“It was good coffee. A man with big feet could walk on it.”

In the late 1800s, in an effort to increase production, steam technology began to replace horse and oxen in the logging industry.  Until diesel machinery began to be in use in the 1940s, steam donkeys could be seen all over the Pacific Northwest.  They were mounted on log sleds and could be towed from one area to another on floats.  Steam donkeys were versatile machines that could be used for yarding, hauling and loading logs.

One of the lesser known uses of the steam donkey was also the highligmcr018981ht of many a loggers’ day – donkey boiler coffee.  Arthur “Bill” Mayse, who told his story to Jeanette Taylor shortly before his death, recalled fondly waiting for the engineer to blow his whistle at eleven thirty signalling lunch break.  “Woooo woo – one long and one short – and that meant lunch time.  So everyone would drop their gloves and head for the donkey engine.”

The fireman who stoked the fires of the engine, was responsible for making the coffee.  “He would take a great big lard pail, one of the great big storage pails that holds two or three gallons of water, off a hook and he’d reach for what he called his injector hose.”  The injector hose was a high pressure hose filled with steam from the donkey boiler.  “He’d take the injector homcr005518se and whoosh, he’d send a big jet of hot steam into it and would bring it right from cold to boiling in nothing flat.  Then the important thing, he’d take about two pounds of coffee, which is quite a lot of coffee, and he’d dump it into this furiously boiling water.  Then he’d take what they called the slice bar, one of the steel pokers that they used for poking up the fire in the firebox, and he’d hang his pail with his coffee makings on one end of the slice bar and he’d ram it right into the white-hot donkey boiler.  He’d hold it there for a while and let it have a good bubble, good boil.  Then he’d set the pail on the donkey deck and he’d grab another of these bags of cold water, drinking water, and he’d pour about two quarts in the coffee; that was to settle it down.  And then the coffee was ready for drinking.”

The loggers would gather around the steam donkey and each grab an empty tobacco can.  “They’d take a dip into the big steaming bucket of coffee and get about a half-pound can of coffee, which is quite a lot.  And then there’d be canned milk, “canned cow” we called it, and sugar in bags and we’d fix our coffee the way we wanted it.”

The loggers would then find a place to sit and open up their nose bags, which is what they called their brown bagged lunches, and settle in for lunch with their sandwiches, pie and coffee.

“It was good coffee.  A man with big feet could walk on it.  It was the best coffee I ever tasted in my life, even if you did have to fish bits of burnt twig and charcoal out of it mcr005156every now and then.  But it had a taste, I think maybe from the quick, really savage boil in the white hot steam that no other coffee anywhere else ever got, so we loved it.”

An Empire Steam Donkey manufactured in 1916 can be seen at the entrance to the Museum at Campbell River.  This fully restored donkey will be fired up for Canada Day at 11:30am and the public is invited to bring their nose bags for a picnic on the Museum grounds, and join us for a sip of coffee in honour of the loggers of the past who once gathered around the steam donkey for this daily ritual.

Explore Telegraph Cove, Sointula and Alert Bay with the Museum at Campbell River

For the more adventurous traveler the Museum at CampbeDSCN0222ll River is offering an overnight trip to explore Telegraph Cove, Sointula and Alert Bay.  The trip departs from Campbell River on Saturday afternoon with a Museum guide joining you right from the beginning to explain points of interest on the trip north.  Guests check into cabins at Telegraph Cove and then are free to explore the area and have dinner.  The cabins themselves are a point of interest – each of them has a story about the previous inhabitants, most of whom were employees of the sawmill that was in operation at Telegraph Cove throughout the 1930s to 1950s.  They have, of course, been restored and are complete with modern conveniences.

DSCN0241Saturday evening is a presentation and tour of the Whale Interpretive Museum at Telegraph Cove. While there, don’t forget to look up to get the full force of just how big a whale is!

Breakfast Sunday morning is at the Seahorse Café, at which point you board a boat to cruise over to Sointula on Malcolm Island.   Sointula was a Finnish settlement and the name means “Place of Harmony” in Finnish.  In 1901 they arrived with the intention of setting up a utopian socialist society.  The utopian ideal may not have thrived, but the settlers remained and have built and maintained a lovely community rich in history and natural splendor. You will visit the lovely Sointula Museum at this stop. You can either catch a ride up to the Museum or take the opportunity to stretch your legs on the short walk over.

