New timber plant an innovation showcase for St. Thomas

city_scope_logo-cmykIt will be the first of its kind in Ontario and, as announced Wednesday (July 24), it is to be located in St. Thomas with an economic impact rippling across southwestern Ontario.
At the Dennis Drive Industrial Park, the province’s minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski and environment minister Jeff Yurek announced $5 million in provincial funding to construct a cross laminated timber plant that will create 60 high-paying jobs.
The $32 million, 125,000 sq. ft. Element 5 facility “will showcase the kind of innovation we want to see more of in Ontario,” stressed Yakabuski at the funding announcement.
Based out of Toronto, Element 5 has an existing plant in Ripon, Quebec which produces solid wood panels made with multiple layers of lumber planks cross-laminated with environmentally friendly adhesives.

The panels are used for floors, walls and roofs, and their structural potential is best suited “as the structural core for buildings ranging from 1 – 20 storeys,” according to the Element5 website.
Also on hand for the announcement, housing minister Steve Clark noted, “Mass timber construction will be an important innovation that can help bring housing to market faster, while still meeting the high standards of the Ontario Building Code to protect public health and safety.”
YUREK ELEMENT 5 ANNOUNCEMENTThe vision, entrepreneurship and creativity of Element 5 “are exactly what we need in southwestern Ontario and, in particular, here in St. Thomas,” added Yurek.
He continued, “Element5 is a leader in greener construction practices and sees the potential of timber as the essential building material in the 21st century.”
In announcing the funding, Yakabuski stressed: “We’ve committed to increasing the use of Ontario timber in construction and renovation while reducing emissions and encouraging mass timber projects.”
He continued, “The proximity to markets was a big consideration as to why they are establishing here. The community was very welcome to working with them and the housing and building boom that is taking place within not too miles of St. Thomas is a big consideration.”
Construction could begin this fall with production expected late next year.


In addition to the provincial first noted above, yesterday (July 27) at the St. Thomas Seniors Centre, Yurek announced that venue will be the site of a pilot project aimed at senior drivers in St. Thomas and Elgin county.
Beginning in September of this year, motorists aged 80 and over will have local access to the educational resources needed to renew their driver’s licence.
The one-year pilot project will feature group education sessions where individuals will obtain driving tips and updates on traffic laws and rules of the road.
“There is a growing demand for senior driver education sessions to be conveniently located in the community,” observed Yurek, “and that’s why we’re piloting this service in St. Thomas.”
He added, “Improving access to senior driver education sessions will help save time and make life easier for seniors.”
The sessions had previously been available in St. Thomas but they were one of the programs and services moved to London some years back in a move to centralize services.
There are 120 locations across the province where seniors can take advantage of these group sessions.


Voters in Elgin-Middlesex-London may finally have an insight as to the Liberal candidate seeking to unseat Conservative MP, Karen Vecchio.
And, in spite of speculation to the contrary, it is not St. Thomas councillor Lori Baldwin-Sands.
Instead, Aylmer resident Pam Armstrong has filed nomination papers in her first run at political office.
In an email to David Goodwin with the federal Liberal riding association, Baldwin-Sands stressed, “Although I have always kept my options open and was asked by party headquarters, I declined pursuing the nomination many months ago.”
Baldwin-Sands ran for the Liberals in the 2015 federal election, finishing second behind Vecchio who won the riding by more than 10,000 votes.
No date has yet been set for a nomination meeting and there is no word on whether Armstrong will be acclaimed.
Pam Armstrong (2)Armstrong, a sales representative with Century 21 in London, says although she is “a new face,” she is a long-time area resident “trying to bring new ideas” to voters.
She adds, “I take public service pretty seriously. I have 30 years in banking and I am a realtor now.
Armstrong notes she is the daughter of a Hamilton steelworker, while an uncle is a retired GM worker and another was president of a CAW local in western Canada.
“I have a labour background, with my husband driving truck for a living. My son serves in the military and my daughter is in the trades.”
With such strong ties to labour, why has Armstrong chosen the federal Liberals over perhaps leaning toward the NDP?
“Every program I needed going forward in my life was brought in by the Liberal government. I’m not going to lie, I have voted for the NDP in the past. But over the past few years, I’ve found the Liberal ideals aligned with my family. Where we needed to go.”
As to going head-to-head against Vecchio, she proclaims “I have no worries.”
Armstrong adds, “I know my stuff . . . I know this area is conservative, I get that. I will keep it positive because that is who I am.”
She admits the hardest part of the process so far has been meeting people and soliciting signatures for her nomination papers.
“Once I started going out and talking to people, I found more support than I realized I had.
“I’m ready. I want to win, of course. I think I can bring a fresh voice. But it’s not going to be devastating to my life if I don’t (win). I have to keep it all positive because that is who I am. That’s the way we’ll run it.”

