As early as five years after the “last spike was driven at Craigellachie, BC, opening the West to settlement, lumber retailers realized that they all had common problems, and that it would be a good idea to have a meeting occasionally to talk about them. That is how the WRLA started. The year was 1890.
Two of the founders of the WRLA were to become Lieutenant Governors of Manitoba – T.A. Burrows and D.C. Cameron.
The turn of the century saw settlers pouring into Western Canada. All these people needed homes. They built places of business, public buildings, barns, machine sheds. Building materials were needed everywhere.
Lumber yards multiplied. Individual owners flourished, but the big trend was towards the development of line yards. One line company was formed in 1906 and incorporated in 1907 with three yards; one in Manitoba and two in Saskatchewan. By the autumn of 1908, this firm had 19 yards.
Early executives of the Retail Lumbermen’s Mutual Fire Insurance Company, formed in 1905, were kept busy trying to cope with the flood of applications from major line companies or their subsidiaries asking for insurance on new yards. Lumber retailing had become big business.
The planning department of the WRLA produced their plan book for 1916 model homes in the $1,500 category. Retailers were exhorted to “push” silos to farmers. In 1921, more silos were built than ever before, but credit became a problem to the retailers. It was suggested at the 1922 WRLA Convention that before granting extensive credit the dealer should demand a financial statement from the applicant – an unheard of suggestion!
In July 1920 the first issue of The Prairie Lumberman was hailed with high praise and maintained its high quality month after month.
In 1923, the Association adopted a Code of Ethics for the guidance of members and suggested a Board of Arbitration to “put teeth in the Code.”
In his opening address to the 1930 Convention, President W.E. Kirsch said, “Visualize what it would mean to farmers and businessmen if these same areas in 1930, 1931 and 1932 repeated the history (drought) of 1929.” Most retailers shrugged. It couldn’t happen. It happened.
In 1931, for the first year in history, there was no convention.
By 1938, the worst was over. The training course was again popular with retailer students. The Prairie Lumberman was back to normal, insurance coverage climbed. Plan books were announced for “Summer Cottages” and “98 Homes of Comfort.”
Then came the war.
Following the war, the National Housing Act loans resulted in a big building boom in the cities and 1953 increase in Farm Improvement loans speeded up rural construction.
In 1954, the Canadian 30-day course for retail lumber merchants was held at the University of Manitoba. The next year the first Art Hood Management workshop was held for retail managers and owners.
In 1958, for the first time in many years, the annual convention moved out of Winnipeg to Saskatoon and the pattern of rotating conventions among the three provinces began.
By 1963, costs began to be a factor in the operations of the WRLA and The Prairie Lumberman was discontinued.
In the late 1960s, the WRLA prepared a submission on Tax Reform and appeared before the Carter Commission to argue the inequities in the law favoring co-operatives over the independent dealer.
The year 1969 saw Revenue Canada allow a refund on Canada Sales Tax on wooden grain bins.
The 1970s saw major submission to all three provincial governments on waiver of lien in the updating of the respective Mechanic’s Lien Acts. WRLA launches the Mr. Lumberman Award.
The 1980s brought new challenges to the retail industry, with the introduction of metric measure, proposed changes to the Federal Sales Tax and successive postal rate increases. The association has been active in all legislation affecting the industry.
But, 1981 also saw the demise of the Retail Lumbermen’s Mutual Fire Insurance. It was forced to close its doors due to increased competition and a decreasing insurance base.
And, while retrenchment was necessary, the spirit that built the WRLA has been passed on by each succeeding generation and still forms a part of the WRLA.
In 1999 the title Mr. Lumberman Award was renamed to reflect the changing industry and becomes known as the WRLA Industry Achievement Award.
The Western Retail Lumber Association Inc. today is comprised of about 1,200 member firms involved in the building supply industry on the prairies. WRLA represents the interests of members in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northwest Territories, NW Ontario, Yukon and Nunavut, providing a forum for the exchange of ideas and information in the industry. The WRLA office is located in the Electric Railway Chambers Building in downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba and is staffed by five full-time employees. Association business is managed by a thirteen-member Board of Directors, which includes a five-member executive.