IMGP0757The next stop on the boat cruise is Alert Bay on Cormorant Island.  Alert Bay is a remarkable aboriginal cultural destination, rich in history and cultural tradition.  The highlight of this stop is a tour of the U’mista Cultural Centre and the Potlach mask collection on display there. You will also be treated to lunch at the Museum.

Mid-afternoon you will return to Telegraph Cove and board the bus back to Campbell River.

See Spectacular Desolation Sound on a Historic Boat tour with the Museum at Campbell River

Spectacular fjords, mountains and wildlife are what most people think of when they hear the name Desolation Sound.  On the Historic Boat Cruise to Desolation Sound with the Mus2009-01-01 04.18.31eum at Campbell River and Discovery Marine Safaris you will encounter all of that, and also have the opportunity to delve into the region’s rich history.

The boat tour leaves Campbell River, cruises past Quadra Island and its iconic lighthouse built in 1898.  Guests will then have the opportunity to view Mitlenatch Island, a wildlife sanctuary that houses the largest seabird colony in the Strait of Georgia.  It is not unusual in this area to see not only birds, but other wildlife such as sea lions and seals.

Soon you’ll be passing Hernando Island, a private island with beautiful sandy beaches, as well as the Twin Islands, which were at one time owned by German royalty. LundHotelBW

Just north of Powell River is the community of Lund.  The trip stops here at the historic Lund Hotel.  Established by the Thulin Brothers in the 1890s, who would then go on to open the Willows Hotel in Campbell River, this hotel has been renovated and provides the ideal stop for lunch.

After lunch the tour heads towards Teakerne Arm and Lewis Channel.  Teakerne Arm is known for the stunning Cassel Falls that is located within Teakerne Arm Provincial Park.  This park is located on West Redonda Island.

After passing through the 2009-01-01 05.10.06north end of Lewis Channel, you will start to return towards Campbell River, passing between Read and Cortes Islands.

Tour the Thurlow Islands with the Museum

One of the boat tours being offered this season is a tour of the Thurlows, with a lunch stop at Blind Channel Resort.  The Thurlow Islands consist of two islands, East Thurlow and West Thurlow.  They owe their early development to logging, mining and fishing.  Logging began on East Thurlow as the stands of timber in the lower mainland were being used up. Companies like Hastings Mill out of Langley, BC were searching for areas to expand into.  As early as 1880, Hastings Mill made Bickley Bay on East Thurlow Island their regional headquarters.  Further development was curtailed, however, when gold was discovered in nearby Shoal Bay, also on East Thurlow.

In 1884, the first stake was claimed and by 1890, the gold rush was on.  This attracted a large number of prospectors and development.  By 1897, there were two stores and two hotels.  That same year Shoal Bay became incorporated as a town and the Union Steamships were stopping by four times a weekThe plans for a township never developed however, DSCN7920and today, all that remains at Shoal Bay is a privately owned lodge and seasonal residences.  Even the famous store pictured here had to be dismantled in 2008.

The government dock is still in good shape and today, pleasure boaters have replaced the working population and the Union Steamships which both left the area in the late 1950s.

The two Thurlows are separated by Mayne Passage, and West Thurlow lies to the northwest. On the south side of the island, location of present day Blind Channel Resort, a sawmill was built in 1910, then by 1918 it disappeared and was replaced by a cannery.

In ’Guide to Blind Channel’, Phil Richter says: “The visitor to the area today, might find it difficult to imagine the activity which existed here within less than onDSCN7938e lifetime.”  He goes on to say that the area attracted people looking for opportunity and an independent way of life.  An independent way of life was what attracted the Richter family to Blind Channel in 1969, and by 1970, they had sold their home in Vancouver and purchased the property and existing store there.  The family consisted of parents Edgar and Annemarie, sons Philip, Alfred and Robert and grandparents William and Therese.  They developed the location into a thriving resort, complete with a first class dining room, general store with a liquor licence and post office; washroom and laundry facilities, and mooring and fuel for boats.

