The smell of cedar fills the air as an excavator breaks up walls and floors. A pile of broken boards sits in front of it; the half-dismantled building stands behind.
Sunbury Cedar’s office off River Road was old — worn carpet and aging equipment marked its years — but it had character, with the inside of the building covered in rich red cedar planks.
Now, half the building is gone, turned into the pile of rubble in front of the warehouse. Beside it, workers walk around carrying clipboards, counting the remaining stacks of wood in the lumber yard.
It’s expected to all be gone by the end of December.
“It’s just a sign of the times,” Dean DeCraene said, standing in the emptying lumber yard. DeCraene had been the manager of Sunbury Cedar for 31 years, before moving to the Delta Cedar mill next door two years ago.
“It’s always disappointing to see it go,” he added. “All the customers say it’s disappointing to see it go because it’s been here for 40 years.”
Sunbury Cedar officially opened in 1974, but the Delta lumber company actually began much earlier as the passion project of Gene Roy, Errol Wintermute, Wallace Wilkinson and John Dyck.
The four began Delta Cedar in 1958 — a lumber yard that sourced its wood from the mill next door. They started by working with BC Cross Arms, a company that manufactured telephone polls and cross arms (the wooden structures that hold up utility lines).
By 1964, Delta Cedar began milling its own timber — starting with red and yellow cedar, and eventually working with all types of wood. In 1974, the company expanded to include the Sunbury Cedar lumber yard, which allowed the public to buy the company’s sheds, gazebos, fencing and wood. About 10 years later the company introduced its first installation division with the purchase of Lumber Barn.
Many of the staff had been at Sunbury Cedar for years — some even started there as their first job.
“There was always a real family feeling among the people that worked here together,” DeCraene said. “Even people that worked here for a short period of time — a year or two years — often they would visit and say, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ Even from their new jobs.”
“I would say … there’s always a really good group of people here,” he continued.
In the beginning of October, Delta Cedar Group of Companies included the Delta Cedar Mill on River Road, Halo Sawmill in Pitt Meadows, and Sunbury Cedar’s lumber yard and installation division.
But Sunbury Cedar had been facing some significant challenges, including the loss of some land from its leased lot because of the construction of Highway 17.
“Since then, it’s been kind of rough for our customers, kind of rough for us,” Dave Deckert, Sunbury Cedar’s general manager said.
The construction of Highway 17 had not only chipped away at the yard’s property — resulting in customers having to enter through the back of the lot — but also created a traffic problem where highway congestion and dead-end roads made it difficult for customers to get there.
That, coupled with increasing rents and the possibility of even more land being lost to the planned interchange for Highway 17 and Highway 91 Connector, made the yard’s continued existence at 10008 River Road impossible.
“It would have been a good year for us,” Deckert said. “Next year would have been great as well, we had some big, great plans. But, with the land getting cut back and rent increasing, you can’t win.”
Deckert didn’t know if the executives at Delta Cedar Group had been looking for a new location for Sunbury Cedar — they had been putting most of their attention into the mills, he said. Luckily for Delta Cedar Group, ProStar Painting and Restoration came in with an offer to purchase Sunbury Cedar, and Delta Cedar Group accepted.
“The owners … they are all really committed to seeing the Sunbury brand grow, even though they don’t own it anymore,” he said. “Because there’s a family connection there [two of the owners are brothers-in-law], they care about it that much more.
“If you have a very favourite pet, and you had to get rid of it, you’d want it to go to a good family,” he continued. “It’s not going to some dirty old pet shop. There’s family involved, they know each other really well. So it made sense.”
But ProStar was only interested in purchasing the installation portion of Sunbury Cedar. The yard, which Deckert said would lose money if it was operating on its own, would be shut down.
On Oct. 19, ProStar purchased Sunbury Cedar. By mid-November, the installation division had moved into the company’s Vancouver office — taking over a board room on the second floor of the Victoria Street building.
“We’re all working together; we’re all getting to know each other,” Deckert said about the Sunbury employees who moved over to ProStar. Deckert said ProStar is planning to move to a new building in a year, as the current space “works for now, but it’s pretty tight.”
Of the 17 core employees who had worked for Sunbury Cedar, four were working in installation. They all moved over to the ProStar office, as did Deckert, who continues to work as a manager for the team. Several other employees got jobs in Delta Cedar’s head office, or moved over to one of the mills.
“The business is the people,” Deckert said. “We can be a brand, we can be a company all we want, but without our core group there, we’re nothing.”
The remaining employees are working to close the lumber yard — although both Deckert and DeCraene say there’s no shortage of opportunities for those who are being let go.
“There’s lots of jobs out there. Anyone who wants to work can get a job out there,” DeCraene said. “There’s people coming by that are buying the material as we’re getting rid of it. They’re saying ‘Hey, what about the people that work here? Give me some names.’ Because everyone’s looking for someone that works.”
As for customers, Deckert said Sunbury Cedar will continue to offer its fence and deck installation services under the Sunbury brand. Sunbury Cedar had already worked on a number of multi-family projects, as well as installations for single-family homes; Deckert said they plan to expand to more strata projects in the future.
“It’s onwards and upwards,” Deckert said. “ProStar is focused on growth.”
But for the retail customers of Sunbury Cedar, and the 30 or more part-time summer employees for the yard, the growth has ended.
“We had a really good run,” Deckert said, “but I guess this is the end of that yard.”