Speed skaters at the 2010 Winter Olympics competed in a specially-built stadium described by organisers as an architectural wonder, and seen by others as proof that wood construction is making a comeback in Canada.
Sports facilities, office buildings and schools are increasingly being built with wood, which was once a primary construction material before cement and steel took over, architects attest.
The trend is providing a shot in the arm for the struggling lumber industry, hit by the economic downturn and stagnating housing construction in the US, the prime market for Canadian softwood.
According to the Canadian government, more than 44,000 forestry and mill workers lost their jobs between 2003 and 2009.
“We built this sort of building in the 1920s and 1930s. In the old city centres of Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, you can still find five-storey (wood) buildings,” said Louis Poliquin, head of Cecobois, an industry group that promotes commercial wood construction.
“We also have massive airplane hangars in Quebec’s far north and at military bases with wood arches,” he said.
Used to build many of Canada’s old churches, wood fell out of favour after the 1950s as concrete and steel structures began making inroads. Only residential construction resisted the change-over.
One of the last and finest examples of the versatility of wood construction in Canada, Precious Blood Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with its twisting spire, was erected in the late 1960s.
More recently, environmental and economic pressures have helped to reverse the trend which saw builders moving away from this renewable natural resource, in a country which possesses 10 per cent of the world’s forest coverage.
“We know that wood, as a natural resource, requires very little energy to exploit and transform, compared to cement and steel,” and it is abundant in Canada, said Poliquin.
“The forest products industry is one of Canada’s leading manufacturing sectors and largest net exporter,” says Industry Canada on its website, highlighting that the industry is split into wood products, paper and pulp.
“It is the cornerstone of the economy and a major component of the industrial structure and employment base of all regions of the country.”
Total forestry revenues in 2008 were 66 billion Canadian dollars (around 66 billion US), with exports to the US accounting for some 21 billion dollars of revenues, according to the government body Statistics Canada.