Working at Port Alberni’s paper mill for 26 years, Laura Hamelin has seen a lot of changes. But her love for her job has not changed.
Hamelin works as a backtender at Paper Excellence Canada, which means she operates the papermaking machine and directs other workers in winding, slitting and weighing paper rolls.
“My job is basically to help build the [paper] reel,” she said. “I’m in charge of quality control for the reel and making sure it’s in spec.”
She inspects the sheet for defects like dirt, spots or wrinkles.
“When we turn up a reel, I take the samples into the test station and I run the tests through,” she said. “I’m basically building the reel.”
The Paper Excellence mill produces newsprint for newspapers and glossy papers for flyers and magazines. In 2020, the company announced some upgrades that will allow the mill to diversify into more food grade papers used by restaurants.
As of this month, Hamelin has been at Paper Excellence for 26 years. She started out as a paper maker and worked her way up over the years.
“It’s a long time, but it’s gone by so quickly,” said Hamelin. “I really love it. There’s nothing else like it. I love telling people what I do for a living. I have pride in my job and where I work.”
She originally learned about the job through word-of-mouth—she had an uncle who worked as a paper maker, as well as a few friends who worked at the paper mill. When Hamelin started out with the company in the ‘90s, they required only a Grade 12 education and a physical fitness test. Although the fitness tests are no longer required, Hamelin said it is a physically demanding job.
“I like the challenge of it,” she said. “It’s exciting to me. There are a lot of different things happening—every day is different. It’s not always the same. I like the challenge of trying to make the job better or making the reel better. I find it interesting.”
One of her favourite parts of the job is the people who work there.
“I’ve grown to like a lot of the people I work with,” she said. “Some of us hang out on our days off. We spend a lot of time together—we’re almost like family.”
The mill has gone through a number of ownership changes over the years. When Hamelin first started at the mill, it was owned by MacMillan Bloedel. Ownership later passed to Pacifica Papers, then Norske Skog Canada, then Catalyst Paper. In 2018, it was sold to Paper Excellence.
“We’ve been through a lot of names,” Hamelin laughed. “We’ve been through a lot of changes. But I really love it. There’s nothing else like it.”
As soon as she started work at Paper Excellence, Hamelin said she knew it was a perfect fit.
“It’s been a great career for me,” she said. “I’ve been here a long time and I still really like the work.”