Railway logging became an essential part of the logging industry on Vancouver Island from the 1900s right through to the 1950s. It developed out of the need to access stands of timber further inland after the timber closer to shore had already been harvested, and timber was too far away from the coast for horse and oxen to haul it. Initially it was smaller and midsized companies that ventured into railway logging. “Few people realize just how many logging railroads there were. After 1930, it was pretty well just the big outfits that had them, but before that they were all over the coast, with the greatest number on Vancouver Island.” (‘Raincoast Chronicles First Five’, Howard White).
“The late 1920s were truly the boom years of the coastal logging railroads; all along the coast and in a few interior locations, the hills echoed to the sound of the whistles of the locomotives. Many companies were ordering new locomotives and equipment and the manufacturers were producing an expanded range of improved machines to increase the efficiency of the logging railroads.” (‘Logging By Rail, the British Columbia Story’, Robert D. Turner)
International Timber Company in Campbell River had one of the largest logging railroads on Vancouver Island in the 1920s and these the assets were taken over by Elk River Timber Co in 1930. One of Elk River Timber’s major camps was Camp 8, 15km west of Campbell River at Echo Lake. (see map)
Bloedel, Stewart and Welch had a large and very impressive operation at Menzies Bay, and their railways ran from there inland to the forest lands around Campbell Lake. Camp 5, built in 1942 on the shore of Brewster Lake, was a railway logging camp. It housed about 500 people, including 40 families. Going even further inland, (about 45 km west from Menzies Bay) Camp 9 was located on the north shore of Upper Campbell Lake, but this disappeared when the lake was flooded by BC Hydro in 1954.
Some self sufficient camps actually evolved into communities – like Camp 5 at Brewster Lake, Rock Bay and Nimpkish Camp. These more permanent settlements were abandoned once the timber was gone. Woss Camp (between Sayward and Port McNeill) was the last company owned railroad logging camp in British Columbia.
Maintenance on the locomotives in the woods presented many problems to the crews. The responsibility fell to the train crews to bring their equipment into camp. Men took pride in their locomotives and in their ability to maintain them.
The use of trucks as feeders for the railroads in the west coast forests was only just beginning in the late 1920s. By the 1930s, only the larger companies kept trains running, and by 1950, trucks had replaced railroads in most areas. Trains could only operate in valley bottoms, and once the timber there was gone, trucks were needed to haul lumber out of the steeper grades. Truck logging became increasingly popular and this also spelled the demise of camp life, as men could easily commute to Campbell River on the roads built for logging trucks. Although much of the rail lines were pulled up and the bridges dismantled, parts of the line are still visible at Goose Neck Lake and Rock Bay.
Railways and trains still hold great fascination for many, as evidenced by the well attended event the Museum holds every year at the end of January – ‘Tracks & Trains’, put on by the North Island Model Railroaders. ‘Logging By Rail’ is available for purchase in the Museum gift shop, and the Archives contain several good books on railway logging like Ken Drushka’s ‘Working in the Woods’ and ‘Raincoast Chroncles First Five’ by Howard White. Among the archival photo collection are great photos from the days of railway logging, like the one you see here of Spoolie Kusha and Jack Payne.
Grouse Mask by Campbell River artist Raymond Shaw of Kwakiutl heritage. This stunning mask is carved in yellow cedar with cedar bark decoration. Total dimensions including cedar accents, 20” by 12”…buy it now just in time for Christmas!
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The Campbell River Museum maintains collections and archives from Campbell River’s wide and diverse history, culture and community. For more information about your local Campbell River Museum, call 250-287-3103 or visit www.crmuseum.ca