska Pine and Cellulose Ltd. continued, now controlled by Rayonier; by 1959, Rayonier had purchased the balance of the stock of the company. On September 16, 1959 the Alaska Pine and Cellulose Ltd. name was changed to Rayonier Canada Limited, although Rayonier continued to make use of the “Alaska Pine” brand name.
Walter Koerner retired in 1972, ending a long relationship with Alaska Pine and Rayonier. In addition to their notable philanthropic contributions, the Koerner brother have been recognized for introducing progressive practices in the B.C. forest industry, including new amenities for workers. Under the Koerners’ direction, their company towns and facilities, such as those at Honeymoon Bay and Gordon River Camp on Vancouver Island, were developed into the most modern company communities in the province.
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Encyclopedia of British Columbia. Daniel Francis, editor. Harbour Publishing. 2000.
Leon Koerner: Industrialist and Philanthropist Extraordinaire, by Rosemary Cunningham. BC History Vol. 40 No. 1 – 2007.
Industry Canada, Federal Corporation Information. Rayonier Canada Limited, corporate name history.