Travellers to the area quickly discover the excellent homemade bread sold in the store and admire the unique artwork created by Annemarie Richter that is comprised of items she collected on local beaches; bits of crockery, jewellery and seashells.

For the tours of the Discovery Islands, the Museum partners with Discovery Marine Safaris, a local wildlife tour operator.  Passengers are taken out on comfortable, heated aluminum boats equipped with toilets.  The four to five hour trips also include a lunch at Blind Channel Resort’s Cedar Post Restaurant.  The restaurant is known for using fresh local ingredients to create delicious meals for their guests.

Experience Bute Inlet on the Homalco Cultural Tour

From the distinctive milky blue glacier fed waters to the vertical shoreline that stretches from sea to sky, a trip to Bute Inlet is not soon forgotten.  The traditional lands of the Homalco First Nations, Bute is one of several long deep fjords whIMG_0002ich cuts into B.C.’s coastal mountain range.  This summer’s schedule of Historic Boat Tours will include three trips to Orford Bay, located midway up this scenic Inlet.

Given the name Bute Inlet in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver it was named after John Stuart, the Third Earl of Bute, whose grandson was serving aboard Vancouver’s boat Discovery. In the late 1880’s Bute seemed to be destined to play an instrumental role in the early history of the Colony of British Columbia.  Entrepreneur Alfred Waddington had ambitious plans, which eventually failed, to build a wagon road from the head of Bute Inlet to the Cariboo goldfields.

On board one of the Discovery Marine Safari vessels this tour sets off from Campbell River’s government wharf and is a chance to visit an area rich in history and known for its spectacular scenery. During the two hour trip to Orford Bay one of the Museum’s historical interpreters is on board to point out sites of historical significance along the way.

Upon reaching Orford Bay passengers are met by members of the Homalco Band paddling their Salish inspired canoe to greet the boat.   The cultural program for the onshore portion of the tour has been developed by Homalco Wildlife Tours and involves a number of Homalco youth interpreters.  From the Homalco Band’s perspective this program is part of an initiative to reconnect their youth with their cultureIMG_0037 and traditional lands. The enthusiasm of the youth involved is one of the many highlights of the onshore activities.

Orford Bay is the site of one of the Homalco’s winter villages. Located midway up Bute Inlet it is one of the few spots in the Inlet that is protected from the Bute winds. The topography of the inlet is such that the wind can be blowing in different directions at the same time on opposite sides of the inlet.  Bute’s outflow winter winds are particularly ferocious and can blow for days at a time at speeds gusting over 100 km/h. The severity and force of the Bute winds is known by the Homalco as Xwoxw.

The first stop after disembarking from the boat is the Orientation Centre which features information about this winter village as well as the history and culture of the Homalco people. Other on-shore   activities include an opportunity to join in a cedar weaving workshop atop one of the bear observation platforms and weather permitting, paddle the canoe in the bay. The visit concludes with a traditional seafood dinner enjoyed outside on a large deck.

Outstanding scenery at every turn, with exceptional hosts, this trip provides a glimpse into Homalco history and culture.


Preserving Food for the Cold Months Ahead

With harvest season on our doorstep, thoughts turn to gathering and preserving for the colder months ahead.  Our ancestors expended a great deal of time and energy keeping food in different ways.  From fish to berries, wild and domestic crops and game were prepared in different ways with the purpose of having edible food for the lean months ahead.

First Nations people smoked and dried fish, made oils, and dried berries and seaweed without the use of salt, sugar and jars and our pioneer forefathers and mothers brought with them their European ways of preserving.  Fish and meat, fruits and vegetables were canned, pickled, dried, salted, fermented, made into beverages, or where it was cold enough, frozen.

On the West Coast, one of the most proliferate and important food sources has been salmon.  As the different varieties of  salmon would make their appearance throughout the season, people found it necessary to find ways of preserving it.

“Processing the salmon harvest has been going on for hundreds of years, (William Sovde, longtime logger) Natives dried it (salmon) for their own use and for trading.  Early settlers salted it for export.”

