The Big Three Cowichan Lake area lumber mills

The era of the Big Three lumber mills that dotted the shores of Cowichan and Mesachie lakes between 1913 and 2001 were indeed boom years for the local population and surrounding communities.

A devastating fire destroyed much of the Western Forest Industries lumber mill at Honeymoon Bay in July 1948. Over one hundred volunteers from Mesachie Lake

A devastating fire destroyed much of the Western Forest Industries lumber mill at Honeymoon Bay in July 1948. Over one hundred volunteers from Mesachie Lake

The era of the Big Three lumber mills that dotted the shores of Cowichan and Mesachie lakes between 1913 and 2001 were indeed boom years for the local population and surrounding communities. 

The mills were situated at Youbou, Mesachie Lake, and Honeymoon Bay.  Over many years, countless workers were employed in the three mills and in the logging operations that were associated with each of the mills.  

Over time, both Youbou and Honeymoon Bay mills underwent ownership and name changes, unlike Mesachie Lake’s Hillcrest Lumber Company Ltd., which retained the same name from its beginning until it closed in 1969.

From about 1941 until 1981, the mill at Honeymoon Bay operated almost continually. 

Built in the early 1940s by Rounds and Hunter, the mill operated under the name Lake Logging and Lumber Co., until selling out to Alaska Pine Company Ltd., (Koerner & Carpenter interests) in 1946. It was then that the mill became Western Forest Industries Ltd., (WFI).  

In July 1948, the mill was almost completely destroyed by a huge fire that caused over $2 million in damage.  

Five hundred mill employees were put out of work as well as an additional 500 from the company’s logging division. Over one hundred Volunteers from Honeymoon Bay and the surrounding communities fought the inferno for over three hours before finally getting some control of the fire. 

Destroyed were the “main mill, the Swede mill, powerhouse, planer and over 500,000 board feet of lumber” reported the Lake Cowichan Bulletin newspaper. 

Due to the many volunteer fireman and mill employees, the loci and other vehicles and machinery were saved, as were great piles of lumber. 

The heat of the inferno caused the paint on vehicles parked along the highway to blister and peel while the hands of some of the employees were burned as they attempted to move their vehicles to safety. 

Pilings near the lake shore broke out in flames; as did telephone and power poles that lined the nearby highway. 

Several areas of the mill were saved, and a gas explosion was averted when the fire near the gas shed was douced before the two things met.

It was one of the largest lumber mills on the island at the time of the fire. Shortly after the devastating fire, the company announced its intention to rebuild within the estimated time of one year. 

By 1949 the newly constructed Gang mill began operation with the new Band mill ready soon after.

In 1954 Abitibi bought out Alaska Pine & Cellulose Company Ltd., with WFI remaining as an associate company. Six years later, Rayonier took over from Alaska Pine, with WFI continuing on as associate. The mill operated for another 27 years before it all ended with the closing of the mill. 

On October 28, 1981, the local newspaper headline screamed out DEATH OF A MILL, which was accompanied by a photo of some of the mill’s “last shift” employees.  

Pictured were Stan Clarke (a 40 year employee), Joe Svetich, Bob Cooper, Mike Jurisic, Arnold Gunderson, John Thomas and Jack McArthur. 

Today, RV parks and many new modern homes occupy the lakefront property where the mill once stood. 

Next week: 

The disastrous Youbou bunkhouse fire of 1948