A strong foundation
With its early start in the Muskoka area, Midway Lumber Mills Limited has been a source of industrial and
economic pride for the Thessalon area for over 75 years. The move to Thessalon Township from their
southern roots brought Mr. J.B. Morgan and his family to the north shore of Lake Huron. The move
reinforced the industrial complexion of the area while sustaining the timber heritage characterizing the
Thessalon area since its early beginnings over 100 years ago with Nathaniel Dyment.
Midway Lumber was not the only logging and lumber operation in the local area, nor certainly the first,
but it has remained longer than any other and provided employment and a solid economic base upon
which its sister mills and most local businesses and their employees have relied on for over ¾ of a
A unique man in many respects, J.B. Morgan has been credited by many for not only providing a
sustainable economic base to the area, but for introducing some of the most modern farming equipment,
livestock strains and crop developments to the local agricultural community while operating his farm in
The Early Days
John B. Morgan was raised on a farm in Southern Ontario. In his youth he began
experimenting with cutting bush lots. In 1924 he incorporated J.B Morgan Lumber Company,
acting as a lumber wholesaler. Over the next decade, J.B paired his knowledge of the industry with his talent for sales to establish J.B Morgan Lumber into a well-respected operation in
Southern Ontario. Once established, J.B set his sights on vertical integration by opening two
sawmills in Dorsey and Vankoughnet in the 1930s to support his wholesale business.
In seeking out new sources of timber in the 1940’s, J.B purchased the logging rights for McMahon and Morin townships in Northern Ontario. J.B was particularly interested in the slow-growth hardwood that the climate produces that is known for its high quality. With these
licences, J.B built and incorporated Midway Lumber Mills Limited in Thessalon. Midway began
operations as a hardwood sawmill soon after. J.B’s background in both sales and manufacturing
set his operation apart from others in the area, possessing the talent diversity to survive markets that others were not. J.B remained active in the business until his passing in 1969.
The next generation
Growing up around the business allowed Hubert Morgan, J.B’s youngest son, to gain an extensive knowledge of the industry. In 1951, Hubert moved away from the wholesale company to focus on the operations of Midway in Thessalon, living above the office for years as he worked to further develop the mill.
After managing the operations at Midway for several years, Hubert recognized that the
value of the hardwood veneer logs produced in the logging operations was not being realized.
Hubert took the opportunity to diversify the product, offering and integrating a veneer peeling
operation into the group of businesses. Hubert and J.B worked over the next few years to develop the plant. Birchland Veneer Limited was incorporated in 1958 and began manufacturing veneers for the plywood industry with the high-quality hardwood logs accumulated from the operations at Midway.
Throughout the 1970s, Hubert’s sons, Bruce and Doug, became active in managing the companies with Bruce becoming President of Midway Lumber and Doug of Birchland Veneer.
Having grown up in the mills, both were well equipped with industry experience that allowed them to be effective in recognizing value and changing processes to remain competitive in a changing landscape. This generation of leadership is credited with legitimizing the operations creating an infrastructure for the future of the companies. Bruce shifted the focus of Midway’s production towards value-added softwood products and away from commodity products. This was a drastic change that allowed Midway to survive and succeed in markets that many competitors did not. Doug managed the log supply to the veneer mill, shifting to value-added
activities and purchasing programs allowing the Birchlands to continue to grow beyond the capacity of local forestry.
With Birchland’s growth and reputation for high end veneers, the family once again recognized opportunity to grow through value added integration. With this realization, Birchland Plywood began operation in 1986, selling plywood panels featuring their hardwood from the veneer plant. This operation was initially managed by Don Peterson, a cousin of Bruce and Doug. Many employees spent countless hours immersing themselves in a new industry to aid in the new venture. The experience and dedication of the Birchland team allowed for a seamless transition across industries.
In the early 2000’s, the next generation of leadership came on board for the
companies. Bruce’s sons, Mike and Eric, began managing Midway Lumber and Birchland Plywood-Veneer respectively. The mid 2000’s represented challenges for the forest products industry brought on by the 2008 housing crisis. This caused both companies to shift their product mix once again. The most drastic of these changes took place at Birchland. With the
decreased log supply and changing market, Eric recognized an opportunity in spliced faces and exotic species not native to the area. As he became more familiar with this side of the industry,
he began to shift the production of Birchland-Veneer away from log peeling and towards face manufacturing. The veneer mill officially stopped peeling in 2004. Eric continued to develop this business model until his passing in 2014. Following this, his brother Mike took over as president, now leading both Midway Lumber and Birchland Plywood-Veneer. Under new leadership, Birchland has continued to develop and refine the production process to become industry renowned for having unparalleled quality of products and service.
Birchland and Midway employ nearly 150 individuals from the surrounding communities. Several employees have over 40 years of dedicated service. The Birchland team is constantly evolving and has centuries of experience across the different divisions, allowing Birchland to produce the best products in the industry. Mike Morgan remains as president of Midway and Birchland with Bruce acting as vice-president. More recently, Mike’s sons, Mack and Jake, have joined the organization following their graduation from McMaster University. In doing this, they have become the 5th generation to join the business.