In ‘Nootka Sound Explored’ author Laurie Jones tells us that prior to the establishment of canneries, there were several Japanese owned salteries on the west coast of the island.  “Herring and later chum salmon were dry-salted and shipped out to markets in China and Japan… the salteries were exporting fish as early as 1902.”

Smoking fish as a means of preserving has also been practised the world over for centuries.  Explorers were surprised to find the Nootka people of the west coast of Vancouver Island smoking and preparing fish right in their own dwellings.  The people of the Nimpkish area were also known to smoke large quantities of fish in their homes.

The smokehouses at U’dzo’la’s on the Nimpkish River were described to Leonard Hamm the following way:  “The smoke houses at U’dzo’la’s were the biggest I ever saw… big enough for four families, with four levels of hanging racks.  The fires were carefully tended, so that they did not burn too hot.

Salmon hung for smoking

Maybe six or seven hundred fish hanging at one time.  There was a big flat piece of metal put over the fire, so the smoke would to up around the edges, not go straight up the smoke hole.”

The process of smoking the fish is described thus: (from Raincoast Kitchens).  “Every day, over two hundred fish were brought in, cleaned, filleted and hung up to dry.  Those prepared the first day were hung closest to the ceiling of the house, those prepared the following days were hung on lower levels… my job was to turn those which were already hung up.  They would have to be turned several times each day.”

In ‘The North American Indian’,  Edward Curtis notes that “on account of its keeping qualities, dog-salmon (chum) was the principal storage food, and was used through the winter whenever the weather did not permit fishing.”  He goes on to say that the blubber and flesh of whales (that were sometimes stranded on shore or hunted) was also smoked and preserved, and the oil was stored.

Captain Cook observed that porpoise was commonly processed by the Nootka on the west coast, “the fat or rind of which, as well as the flesh, they cut in large pieces and having dried them, as they do the herrings, eat them”.  He also noted that the oil from sea animals was used “in great quantities”.

Another fish prized by the native people of the northwest were the eulachon

Making oil from eulachons

(smelt), whose nutrient rich oil was rendered into a grease that is said to have medicinal properties, and would be used to ward off colds and flu in the same manner that cod liver oil has been used by Europeans.  Eulachon oil was also an important trade item and a source of wealth. In the 1700s a vast network of eulachon “grease trails” stretched from Alaska to the Fraser River, even crossing the northern Rockies.

Eulachon have also been called ‘candle fish’, as they are so full of oil that when dried, placed upright, and lit, the fish would burn from end to end like a candle. Eulachon was often dried and smoked as well.

“The return of the eulachon meant the beginning of spring and a renewed food supply, (What’s Cooking America) literally saving lives and earning them the name “salvation fish” or “saviour fish.” They were the first fish to arrive in the river after a long cold winter when most of the stored food supplies had been depleted.

The oil or grease made from eulachon was rendered in various ways by individual tribes, but mainly the process was to fill a pit or box with the fish, allow them to decay for a week or two, then add boiling water so that the grease would rise to the top so that it could be skimmed off.  At room temperature, the grease is solid like butter and would be eaten with other fish or berries.  Bread could be dipped in the oil for eating also.

Florence Tickner, whose family were settlers in Knight Inlet, describes how when the eulachon run started, they ate the fish fresh until they couldn’t eat any more and how her family always had a stone crock containing eulachon in brine, which would be eaten later.  “Preserving food in those days often presented a challenge” she relates: “Mother used jars and put up berries, salmon, deer meat and deer stew.  Many people had a smoke house, and smoked salmon, cod, halibut, deer and eulachon.”

Differing from the native people, settlers brought with them the idea of leaving salmon in a brine before smoking it.  The brine was usually a combination of brown demerara sugar and pickling salt, with the amount of each being varied, depending on how ‘candy-like’ a person would want their fish to turn out to be. The number of days the fish stayed in the brine and the length of time for smoking the fish varied from individual to individual, as did the addition of certain other flavourings like maple syrup or whiskey.  Many people still smoke their own salmon and everyone has their own unique recipe.

