Catalyst Papers

My journey begins in the city if Port Alberni, where for decades this small town has set the foundation for the paper industry in British Columbia. The small city has played a major role in the industry since the 1950’s, where Papermakers first saw potential in the towns large inlet to transport paper. Today the site has adapted over time with new advancements in technology and papermaking techniques to quickly produce more, high-quality paper products. The sites history is a long list of predecessor corporations which include McMillan Blodel, Norske Canada Today the mill is owned and directed by Catalyst Paper and is still fully operational being one of the oldest mechanical paper mills in B.C to date.

Company Overview

Catalyst Paperowns multiple sites across North America, with a majority strategically placed around access to the ocean. Currently Catalystemploys approximately 4,600 employees, and is one of the largest producers of pulp and paper products in North America.

The site is one of the largest producers of telephone directory and lightweight coated paper in North America, with customers such as Yellowbook, Time Magazine, Rolling Stones Magazine and other well-known commercial printers and publishers. It has been producing pulp and paper products since 1946 when it opened as a single-line Kraft mill. Paper machines were added nine years after. Soon after that, with the high-demand for coated paper it became mandatory that the machines become modified to produce coated paper for brochures, catalogues, and magazines. The site currently supplies products for publishers and commercial printers throughout North America, South America and Asia. As of now the site maintains two paper machines with over 340 employees which maintain and operate the division.


The division where i worked: over 200 computer access points, multiple networks, hundreds of software applications to learn and troubleshoot, and only one IT Department to manage it all. The department mostly consisted of four active onsite employees: Ross, Bryce, Tammy and Lionel. Nonetheless it was a close bunch, we learned from each other. As they familiarized me with the ins and outs of the paper industry, I also brought to the scene some new tools and techniques that made life a bit easier. We all managed our own specialized bit of the organized chaos that is information technology. If we needed help, everyone was there working as a team.
When I first stepped onsite I was very nervous expecting a very strict formal interview with the representatives of “big business,” but as I arrived for the interview I realized that these were everyday people. After getting to know everyone it was time to find my way around, I quickly get lost. I couldn’t find my way until about mid-summer, - the site is huge! Most of the time I would have get to one end of the site, I spent some time riding around in the ‘Cushman,’ a little yellow electrical cart the IT Dept had to haul equipment. The first thing I was told on the site was “don’t wreck that cart.” Unfortunately, even while heeding those words I still managed to have a few bumps here and there, and earned the nickname “crash.”

I quickly got into the routine of things and was finding my way around the mill. The IT department was located in the technical building beside the #6 paper machine. My office was on the bottom floor, and what an office it was! I wouldn’t exactly describe it as the luxury suite but more suitable of that for your average computer repair shop. Just about any hardware I needed was stored in cabinets and in the back. When I needed help my co-workers were there to help me every bit of the way. They never pressured me into doing anything I was uncomfortable with. They were always with me when I had questions, or when I just needed information about a particular user. Even though the department had only a few workers in it aside from the rest of the company it made us exceptionally close. Most of the employees at the company had been working there for years and were glad to see a new young face. They were quick to teach me everything I needed to know about the paper making process.

Working in the IT department was truly an unforgettable experience. I had a great time getting to know each and every individual in the IT department and onsite which formed some great relationships that will last a lifetime. I can say that the atmosphere at Catalyst was very family oriented, everyone knew everybody.

Tasks at hand

The job posting was for Desktop Technician. At the mill, days were either up or down. Work was variable depending on how many employees were on vacation or if a paper machine was down for maintenance. To keep busy, I didn’t stop with just Desktop Tech. Soon I found myself with many different positions when working for Catalyst. They ranged from everyday desktop support to PC repair, server upkeep and maintenance, networking, and even developing custom software.

Desktop Support

Desktop support means sitting at a desk and answering phone calls right? No, the job was much different from that, it was physically demanding at sometimes, especially when 90% of the time you were carrying computer equipment up several flights of stairs. I was fortunate enough to also be from a University where 90% of the time you were walking up stairs to get to your class. I guess you could say that the VIU campus has prepared me mentally and physically for this task. I enjoyed the hands-on experience I attained from it, as it is helping me even today reach the goals I never once thought I would end up meeting. Troubleshooting was a big part of the job, and has improved my personal skills in getting to know everyone onsite, as well as help me with personal training.

PC Repair

The site contains about 200 computers. Hundreds of quad and dual display monitors running paper machine trends and other graphical analysis programs. What I learned quickly is that technology fails. When you work in IT things have a tendency to go wrong. Tasks I performed in this position were engaging in ghosting/formatting PC’s, storing and the removal of PC Hardware/Software. I was able to stand by my co-workers, and learned from their experience, which to this day is very beneficial to me in the technology field. I used this knowledge to help customers via their support tickets by applying the skills I learned from my training. This included the removal of viruses, computer upgrades, and data recovery.

Server Maintenance

When I first stepped into the MDC (Mill Data Center) I expected to see one or two PCs running everything. However, my futuristic conception of the “mega-frame” controlling everything was quickly dashed. The server room consisted of not just one computer but about 20-30 servers running inside it, each doing its own dedicated task. It was truly an amazing sight. I couldn’t imagine how much data was actually being sent from the Paper Machines. Every morning I would arrive at work and prepare the backup tapes from the backup server. At the end of the day I would return with a terabyte of data, that’s 1000 gigs of backed up data from just one day. The whole process was a little confusing to learn, daily backups, daily differentials, full backups the process is still a little hazy but I think I’ve finally got it down.


It was a great experience. I now know what I need to work on to be successful in my future career, I owe it all to the campus career centre for giving me such a chance. I also discovered what I was really good at, working as a team. I can now rest assured my friends and colleagues won’t bug me when I proudly say I made paper over the summer. As my co-worker told me once, “there will always be a need for an IT department, just take these keys and park my car over there.”