Alaska Pine – Thurlow and West Georgia

We’re on the 600 block of Thurlow Street, looking south at West Georgia in 1981. The office building in the middle of the picture was the home of Alaska Pine, one of Canada’s most important lumber and pulp businesses. Founded in 1939, the company was incorporated by the Koerner brothers, Leon, Otto and Walter C. From a wealthy, fourth-generation lumber company in Czechoslovakia, they fled Europe in 1938-1939 and settled in Vancouver. The Koerners saw an opportunity by taking Western Hemlock, a species previously regarded as inferior and almost unmarketable, and after a seasoning process, 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. After the war they expanded their business throughout British Columbia by acquiring older, run-down mills and businesses, and adding them to their expanding empire of lumber mills and stands of timber. They added pulp mills in the late 1940s, and employed almost 5,000 people when they moved into their new headquarters building in 1953.

Designed by Thompson Berwick Pratt it was in the international modernist style. Great West Life Insurance occupied offices on the main floor, and there was a bank branch as well. GWL had developed the building, and Alaska Pine were their main tenant. In 1954 the Koerners sold the controlling interest in their business to Rayoniere of New York, and in 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. A 1956 Macleans article about Theo Koerner explains how the family arrived in Canada, established their business here, and the progressive ideas the family introduced to make the business a success. In retirement Theo became a generous philanthropist, and the family name is still attached to many facilities. Although Rayonier continue to operate a world-wide business, they no longer have any BC interests. They were acquired by three existing BC lumber companies in 1980, and continued as Western Forest Products, still headquartered near here in the Royal Centre.

The building didn’t last very long; by the late 1980s it had been demolished, and in 1992 a new 24 storey office building was completed, designed by Webb, Zerafa, Menkes, Housden and Partners. Manulife developed the building, and the region’s main gas company moved in as the lead tenant – first as BC Gas, then Terasen and now known as Fortis BC. Now owned by The Holborn Group, part of the podium has been incorporated into their more recently completed Trump Hotel.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-W14.17

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Posted July 15, 2019 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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