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Women in Forestry
Logging lifer: Q&A with BC contractor Shelley Stewart
By Maria Church
Shelley Stewart was raised in the world of logging and ranching in the B.C. Interior. At 19 years old, she bought her first log truck and launched Bar S Trucking. In 2015 she added 14 pieces of logging equipment and became a full-phase logging contractor under the name Bar S Ventures. A member of the Okanagan Nation, Shelley won the 2020 Young Aboriginal Entrepreneur Award from the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.
CFI: What was your journey to become a logging contractor?
Logging has always been a part of my family and my upbringing. My dad is a logger. We’ve always said we were raised on timber dollars.
When I was about eight years old, my mom and dad recall me saying that when I get older I would buy a logging truck so I could go to work every day with my dad and work alongside him. And he’s a skidder operator so it’s not even like we would actually work side-by-side. But in my little eight-year-old mind I thought that would work and I just wanted to spend more time with him.
When I was 19, in 2004, I made good on that promise and I did buy a logging truck. My husband Rob – he was my boyfriend at the time – was working in logging camps and he was away from home three out of four weeks of the month. I decided to buy a logging truck for him to drive to come home every day so he didn’t have to be in a logging camp. Eventually we got married and had kids but that’s a whole other story!
Initially the money I put together to buy the truck came from my cows that I bought when I was 17. My parents let me keep my sales from the cattle, and that’s how I came up with the down payment.
When I first started I called the company Bar S Trucking. The name Bar S come from my cattle brand. My family’s cattle brand is U Bar, so I wanted something with Bar and I went with the S for Shelley. It was kind of like tying in my family brand.
In the beginning the company grew slowly. In 2007 we became two trucks, and in 2010 there were three trucks. Between 2011 and 2015 we expanded up to 10 trucks. In 2015 I purchased 14 pieces of logging equipment and made the big shift to expand from a trucking company to harvesting. Bar S Ventures is a full-phase conventional logging operation. We do everything from harvesting the timber to hauling it to the sawmill. We do our own road building and maintenance, and also own a low-bed which helps get our equipment from one site to another with little downtime. There are now 27 employees in total and my husband is the logging supervisor, a role I feel he is doing very well in.
CFI: What do you enjoy about the logging industry?
It’s the people that are in the industry. They are so proud of what they do. If you get a group of loggers in a room together, that’s all they will talk about – the equipment they operate, and how much production they can get out of a machine.
What I’m most proud about in my business is the number of families that are impacted by my business. The 27 families that my business alone supports. And it has a big trickle-down effect and branches out to a lot more families.
I take a lot of pride in being able to say I’m a big supporter of my community and I’m giving people jobs – good-paying, safe jobs that they can be proud of.
CFI: Where there any particular mentors who helped you launch your business?
My mom has since retired, but she was the finance manager at a local college and she’s always been instrumental helping me get my business up and going. And Rob, my husband, has always been the person behind me, pushing me along, saying, “if you’re going to be a bear you may as well be a grizzly bear.” We keep each other in line pretty well I’d say.
Frank Etchart is my mentor – he’s a local logger. Nadina Logging (his company) is a 60-year-old company so there are some really deep roots. Frank, I always say, is the man with the best heart west of the Rockies. That’s the best way I can describe him. He is very honest, which appeals to me.
My dad still works as a skidder operator for Frank and he has so much respect for him. He wouldn’t even leave his job to come and work for me! He wanted to stay with Frank because Frank has been so good to him over the last 15 years.
Sometimes Frank is brutally honest, but it’s a good thing. And sometimes he’s generous to a fault, we always say. Sometimes people will take advantage of that. But he’s so intelligent and I’m lucky to have him on my side.
CFI: As a female logging contractor, do you find there are particular challenges?
The logging community itself has been really welcoming to me. No one has ever said, at least not to my face, that I didn’t deserve or shouldn’t be here. A lot of people are shocked at the fact that I’m involved in the industry and in the capacity that I am. I’m not the wife of a logging owner – I am the logging owner. I’m very involved in my business.
The main issue that I’ve had isn’t with other loggers; the main issue is with sales people. They want to deal with my husband. They want to sell me equipment, but they want to talk to Rob about it. He’s pretty good about steering them to me. They have an assumption that, because he’s the man of the operation, he must be the one who says yea or nay. It is a mistake they only make once though – I’m pretty vocal about it!
I never really had real hurdles because I’m a woman, but I have had some racism because I am Indigenous. A few times people have said some racist things. But I didn’t get to where I am on the merits of being a First Nations person – I got to where I am because I’m a hardworking, dedicated person. I seek opportunity and I seize opportunity.
I’m a proud First Nations person. I have a strong work ethic, and am dedicated and committed to being successful.
CFI: What advice do you have for young women who are looking at a career in logging, either as an operator or an owner?
Find something that you love doing, not necessarily that you are good at. It’s great if you can love it and you’re good at it. But if it’s something that you just love doing, you can eventually get good at it. I find people are always looking for opportunities to make the most money, but they are not happy doing it.
I love what I do. Some days are, hands down, challenging, but for the better part of it, I love what I do.
Find something you love and that you are passionate about. Logging, for me, I’m passionate about it. I’m a huge advocate for it and I will stand in the picket lines if that’s what is needed!
My passion for families and communities has led me to start advocating for the forest industry. It’s is heart breaking to see our communities collapsing all around us, people losing good jobs, families suffering, and companies going under. My role is to speak up and share the message that B.C.’s forest sector is of the utmost importance – after all, forestry is the largest employment sector in B.C. We depend on forestry like Alberta depends on oil and gas. With my mentor Frank and his team of noise makers, I am happy to carry the torch from time to time to shine light on this important issue.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Watch the BDC’s video about Shelley and her business:
This post is part of CFI, Pulp & Paper Canada and Canadian Biomass’ Women in Forestry project celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. Find more content here and follow on social media with the hashtag #WomeninForestry, as well as #IWD2020 and #EachforEqual.