Salmon and other seafood was often also ‘jarred’ or canned. It wasn’t long before the commercially minded saw the potential in processing large amounts of salmon for canning, and by 1910, there were about 80 canneries were operating along the coast.   Clams were also processed for canning.

Aside from fish, seafood and wildlife, another important indigenous food source was berries.  “There were plenty of berries: blackberries, huckleberries, salmonberries, blueberries, saskatoons and wild strawberries.  Indian women showed settlers the value of other berries such as the fruit of salal and Oregon grape.” (Women of British Columbia).  Before the advent of jars, native women were preparing berries for keeping.  ‘Currants, salal berries, raspberries, red elder berries or a mixture of them were steamed or boiled, then placed in cedar frames, spear on rack and dried slowly over a fire.’ (Raincoast Kitchen).  These would be formed into cakes for keeping and eating later.

Women settlers were often challenged in making preserves, as finding containers took some ingenuity until glass jars were available, and even when they did become available, were considered to be a luxury.

“We used whiskey bottles” recalls one woman pioneer… “we had to sterilize them [and] to make containers for jam, we tied a string around the bottom of the neck of each bottle, dipped that in coal oil and set it alight, then plunged the bottle into a pail of cold water.  Usually the neck snapped off neatly.” (Women of British Columbia)

Sealing jams and preserves was another task; settlers could use the hard, glutinous substance in which store-bought bacon was preserved.  Pieces of cloth, cheesecloth or paper could also be used.  If possible, enough jam was made to last the family through the winter.

The West Coast rainforest also abounded with edible mushrooms which came into fruit at different times of the year due to the mild climate, and these could be dried by hanging them in strings over a wood stove.

Cultivating fruits and vegetables opened up many more possibilities for variety of food and accessibility when the growing season was over.  Root vegetables could be stored in a root cellar or house.

“We had lots to eat; potatoes, carrots, parsnips turnips and beets were in the root house… we had over one hundred fruit trees in the orchard, cherries, plums and apples.” (Jean Turner, Raincoast Kitchen).  Jean recalls that her mother kept a very large garden and would put away five or six hundred jars of preserved fruits and vegetables before the winter.  Certain varieties of apples would also remain edible, if kept in a cool place, throughout the year.

Many vegetables were pickled, and cabbage could be fermented and made into sauerkraut.  Captain Cook believed that sauerkraut was a ‘cure-all’ and made it a staple aboard ship in the late 1700’s.  German and Eastern European settlers brought the tradition of sauerkraut with them to the west.  “Barrels of freshly pounded cabbage were kept for about a fortnight in a warm kitchen or stable and later transferred to a cellar or larder where they were kept for the whole winter.” (Pickled, Potted & Canned, Sue Shephard)

Today, many food preparation techniques have been continued or revived, despite the advent of refrigerators and freezers.  Numerous people today still smoke or jar fish and wild meat, pick mushrooms and berries and make jam because they enjoy the process and enjoy the taste of food that is both wild and prepared by hand.  Many of us take pleasure in giving and receiving gifts of food made from favourite recipes for preserving, and with Thanksgiving around the corner, we can be thankful that much of the wild fare our forefathers in this area enjoyed is still available to us today.

‘Raincoast Kitchens’ is a wonderful collection of old time recipes produced by the Campbell River Museum, and available in the Museum Shop.  Books like ‘The Women of British Columbia’ are available in our Archives collection.


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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

Tribute to Van Egan at 2010 Haig-Brown Festival

The dual passions of well known author and early environmentalist Roderick Haig-Brown, fly fishing and conservation, are being celebrated at the 9th annual Haig-Brown Festival.  Again the festival coincides with World Rivers Day and is held on Sunday, September 26, from noon to 4pm.  Admission is free, with activities for all ages, good food, music, great displays, tours and more.

The City of Campbell River will again present Stewardship Awards at 1pm to any individuals, groups or businesses who have made an impact in an area of conservation like pesticide and waste reduction, energy and water conservation, habitat awareness or air quality protection.

