Early Days – 1902 to 1911
The original Murray Brothers, Mick and Tom Murray founded the M&T Lumber Company in 1902 upon the purchase of properties surrounding Barry’s Bay. It was soon after buying their initial properties that they went into camps with a gang of lumbermen to harvest timber and deliver it to the nearby Martin Mill and other buyers. It took about a decade of acquiring more private lots, buying timber from farmers, and so forth when the brothers recognized they were going to make careers in the lumber business. At this point, they began to consider developing their business into something more significant.
An opportunity presented itself in 1911 when John O’Manique was looking for a new business partner to operate the mill at Kamaniskeg Lake. O’Manique felt that Mick and Tom would be perfect given their experience in the trade and local contacts in the Bay area and reached out to the men. Soon after Murray and O’Manique was officially formed when M&T bought out O’Manique’s original partner for $2500.
Boom to Bust – 1911 to 1929
Not without its share of turbulence, by 1928 the Murray & O’Manqiue operation had grown to have access to over 130 square miles of crown timber, were sawing 100,000 fbm per day, and employed up to 200 men.
The roaring ‘20s had impacted the Bay much like everywhere else, but the boom time would come to a crashing halt with the onset of the Great Depression. Tom Murray describes that time, saying: “We found ourselves increasingly in debt. John O’Manique and M&T Murray dissolved partnership… we took the limits and some equipment and lots of debt and we went to Cross Lake.”
Cross Lake – 1929 to 1950
Mick and Tom formed Murray Brothers in 1929 and went into business with Horace Landon, who was operating a mill at Cross Lake, south of Madawaska. Given the economic climate of the day, Landon was more than willing to accept help in managing the mill.
A provincial election was scheduled for October of 1929 and Tom found himself as the Liberal nominee for the riding of Renfrew South. Perhaps Tom would have declined the nomination if business was better, but this was not the case, and the carrot of a $2500 salary could not be passed up. What followed was a rapid election campaign that ultimately resulted in a win, giving Tom several tools to improve Murray Brothers standing in the industry. Tom would inject much of his salary into the business and used a wider reaching network to develop new markets for lumber sales.
Money was not the only thing being injected into the company, as Mick’s son Tommy and Tom’s son Casey, had begun to work for the company. These men provided some young blood while taking over some of Tom’s responsibilities that he could no longer manage given his time spent at Queen’s Park in Toronto. In this time, Murray Brothers shaped into integrated company, encompassing everything from the acquisition of land/resources to the marketing of finished products.
Move to Madawaska – 1951-70
By 1950, Murray Brothers had outgrown the Cross Lake facility and built a more modern mill on the banks of the Madawaska River. The new site was ideal given its proximity to the new licenses and with a commitment of more timber coming off the old J.R. Booth license. Further, the new mill was in a much more central location, allowing many of the employees from Barry’s Bay and Wilno to return home daily. Its closeness to highways and old rail line was also significant as these arteries had continued to improve to where they became the most important method of transporting products to the almighty customer. This, however, did not mean the water was of no use to the mill; at this time, the mill was steam generated and the Madawaska River provided ample supply to meet these needs.
This period, perhaps more than any other above, was a time of change in forestry practices. The question of sustainability arose and with it came the passing of several bills to manage how licensees operated. Murray Brothers has been on the right side of history when it comes to the management of resources and was in favour of many of the changes made in this period. For example, during this period Murray Brothers licensed areas purchased from older generation lumber barons tended to have been high graded where the more desirable quality and species would have been harvested. This left Murray Brothers in a position to utilize underappreciated species, such as Hemlock and market it where others could not or did not need to. Where Murray Brothers set prices on lower grade lumber, competitors were feverishly extracting veneer logs, making money hand over fist on it, thereby allowing those companies to set lower prices on their lower grade products. The government’s push to limit high grading other companies were doing was welcomed as it would even the playing field to the benefit of Murrays.
Modernization – 1971-Present
The last 50 years have seen continued waves of modernization, both in terms of machinery used to process the wood, supply chains, and export markets. A fire at the original Madawaska mill results in a new band mill being constructed in 1971. Shortly thereafter, the scragg mill fired up. Subsequent dry kilns, planers, more kilns, and stacker and grading lines have all helped make Murray Brothers an important player in the modern-day forest products industry. 2002 marked 100 years in the lumber business for the company that, as you now know, has seen several twists and turns. The milestone is something we at the company are extremely proud of.
In line with globalization, Murray Brothers has made an aggressive play to diversify its client base, offering a wide array of products to people and organizations around the world. Revenue is still driven highly by Canadian and US sales (~65% and ~20%, respectively), however Asian markets now make up a significant portion of revenue (~10%).
Today, Murray Brothers is positioned to continue making a diverse array of high-quality products forest products to help meet the buyer’s needs. We have a long history, in which several qualities have been engrained, including community, sustainability, and adaptability. Ultimately, these values, among others, have allowed Murray Brothers to earn something that cannot be learned or given: longevity. Whether it’s lumber, flooring, live-edge, or residual by-products, we can’t wait to talk to you about your next order.