Maddie Kennedy Finds Her Sweet Spot as an Operations Forester in Kenora

Maddie with Alan King, who made the maple syrup at her summer camp and inspired her to pursue a career in forestry.

It all started with a childhood fascination for maple syrup.

Madelaine “Maddie” Kennedy grew up in Toronto, the largest city in Canada. In the summers she’d escape the big city and head out to Camp Can-Aqua in Cardiff, Ontario, where as a staff member she got involved in producing maple syrup.

“I thought the person who ran the syrup production had such a cool job,” Maddie says. “They got to be outside, and they knew so much about the trees. I decided I wanted to do something similar and find a career that would help me learn about and understand the world around me.”

Today she’s doing just that as an operations forester on our Kenora, Ontario, Timberlands team. Maddie is responsible for purchasing poplar and white birch from local forests and from Manitoba to supply our Kenora TimberStrand plant. Together, the two forests total about 2 million hectares (nearly 5 million acres), but the true scope of her work is much bigger than that and involves managing relationships with multiple local First Nations communities.

Image of Maddie with freshly harvested poplar logs.

Maddie poses with freshly harvested poplar logs bound for our Timberstrand plant in Kenora.

Because more than 90 percent of forest lands in Canada are public land, they’re divided into Forest Management Units, which are managed through time-limited Forest Management Agreements with provincial governments. In Ontario, these are known as Sustainable Forest Licenses. The SFL for the Kenora Forest used to be held by Weyerhaeuser, but in 2010 we worked with forest industry partners and local First Nations communities to create a cooperative shareholder model, Miitigoog, to manage the SFL. The management work is now led by Miisun Integrated Resource Management, a First Nations-owned entity specializing in forest management and road construction.

Most Ontario forests overlap with one or two First Nations communities, which are important stakeholders our foresters collaborate with for harvest planning. The Kenora Forest overlaps with 12, eight of which are active members of Miitigoog/Miisun. Several hold harvest quotas on the Kenora Forest, so Maddie collaborates with an unusually large, diverse group of First Nations communities. Maintaining good relations and open communication with these partners is critical to make sure our mill has a predictable and stable wood flow.

“Indigenous people have long-standing rights on this land, and we work hard to respect those rights,” Maddie says. “Our relationship with First Nations communities gives us the opportunity to understand their culture and create bonds that extend beyond just business.”

Maddie and her coworkers participate in seasonal feasts and powwows. They also helped organize a sweat lodge experience when Travis Keatley, senior vice president of Timberlands, came to visit this spring.

“These sorts of events allow us to discuss business and to learn how their communities view the forest,” she says. “When you live in Kenora, you learn about the importance of Indigenous values. To be a well-rounded forester, it’s important to understand all of it.”

Image of Maddie at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Maddie visits the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.


Your title is operation forester. Tell us what you do.

My job is to maintain relationships with our contractors, to predict their wood flow and ensure they comply with our Sustainable Forestry Initiative® certified fiber sourcing program. I also actively work to maintain positive relationships with the First Nations whose traditional land use areas are within the Kenora Forest.

How long have you done this type of work?

After college, I did a one-year internship with the Canadian Institute of Forestry. I was housed at the Weyerhaeuser office here during that internship, so I've been in Kenora since I graduated with my forestry degree eight years ago. I fell in love with Kenora; I didn’t want to leave and neither did my husband.

Image of Maddie boating on Lake of the Woods with her dog, Roofus.

Maddie boating on Lake of the Woods with her dog, Roofus.

Tell us what your day is like.

It's a real mix. I’m out in the field meeting with harvesting contractors two days a week, and then I’m back in the office, working on contracts and on our integrated fiber planning to verify forecasted versus actual deliveries and ensure long-term supply. I'm the chair of the Central Canada SFI Implementation Committee, so that has come with a little extra work. I also have my scaling license, so I'll occasionally head out to scale wood in the bush or cover the scales at the mill if our regular scaler is on vacation.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Being outside — and how small our forest industry is. I see the same people at meetings and conferences, so it starts to feel very familial. I find that as foresters, we share a lot of the same traits, from a respect for nature to recreational interests. It’s a nice industry to be a part of.

Image of Maddie with her family, husband Jeremy, son Ewan and daughter Lark.

Maddie and her family: Husband Jeremy, son Ewan and daughter Lark.

You must have some challenges. What are they?

My biggest challenge is maintaining the right inventory level for the mill. Of course, it’s most stressful to have low inventory, but it can also be a challenge to deal with too much inventory because the mill starts to worry about wood quality if it sits too long in the yard. It can be difficult to hit that inventory sweet spot; as a team, we work with 30 to 40 contractors.

Tell us something about your job that might surprise people.

I get to spend time with kids in school, and I help with the Ontario Envirothon. We’ve even done some tours to better connect teachers with the forest industry. None of this was part of my job description when I started, but I really enjoy doing it. It’s a fun extra that my manager, Erik Holmstrom, frees me up to do.

Have you worked on any projects that you’re particularly proud of?

I’m proud of becoming chair of the Central Canada SFI Implementation Committee. When I first started working here, I was shy and soft-spoken; I didn’t picture myself leading a meeting full of experienced forestry professionals! It’s a good marker of how far I’ve been able to develop my interpersonal skills.

Image of Maddie camping north of Kenora.

Camping north of Kenora.

What advice would you give people who want a job like yours?

Be willing to relocate. I had never been to Kenora when I applied for the CIF internship, which led to this job, but I was willing to move anywhere to gain experience. I think that's a good attitude to have, especially when you're first starting out.

Tell us about your other interests. What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

I like to go canoeing, camping and hiking with my family.