Read more about this source on: ROB Newspaper
When he was about 10, Bryan Reid Sr. accompanied his stepfather, Albert Chevigny, on weekends as he worked his trapline in the Cariboo Country around Williams Lake, B.C. A highlight was ending a day’s work at one of the log cabins on the trapline and starting a roaring blaze in the fireplace. “It was living a dream,” Reid recalled a half century later.
A log home built by Pioneer Log Homes of B.C.
Photo: Pioneer Log Homes
His adoration for those cabins inspired him as a newlywed, barely out of high school, to build a log home for his own young family. That project, completed in 1973, laid the foundation for what would become Pioneer Log Homes of B.C., a company that builds handcrafted homes for export to about 15 countries, including the United States, Scotland and Austria.
From that single modest home of just more than 1,000 square feet, Pioneer has carved out an international reputation. One recent contract was for a $6.2-million, 114,000-square-foot log mansion in Colorado. “It wasn’t an industry when I started,” Reid said. “There was no industry. People didn’t want log homes.”
Among key family members of his team are stepbrother André Chevigny, Pioneer’s general manager, as well as Reid’s son and grandson, both also named Bryan. Today the team totals about 110 employees, mostly skilled craftspeople who build by hand the equivalent of 100 standard-sized log homes on three sites in the Williams Lake area.
The homes, which are made of Western red cedar, are then taken apart piece by piece by crane and loaded into shipping containers. At their destination, the pieces are unloaded and reassembled by Pioneer craftsmen, using local cranes.
“The log above has to fit exactly on the log below, so that there’s only one place in the home that these logs will fit,” explained Larry George, Pioneer’s chief executive officer of U.S. distribution. “And they’re not interchangeable. So if you screw up one log you can literally screw up the entire house.”
A retired veterinary surgeon, George had hired Reid in the early 1990s to build a log home for him in the mountains near Payson, Ariz., about 150 km northeast of Phoenix. The two later became partners and built the U.S. share of the market from a few homes a year to where it reached about 90% of Pioneer’s business, George said.
Reid credits the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement, and later the North American free-trade agreement, with helping open the U.S. market. But as housing starts slumped following the 2008 financial crisis, so did the demand for log homes in the United States. George is optimistic, though, that the market will soon turn around because of pent-up demand.
“We have a lot of people who are just waiting to see what will happen tax-wise,” George said, adding that he wasn’t happy about the outcome of the recent U.S. presidential election. President Barack Obama has vowed to raise taxes on the wealthy, who are the most able to afford the spacious custom houses that are Pioneer’s signature creations.
Meanwhile, the company is exploring and finding new markets outside the U.S. Reid is heading to China this fall to set up a dealer in that country, even though he has yet to sell a log home in the Asian country. “We only have a finite number of homes we can build and we’ve taken care of the markets and distributors that we have,” Reid said. “We’re only doing this because somebody told me you have to do business in China if you’re going to succeed.”
This summer, Pioneer shipped six homes to Austria and seven cabins and a post-and-beam reception office with staff residences to Scotland. The Scottish shipment was for Eagle Brae, an 8,000-acre resort that is set to open next July in the Inverness area near Loch Ness.
Mike Spencer-Nairn, who with his wife Pawana is developing the resort, said he found out about Pioneer through its agent in Scotland. They were so impressed by other Pioneer homes they had seen in Scotland that they decided its cabins would be perfect for their resort, which aims to be a carbon-neutral tourist destination. “It’s a well-run outfit and the craftsmen are superb,” Spencer-Nairn said of Pioneer.
The homes were expensive, running about £100,000 ($160,000) for each of the seven tourist cabins, he noted. And that was just for the log package. Finishing them will cost that much again. “But they look like they’re worth it,” Spencer-Nairn said. “They’re impressive structures and they’re put the extra touches in.” That includes carvings of local wildlife in the logs and preservation of the natural flaring of the timber.
Despite those intricate details, Pioneer homes compare favourably, at $200 to $300 a square foot, with the cost of other premium homes, Reid pointed out. And they are designed to last 500 years. “Most of the homes that we build end up in a family trust that will be passed down from generation to generation,” George said.