Youbou Sawmill closure, 10 years later

As of today, it’s been 10 years since a log rolled through the Youbou Sawmill.

  • Jan. 24, 2011 2:00 p.m.
Long-time Youbou resident John Waddington

Long-time Youbou resident John Waddington

As of today, it’s been 10 years since a log rolled through the Youbou Sawmill.

After a decade, the common consensus of Cowichan Lake area residents is that the mill’s closure should have never happened.

“The mill should still be running today,” Youbou resident John Waddington said. “This community would be a lot better off if the sawmill was still running.”

Waddington, whose property overlooks the old Youbou Sawmill site, was one of many residents who protested the mills closure, 10 years ago.

After Waddington and a few of his cohorts blocked scab workers from driving down the road to the Youbou Sawmill, they were all arrested.

“The day we were arrested, we had a line of vehicles backed up,” Waddington said, with a laugh.

Along with other supporters, Waddington spent the better part of a year in a protest shack, near the Youbou Fire Hall.

Although Waddington never worked at the mill, the long-time Youbou resident saw an injustice in the mill’s closure.

“I was just a community neighbour who thought they got a raw deal,” he said.

Youbou resident Stan Sawatzky worked at the mill from 1966 until he retired in 1992. He remembers the mill as being a great place to work, but that it was always on shaky ground.

“The whole thing was a goofy setup to begin with,” he said. When he first started work at the mill, he remembers being told to not depend on the job, as the mill could shut down at any time.

That said, his decades at the mill were pleasant.

“It was quite paternalistic – these are my children,” he said, of management’s treatment of mill employees.

“It wasn’t a bad place to work… It was a nice place to raise the kids. They were always playing in the bush.”

The Youbou community has changed quite dramatically, since the mill’s closure.

Waddington remembers a time when he’d see lines of friends walking past his house every morning, on their way to work.

“Most of them are gone,” he said. “There used to be big dances on the weekends.”

Since the mill’s closure, Youbou has seen an exodus of people who used to work at the mill, and who had offshoot jobs that had existed when the mill was in operation.

Now, more Youbou residents than ever are part-time residents.

“I object to anyone owning two homes, because it artificially boosts the price,” Sawatzky said.

Now, he said, it’s impossible for a middle-class family to own a home in Youbou.

“The whole road was kids,” Marcia Stewart, a Youbou resident for the past 22 years, said, of the times before the mill’s closure.

“This used to be a thriving community. It had everything the community needed, and then it slowly went to Lake Cowichan.”

Recent efforts, such as those by the Me N’ You Nites Social Association, have attempted to create that sense of community again, but are having trouble finding enough people to volunteer their time.

The mill, resident Darryl Alsbrook said, was the heart and soul of the community. “Then, you take that out. Which was dumb, because it was viable.”

For more on the Youbou Sawmill’s 10-year retrospect, including quotes from former mill manager Neil Dirom and Youbou Timberless Society president Ken James, read the Wednesday, January 26, issue of the Lake Cowichan Gazette. The newspaper is available at businesses throughout the Cowichan Lake area.