Related posts:


Two weeks ago we reported on the committee of adjustment hearing to address an application by Patricia Riddell-Laemers for a minor variance so she can operate a childcare centre out of her home at 18 Hickory Lane.
The committee determined further research is needed on the available play space in her backyard and a decision on the variance was deferred to a future date.
Since then, this corner has been in receipt of a copy of the restrictive convenants that purchasers of lots in this particular area of the Lake Margaret subdivision were required to sign.
The restriction agreement between the purchasers of homes and Doug Tarry Limited
contains several covenants applicable to the Riddell-Laemers’ childcare facility and, no doubt, other enterprises operating out of homes in the subdivision.
According to the agreement, “the purchaser shall not use any building erected on a lot for any other purpose than as a private residence and no such building shall be used for the purpose of a profession, trade, employment or business of any description.”
In addition, “the purchaser will not park or store on any lot any trucks of greater than 3/4 tone capacity, boats, trailers and house trailers or any recreational vehicle other than in an enclosed garage.”
You have to wonder why Doug Tarry Limited has not enforced the covenant agreement or is it not worth the paper home purchasers signed at the time?
No doubt there are other home businesses operating in the Lake Margaret subdivision.

Related post:


AUTISM SIGN JPGSpotted this sign yesterday (July 26) in a Talbot Street storefront window.
Any City Scope readers have info on the individual or group responsible for posting this message?
Have them get in touch.


The felling of trees on the Alma College property generated plenty of feedback this past week.

Nancy Mayberry posted the following on the City Scope Facebook page.

“I wonder if the permit granter read the “details of application available on the city website.” Presumably it detailed further negotiations were ongoing.

Alma College watchdog Dawn Doty passed along the following information.

“Patriot Properties purchased the property July 4, 2019. The permit was issued prior to Michael Loweith/Patriot Properties becoming the owner. Municipal Officer Julie Tucker signed the permit on April 25th, 2019. Julie Tucker was at the same meeting I was at where it was clearly stated to Julie Tucker and all present that the trees would be dealt with during the Site Plan Approval process and after the LPAT matter is resolved. The permit mentions the Tree Planting Plan and replanting 91 trees. What Tree Planting Plan? No mention of when the 91 trees will be replanted. Ross Tucker is the Director of this Department. Why didn’t Ross Tucker sign this permit? Ross Tucker was also at all meetings where it was made clear tree removal would be part of the Site Plan Approval process and after LPAT decision. Patriot Properties is now the owner of the property, which has an OMB Decision/LPAT decision attached to it and still outstanding. Calling the issuance of this permit a “Miscommunication” is a disgrace! Will anyone be losing their job over this matter? The removal of the trees had nothing to do with “Miscommunication”, the removal of the trees was a show of power by the proposed Developer!”

Leith Coghlin forwarded this observation.

“It’s why I believe an independent Integrity Commissioner’s office for municipalities needs to exist not just as a further function of the provincial ombudsman. The fact that municipalities can hire their own reeks of conflict. The very person charged with being objective owes their position to the same group that they investigate. An utter sham.”

Reader Steve Thomas bemoans the lack of accountability at the municipal level.

“Disgusting lack of accountability at city hall and in the local municipal public service in general. They think that they can get away with anything, because, well, they HAVE been getting away with it.”

Responding to last week’s item on re-locating the city’s new childcare facility to a municipal parking lot, Dave Mathers presents the following argument.

“Would it not make MUCH more sense to utilize the old police station lot which already has a recently filled hole in the ground instead of the parking lot across the street?”

In a similar vein, Peter Ostojic of Walter Ostojic & Sons Ltd. wonders about the city’s policy on the construction of affordable housing.

“Just do not understand why the city is involved in building affordable housing units themselves? When the private sector builds them for half the price. We need more affordable housing in this community. The city should make provisions for builders to do that, not build themselves.”

Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope

Visit us on Facebook


One thought on “New timber plant an innovation showcase for St. Thomas

  1. Hi Ian,

    I’d just like to provide a little context to enable somewhat more informed consideration of Peter Ostojic’s question (reported in your most recent City Scope as to why the City is building affordable housing units itself.

    I should begin, though, by saying that the City of St. Thomas (and the County of Elgin) owe both Peter and Nic Ostojic an enormous debt of gratitude for the affordable housing units which they have built on many sites since the beginning of the Province’s affordable housing programs. The units they have each contributed to our affordable housing stock have been extremely well-constructed, energy efficient, and been built at remarkably low cost.

    These units were developed in responding to the City’s past proposal calls for the use of capital funds provided under Provincial programs for affordable housing development. The successful proponent for the use of those funds is required to maintain the rents of the units they develop at 80% or less of the average market rent (AMR) for units of a similar size in the community for a minimum period of 20 years (and now 25 years under the most recent Provincial programs).

    The capital funding provided under the various affordable housing programs to date is intended to reduce the proponent’s total borrowing costs, costs which, once a project is occupied are a primary operating expense for the building owner. Tenant rent payments must be high enough to cover those costs to make the project viable. Thus the greater the contribution to the overall capital costs from the Provincial program the lower the rents charged to tenants can potentially be. By keeping building costs as low as they have (while maintaining excellent quality) Peter and Nic Ostojic have each required a smaller share of the available funds for their projects than other private—or non-profit—developers normally would have.

    These same Provincial program rules and program logic applies when the City chooses to use those funds itself, which the Province’s affordable housing programs do allow it to do. However there are two additional benefits attached to the City’s direct use of these funds. They both relate to social purpose. The City has no motive to increase rents above the guideline amounts at any point in time. The City’s goal is simply to permanently increase the stock of affordable housing units in St. Thomas and the County of Elgin (at no additional expense to City taxpayers), because there is a pressing social need to do so. Although the required twenty years of below-market rents required of private developers under affordable housing programs does seem like a long time, the first units built under the program were occupied back in 2008 so we are already more than halfway to the expiry of the condition in the funding agreement requiring that those rents be kept at artificially low levels, with the stock of affordable housing being at considerable risk of being reduced as funding agreements expire.

    The second difference connected with having the City own the housing has to do with who can gain access to the affordable units which are built. When the City owns the units we can dedicate their use to whichever members of the community stand to gain the most benefit from them. Private landlords are quite understandably risk-averse when it comes to making choices amongst who they choose to house. The choice of tenant is essentially a business decision for them. The City does not have that luxury. We already house a large number of households with complex needs. No prospective tenant to City housing is turned away because of the foreseeable challenges that their tenancy will represent. We are dedicated to serving everyone, and where needed and appropriate, supporting our tenants in meeting their obligations as tenants, rather than evicting them. Ours is (and must be) a different business model, one that the City’s housing staff are already fully familiar with and dedicated to implementing.

    There is no question that every additional affordable housing unit built in the community makes a positive contribution to our community’s overall well-being—especially those units meeting the 80% of AMR requirement of Provincial funding. The benefits that Peter Ostijic has provided in this respect over the past 10 years is a large one for which we all owe him a substantial debt of gratitude. And furthermore, it is clear, as he points out, that his development of affordable housing projects has included efficiencies that the City has not yet matched.

    However, the City has multiple overlapping priorities involved in determining choices as to how to turn the available Provincial dollars into the greatest possible public benefit, and, most recently, the City’s decision with respect to that funding was that the public interest was best served by maintaining City ownership of the resulting affordable housing units—and choosing to locate them, together with the new Social Services building, where they would bring additional life to that particular commercial district of the City.

    If I were In Peter Ostojic’s shoes I can well imagine asking the same question he is. Having made the sacrifices he has to serve the interests of the community by developing modest affordable housing projects, and using a minimum of Provincial funding to do so, why is the City not leaving that development process to already-existing community-minded experts such as himself. I hope the points that I have made above will go some way to making the City’s decision more understandable, even if there may still be some room left for debate about it.

    Ralph West
    Housing Services Administrator
    St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services
    423 Talbot St.
    St. Thomas, ON
    N5P 1C1
    PH: (519) 631-9350 X7171
    Fax: (519) 637-4250


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s