This year, the festival will commemorate the life of Lavant Gorman Egan (better known as ‘Van’) who recently passed away in July.  Pictured here are Valerie and Ann Haig-Brown with Van Egan.  Egan was a friend and neighbour of Haig-Brown and a fellow fly fishing enthusiast, and he was a biology teacher at Carihi, a Campbell River high school.  Among his accomplishments, he wrote and taught Canada’s first oceanography course, and authored several books including The Tyee Club of British Columbia, Waterside Reflections, Rivers on My Mind, Rivers of Return, and River of Salt. In his most recent book, Shadows of the Western Angler, Egan wrote a wonderful story about the ‘Silver Lady’.  This special fly is now the 2010 Haig-Brown Festival Commemorative Fly, and you will be able to bid on it at the festival’s silent auction.

The Haig-Brown Heritage Site is located at 2250 Campbell River Road (on the Gold River Highway). For a list of this year’s participants, visit www.haig-brown.bc.ca.  For further information call the Museum at 250 287-3103.


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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

One Hundred Years of Education in Campbell River

First school house at Cedar and 9th Ave

One hundred years ago, in 1910, there was no school in Campbell River, but there was a classroom.  Pupils came to the Willows Hotel Annex to be taught by Harold Campbell, who later became Deputy Minister of Education in BC.  As seven students were required before a school could be opened, a four year old (Arnold McDonald) was included to artificially inflate the numbers.  Since only five children attended regularly though, instruction was given for just two months before the ‘school’ was closed and Campbell was sent to teach elsewhere.  However, shortly afterwards, the classroom reopened and the number of students rose to 16, prompting the building of the first school house, the Campbell River School, situated at the corner of Cedar and 9th Avenue.  The photo at right is of a class from 1921-22.   The Campbell River School  accommodated students for the next 10 years, until the Elm Street School was built.

Elm Street School circa 1945

In 1945, School District 72 was created as a result of consolidations recommended by a report of the Royal Commission.To celebrate 100 years since schooling first began in Campbell River, a reunion is being planned for September 9 and 10 to include students attending from 1939 to 1959.

For a complete history of early education in Campbell River, visit the archives where the Museum has a copy of ‘The Schoolhouse on the Hill – The Story of a Coastal Community’s First School’ by Dr. Thomas Fleming (written in 1987).


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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

When Waterways Were Our Highways

This summer, the Campbell River Museum is offering historic guided boat tours to the Discovery Islands, whose fascinating history has been the subject of such books as Tidal Passages by local historian Jeanette Taylor.  Long before Campbell River became a settlement, there were three thriving centres of importance in the islands area: Rock Bay on the east coast of Vancouver Island, Shoal Bay on East Thurlow Island, (see map) and Thurston Bay on Sonora Island. Such was the importance of these settlements, that even before WW1, there was a telephone line connecting Rock Bay, Shoal Bay and Thurston Bay, several years before Campbell River had telephone service.

SS Cardena Union Steamship

In an era when waterways were the highways, and settlement was moving west from Vancouver, these centres had natural good harbours and the natural resources that expanding companies and settlers were looking for.  The easily accessible timber and mineral finds lured loggers and prospectors to the area, and after WW1, the government was granting 160 acre parcels of homesteading land  to entice settlers as well.  Soon afterward, the Union Steamships made their way up the coast from Vancouver and stopped at all the important settlements.

As early as 1880, logging operations like Hastings Saw Mill out of Langley, BC were looking to expand west of the mainland.  They first made Bickley Bay on East Thurlow Island their regional headquarters, then moved their operation to Rock Bay, on the east Vancouver Island, about 40km north of Campbell River.  In ‘Upcoast’ , Richard Rajala explains how “Rock Bay became the first upcoast site of mass production logging – tugboats moved logs from this site to Lower Mainland mills. [Rock Bay offered] accessibility, high-quality timber, efficient logging with oxen and horse teams.”

Horse and oxen were soon replaced with railroads starting about 1910.  These rail lines were never used to connect Rock Bay with other communities on the island however, and even today, the only way to get to Rock Bay by land is to follow a rough logging road from Highway 19.  At one period, Rock Bay had more loggers employed than at any other location on the coast, (about 1500).  A hospital was built there in 1904, further increasing its importance, but was closed in the early 1940’s when logging activity ceased.

