It was well after midnight on Oct. 20, 2010 when a woman looked out the window, and saw flames at the Millwork shop. Minutes later most members of Elm River Colony were at the site, trying to extinguish the blaze or watching in disbelief as years of investments and building up burned to a mound of metal and rubble.
Twelve fire trucks from Portage and area colonies surrounded the carpenter shop trying to douse the fire, but the building collapsed. “We have nothing,” one carpenter lamented. “Not even screws or a tape measure!”
Naturest Bedding was established in 1991, in an old 40 x 28-foot building, to make waterbed and futon frames, bunk beds, dressers and bedside tables. This venture didn’t do well, so the kitchen cabinets and vanities market was targeted and the name later changed to E &R Furnishings and Millwork.
To accommodate the growing number of orders, expansion was imperative. Therefore, the carpenter shop was moved to one side of the broiler barn, a relatively new 250 x 40-foot building, but more room was needed, so the whole building was utilized. (Elm River had discontinued producing geese so the goose barn became a broiler barn.)
The larger building provided opportunity to invest in larger, more complex machinery: shapers, glue wheel, edge bander, lathe and rip saws.
“This meant we’d be able to expand our business and build furniture more efficiently,” said Irvin Waldner, shop foreman. For over a decade beautiful, sturdy cabinets were manufactured for private homes, hotels, doctor’s offices, restaurants and other businesses all over Manitoba, into Saskatchewan and Ontario, building a name as a quality furniture factory.
A state-of-the-art Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) router was acquired from Italy. It cuts, drills, and routs quickly and precisely. To accommodate the orders, plans were made to extend the building in spring 2011 and add a CNC nesting machine for melamine; a durable, economic particle board, pre-finished with a smooth laminate used for the insides of cabinets.
“Initially, most furniture was made of oak,” James Maendel, a carpenter explains. “Today, cabinet doors and drawer fronts are also custom made out of maple, mahogany, hickory, cherry alder, knotty alder and pine, finished in many different colours.”
E &R Furnishings employed seven full-time and four part-time workers. “I don’t have a job after school,” a highschooler reflected, his voice thick with emotion. “Carpentry is something I learned to enjoy. Now it’s gone!”
Days after the fire, the carpenters talked about rebuilding.
“No doubt, this is a severe setback,” James said. “But I am confident we can rebuild and continue our business as strong as ever.”
A temporary shop is set up in a barn with the office at the preschool which is used only during summer months. Contractors are constructing a new 300 x 70-foot building, and new machines are being ordered
“Compared to all the things we still have to be thankful for, this building was but a speck,” Rueben Vetter, our minister reminded us, during the first Sunday service after the fire.
Some customers have offered to wait for their cabinets until the shop is back in business.
A machinery salesman offered manager, Mac Hofer three interest-free years on the purchase of new machines.
“My heart goes out to my buddies at E &R Furnishings,” Pauly Kleinsasser, Springfield Woodworking posted on Facebook, and offered their shop to build cabinets for the new houses at Elm River.
This support, along with viable insurance provides the means and determination to rebuild after a devastating loss.