Aaron Ellingsen is at least the fourth generation of his family to make all or part of his livelihood through forestry- and timber-related work on and around Cortes Island. Cortes is part of the Discovery Islands archipelago on the coast of British Columbia. The island is small, with about 1,035 permanent residents spread across 130 km². Cortes is part of the traditional unceded territories of the Homalco, Tla’amin, and Klahoose First Nations.
I came across Aaron, his wife Jeramie, and their company Ellingsen Woods through their involvement with TWIG and Pitch Night. Aaron mills, kiln dries, and planes all the logs, timbers, and boards used to make their value-added products. Jeramie works the office and occasionally moves boards around the mill site. They are currently in the ideas phase of how they can leverage their unique situation to grow the company and better the community at the same time.
Ellingsen Woods was founded in 2016 with a plan to contribute to creating a modern, working, small-scale, value-added forestry products industry for Cortes Island. Ellingsen Woods sold rough-cut lumber to the local community in its early days, but they’re looking to do more.
“It’s really challenging being a small sawmill,” explained Ellingsen. “We’re looking to move beyond breaking down logs and start producing value-added wood products.”
This would benefit their business but also the community.
“We’re taking a lot of inspiration from Fogo Island,” explained Ellingsen. “Partly from the cooperative situation, but also, the Fogo Island Workshops are producing locally made products for the locals, but also the world beyond. The concept of selling 10,000 units isn’t what we’re going for. We want to prioritize quality over quantity.”
The husband and wife team has many ideas for what kinds of products they’re interested in producing and are in talks with Emily Carr for some design drawings and concepts. They’re also getting industrial design and expertise from UBC and guidance from CAWP.
“We like the idea of flat-pack cabana structures,” said Ellingsen. “Not as refined as a kit, you get some big box stores. A bunk-style structure for families and camping. And we want it to be accessible; we want people on Cortes to be able to purchase these for their properties, for their families.”
For Ellingsen Woods, it’s all about community and sourcing local. The Ellingsens have lived on Cortes for six generations. They have great respect for the unceded land. Ellingsen Woods milled and processed fibre from within the Cortes Community Forest Cooperative.
Aaron Ellingsen is a board member of the CCFC and Co-Chair of the Cortes Forest General Partnership (CFGP), which holds a Community Forest Agreement with the provincial government for 3869 hectares of Crown land on Cortes.
The CFGP is an equal partnership between the Klahoose Forestry N0 2 Limited Partnership (KF2LP) and the CCFC committed to building a resilient and vibrant world-class community-based forestry operation on Cortes Island. The CFGP exists to be a successful forestry business known for the quality of its timber and its ecosystem-based forest stewardship.
“We need to take care of this land; we have what other people would call ridiculously low cut levels, probably 90% below the Allowable Annual Cut rates,” laughed Ellingsen. “But we want to be responsible when it comes to sustainable forestry, and the community holds us to that. Cortes Islanders are known to be ferocious protesters.”
The Ellingsens are well aware that it’s about more than just their company. They’re looking to create partnerships and collaborations that will help to stimulate the local economy and promote environmentally sustainable business practices.
“BC forestry has been grossly mismanaged over the last century,” stated Ellingsen. “We’re trying to preserve the desirable wood – like 150-year-old western red cedar and Douglas fir – and focus on other woods that are perceived as lower value – like western hemlock. It’s a way of being more responsible.”