Shoal Bay on nearby East Thurlow Island was a boom town in its own right, owing its growth to mineral finds.  The first stake was claimed 1884 and the gold rush followed in 1890. (Jeanette Taylor, Tidal Passages).

Old store at Shoal Bay, now torn down

This caused a great deal of excitement and drew large numbers of prospectors there.  By 1897, there were two stores and two hotels, and Shoal Bay was the distribution point for other mines in the area.  That same year Shoal Bay became incorporated as a town and the Union Steamships were stopping by four times a week.

The steamships were a vital link to people and supplies, in an era when it was rare for individuals to have their own motorized boat. When it was time to go to civilization, loggers with their paycheques and settlers would take the Union Steamship to Vancouver, enduring the 30 hour trip there and back.

Even as recently as the 1940’s, people in the islands used row boats for getting around in.  In fact, they rowed astonishing distances – from as far away as Cortes and Quadra Islands to reach destinations like Shoal Bay.  In ’Guide to Blind Channel’, Phil Richter tells us how a mother who lived at the Green Points settlement on the mainland would row from there to Blind Channel (on West Thurlow Island), a distance of about one mile, to get her children to school.   Len Crawford, who wrote ‘The Way It Was’,  remembers rowing as being the main means of getting around.  It could be dangerous, as most people didn’t wear life jackets—the only available style was too bulky.  Len himself never learned to swim, even though he spent his whole life on the water.  The water was too cold to enjoy, and as he says “the main thing was to stay out of the water.”

Thurston Bay

Thurston Bay on Sonora Island was unique from other coastal communities.  Instead of developing as a result of pioneering or exploitation of its natural resources, it was established in 1914 as a BC Forest Marine Service station and according to John Parminter, who for many years was editor of the Forest Marine Service newsletter, it was also a ship building centre for the Marine Service starting in 1917.    During its busy years, Thurston Bay had several boat building sheds, floats and bunkhouses and its own electricity, created by a Peltham wheel, and homes were built to house the families that came with the Forest Service Rangers, engineers and boat builders.  While rangers were out on patrol or fighting fires, their wives would man the station and keep up radio contact, and homeschool the children. As many families homesteaded in the area, eventually they had a school in Thurston Bay.  The community thrived until1941, and kept its status as a Ranger District until 1969, when that was transferred to Campbell River.

By the 1950’s, times were changing drastically in the islands.  The Union Steamship Company went out of business, and new provincial legislation meant that small logging concerns could no longer get forest licences. Schools were closing due to lack of enrolment and families moved to where the work and amenities were. The era of waterways as highways was over, giving way to recreational boating and floatplanes.

Catch a glimpse of a bygone era and imagine the coastal communities as the vital and thriving settlements they once were this summer.  Take a trip on Discovery Marine Safaris comfortable boats and learn about your desination from knowledgeable local guides.  Follow this link to the schedule.

Transformation of a Town

Transformation of a Town, the opening of Elk Falls Pulp and Paper Mill in 1952

For many residents of Campbell River, the closing of the Catalyst Pulp and Paper Mill this year marks an historic moment.  Symbolic of the changing times in Campbell River, it reminds us of how a village grew into a town due in large part to the influence of the mill and the large numbers of people it employed. It also reminds us of the excitement generated in this small western boom town when the Elk Falls Mill first opened for operations in 1952.

Duncan Bay in 1950, before construction of Mill

Described as ‘a milestone in the development of Campbell River’ the opening of the pulp mill was an influential factor in the new era of economic growth and job stability in a region that had already received a substantial boost when the John Hart Power Station was built.  At right is a photo of the opening ceremonies on September 15, 1952, attended by more than 500 people in the mill warehouse.

As many as 1,000 men worked on the twenty one million dollar mill project during peak construction times.  In ‘the Edge of Discovery’ we are told that “New investor money poured into the area as hotels, landlords, beer parlours and cafes did a landslide business.”

Premier W. A. C. Bennett said that the Duncan Bay development was ‘free enterprise at its best’.

