Friesens Corporation, Altona MB

(Visit date: April 13)

I ended up staying the night in Regina because the highway forecasts were all poor and I was still a little gun-shy from my experience earlier in the morning. I lucked out and found a fantastic B&B (The Dragon’s Nest). The only room left was the Love room, complete with private fireplace and Jacuzzi tub, and iiiIIIIIiii milked it.  I checked in at four in the afternoon and did not leave the room until breakfast the next morning.

Overnight the highway forecast—that was supposed to get better—got worse. Wonderful. But when I finally got to the highway, I found the roads dry all the way into Winnipeg. There I checked into another B&B and was greeted with a hug. The short version of this story is that I ate breakfast the next morning, it was great, and I left. The long version will come another time—it’s about how sweet and romantic the older couples I’ve been meeting on my travels are.

Friesens Corporation

I drove down to Altona on the Saturday morning (April 13). Altona is where you will find Friesens Corporation—a book manufacturer (though they’ve also branched into packaging). Chances are good that many of the books on your shelf were printed and bound in this facility, and I got a private tour of it from manager Andrew Fennell.

The plant is a heavy metal symphony of noises and smells. You could compare the plant to a body. Looking up: the plant’s lifelines. Pipes for water to humidify the space, ensuring paper keeps its shape. Pipes for ink—lines of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key—snake around the ceiling and drop to feed the presses.

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I won’t go into the full details of the production process of the book; that can be googled. Instead I am going to list the 8 things I found to be the most interesting about the Friesen’s plant.

8 Awesome Things About Friesens

1. The Friesens Corporation began as a confectionary shop. A detailed history shows how the store then became a print shop. In the front of the building you will find relics of the industry on display.

2. Friesen cuts their own paper. Paper comes to the plant in large rolls and is stacked like toilet paper; some rolls are almost as tall as me (that’s about 5 feet). The rolls are then sent through machines for sheeting.

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3. Friesens’ safety is top notch. My background as a tech writer/editor in Alberta is largely trades and safety focused, so I can’t help but ask when I see guillotines coming down at lightning speed to cut sheets of paper to the proper size: have there ever been any serious accidents? No. I’m happy to report that no one has lost a hand. The machines are engineered to prevent those kinds of incidents.

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4. Vacuum pipes pick up paper scraps from cutting and move them above-head to a recycling machine that forms them into bales (just like hay!). They sell those bales back to the mill! How’s that for a recycling program?


5. Friesens doesn’t keep the plates made for a book so if it goes into reprint, the plates need to be made again. Despite what some might think, this is more economical (and the used plates are also recycled and sold).

6. Friesens has a robot for palleting boxes. It’s a dangerous machine. So dangerous, they have to keep it in a cage.

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7. Among the many spaces in the building is a library that contains one of every book printed in the last year (save for one upper corner shelf that seems to hold some of the presses earlier books). Friesens also has a cushy publishers room for those that stop in to look at proofs.

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8. All three Freisens CEOs have been Davids from the same line, but the line will stop at the current CEO. There are also several (almost a dozen) people at the plant with the last name Friesen and no blood connection to the owners.

Obviously  e-books are affecting business here at Friesens, but looking to the future, Andrew is confident that there will always be a market for books; some books are just not meant for non-print media. Take this photography book of golf courses as an example (it sold for $5000 a piece!).

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 “[A book is] meant to be printed. It’s meant to be something that people cherish and look at and physically have… it’s tangible. It’s a momento.” –Andrew Fennell

3 thoughts on “Friesens Corporation, Altona MB

    • Thanks, Janis. I’m sad that I didn’t get a lot of time in Manitoba, but I look forward to taking more time on the way back in August. Will look for your book — looks really interesting!

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