Wang Park had carved out a successful operation in Saskatchewan: he made chopsticks.
The Korean-born businessman was president of what CBC reporter Dan Bjarnason called “the biggest chopstick plant on the continent.”
Wood for the eating implements was trucked in from northern Saskatchewan to Park’s Regina plant, called Western General Trading Ltd., according to a sign.
“The Canadian aspen, particularly Saskatchewan aspen, is the best quality in the world,” explained Park, who said people called him “the father of chopsticks.”
According to a 1985 profile in the Globe and Mail, Park had 22 employees at that time.
CBC cameras captured the chopstick manufacturing process for The National in July 1986.
The timber was cut into footlong cross-sections, which were then steamed and de-barked.
Turned on their side, the logs were processed into long rolls that were the thickness of a chopstick.
“Finally: chop chop chop chop, by the kazillion, it seems, into chopsticks,” said Bjarnason.
Not quite. The plant turned out 400,000 pairs each day, shipped “mostly to New York City, San Francisco, and Korea,” according to the reporter.
The chopstick upstarts
Northern British Columbia had wood too, of course.
“There’s a chopstick duel developing in this culinary struggle,” said Bjarnason, introducing another Korean businessman.
Jay Ahn was hoping to produce three to four million pairs of chopsticks each day.
“And that’s just the Korean market alone,” said Bjarnason. “Tomorrow, maybe the world.”
Ahn, with translation by company director Yugin Pak, said the B.C. plant was the largest in the world.
Not just chopsticks
In response, Park had extended his factory’s capabilities beyond chopsticks.
Wood could be turned into other disposable products like coffee stir sticks, tongue depressors, and popsicle sticks.
He was also considering moving his plant closer to the raw material.
“Back on the west coast,” said Bjarnason, “They’re beavering away, trying to close the chopstick gap.”