The Campbell River Courier commemorated the opening of the mill with a special supplement.  Included were congratulations from the various local businesses that had benefited from the beginning of the construction of the facility and expected to reap the benefits of being part of a progressive, growing community.

“Advent of the Elk Falls Company had produced a marked change in the spirit of Campbell River”. wrote the editor W.B. McCusker of the Campbell River Courier in the Canadian Pulp and Paper Mill, September 1952 Journal. “Housing is still at a premium, although prices are somewhat more reasonable than during the boom period.”

When Don McIver transferred from Comox Logging to start work at Elk Falls Mill in 1952, he couldn’t find a place to live.  Crown Zellerbach (the parent company) had built 26 homes for their key mill employees (see left) like T.B. Hargreaves, the mill manager, who Don remembers as being very sociable and who made a point of getting to know all of the employee’s names.  The village, however, was still unable to handle the influx of new employees and initially, a number of fellows including Don, attracted by the steady wages at the mill, commuted from Courtenay until places in Campbell River became available. Although the pay was better in logging (roughly $12 a day instead of the $9.70 per day offered at the mill) work at the mill was steady and less dangerous.

A writer from Victoria (Aug 1953) commented: “Campbell River is becoming essentially a settled place—not just the loggers’ Saturday night town it used to be.” In the same article, A.D. Corker, clerk of the village municipality is quoted as saying: “People are beginning to improve their houses and to build more solidly…  Population has leaped to 2600, at least doubling itself in the last few years.”

It was the advent of families that helped change the face of the village as well. There were plans to construct three new elementary schools in 1952, due to the fact that it had become a ‘young folks town’  with the number of children under the age of six comprising 1/6 of the population.

“I arrived to settle in Campbell River after the Pulp Mill had been built (from a letter to Jeanette Taylor).

The company.. moved many of its employees from Ocean Falls to Campbell River. Both economic and social effects (of this) were vital (to the growth of the town). Of course the population grew quickly to man the mill and the necessary services—schools, hospital etc.”  Initially, the Elk Falls Mill relied on Ocean Falls to supply its pulp, but the Crown Zellerbach pulp mill at Ocean Falls was small and antiquated compared to the brand new facilities at Campbell River, and once Elk Falls started producing its own pulp, it was destined for expansion, whereas the mill at Ocean Falls was destined for eventual closure.

Families coming from Ocean Falls had enjoyed living in a mill town where there were good facilities like an indoor swimming pool. However, Ocean Falls had few roads and most were constructed of boardwalks. Newcomers from Ocean Falls were quite taken with the opportunity to drive for miles in any direction.

Workers and families also came from the Prairies and mills in other provinces. Chuck Saults, who started at the mill construction site in 1951, had come from Calgary. When mill construction was completed, Chuck was offered a job and eventually worked his way up to foreman of Paper machine #5.  Chuck remembers that there was a combination of very experienced employees—those who had come from other mills, and very novice workers.  The Mill employed about 220 workers in 1952 and by 1958, after the addition of the Kraft Mill and another paper machine, the number had grown to about 500 employees.

Skip McDonald recalls the buoyancy of Campbell River citizens in the 1950’s and 1960’s and feels it was the busiest time in the history of Campbell River in terms of growth and prosperity.  Local business people profited from the continual expansion of the mill and from the presence of contractors and guests of the mill.  These short term employees stayed at places like Painter’s Lodge and went fishing while they were here. The town of Campbell River also benefited when the municipal boundaries were extended to include Elk Falls mill in 1964, (previously the boundaries had gone just to the bridge at Hwy19) as taxes from the mill provided a new and vital source of revenue to the town.

Some developments in Campbell River in the 1950’s include:

  • First grocery franchise (Overwaitea) 1951
  • United Church 1952
  • A new Community Hall 1954
  • Willow Point School and Campbellton School 1954
  • Village offices moved into larger quarters (old Lourdes Hospital)
  • Campbell River & District Hospital opened in 1957
  • Campbell River Museum established, 1958

The Campbell River Museum archives house a wealth of information about early Campbell River, including a library, archival photos and newspaper clippings.  Come visit us soon!  Archive hours are Tuesday – Friday, 1pm – 4pm or by appointment – 250-287-3103.