Wally Knott on saw and his partner Red Meyers at Meades Creek Oct. 1945 by W.H.Gold PhotoMOFM Logo
John Coupland

John CouplandI worked for the Victoria Lumber & Manufacturing Company in Copper Canyon for forty-four years.  I began working there in 1940 at the age of nineteen, and left there in 1984.

Copper Canyon began its operation in 1922.  Then they left the area for awhile to go and log down at Cowichan Lake, but eventually returned around 1940 or so.  My father worked there as a rock driller.  Hillcrest Lumber Company had logged one side of the river, and Mayo Lumber Company had logged the other side right up to the canyon.  They tried to get timber from the Victoria Lumber, but they weren’t going to part with it. 

In order to get the railroad through that canyon, they had to take in a rock drill.  So the first job I had was packing powder from Silver Creek a couple of boxes at a time.  After that, I had to start packing gas in for the compressor on the pack can.  The trip was four miles into the Canyon and four miles out – I used to make four trips a day.  I was in pretty good shape then!

They had started to tackle that cut, through that particular canyon in 1922.  The reason I know that is that we found a cache of powder (CIL explosives) in a little shack alongside the river, and the date on the box was 1922.  After powder sits that long, it is pretty dangerous!  So we notified the foreman, and he very gingerly picked up one box at a time, and waded out in the river and let them sink to the bottom.  That was the last that we saw of that powder!

Copper Canyon RailwayI started working as a swamper on a shovel putting the railway grade into Copper Canyon.  I learned my job from a guy nick-named ‘Angry McDonald’, because he had a hot temper.  He taught me how to run levels on the grade

I went into the army in 1942 and didn’t go back to Copper Canyon until 1945.  At that particular time, they had a big blow down in the Copper Canyon area at Christmas time in 1945.  I went over to Little Mountain Barrack for my discharge, and when I got back to the outfit they had decided they were going to ‘Cat log’ a lot of this windfall stuff, so I got a job on the Cat.

When they had that big blow down, there was a fellow who came in there to help clean up a lot of the trees that had blown over.  However, the roots were so long that when he bucked this one windfall, the log dropped off and the root stayed where it was.  So he had another one right close to it, and he went over to buck that one.  When he had cut it off, that root fell back in the hole.  He stepped back, and he stepped behind the first root – the jar that went into the ground on the other side knocked the other one back and killed him!  He was about four to five hundred feet from the railway, so they ran a line from the locomotive and tried to pull the stump off of him, but it was too late.

We worked right up the river valley there for miles.  It was good timber– the other outfits would have liked to get their hands on it!  They stuck pretty close to the river level, but they had branches up in the hills on both sides. There were two steam skidders and two units for yarding and loading.  I forget how many miles of road they put in before they got finished. They turned over to truck logging in the early fifties, I guess.    They kept the locomotive on the main line, and they had a re-load just up above camp.  The trucks would haul into the re-load, and they would transfer the load onto the railway cars.  Then they figured it was too expensive to maintain the railway, so they went into truck logging in a big way. 

Arch & Cat LoggingTo create the roads for the trucks, they just picked up the railroad steel and bulldozed the ties off it.  They also had to widen it in places.  They had geared the locomotives so that they could handle about a 7 or 8% grade – if they could keep the railway below that particular slant they could manage okay. They used a steam loader for putting the logs on the railway cars. 

Ed McLean was the superintendent and camp foreman at the time, and it was ‘Nit’ Clarke that took his place when Ed retired.  He was a real good logger– he knew his stuff! 

One of the problems that they had was with the ‘bean counters’ over in Vancouver.  They didn’t know anything about logging; they were only concerned about the bottom line.  I remember that ‘Nit’ Clarke told me that they wanted to keep the logging costs down.  I said, “They won’t be happy until they get the logs for nothing.”  He said, “They’ll want twice as many then!” 

To get to work each day, we used to get on a ‘Mulligan’ car.  The Mulligan car was pulled behind the locomotive.  It was like a box car with windows.  It used to take us up there, and bring us back home again – Steam Poteventually they got into gas speeders

Robert (Bob) Swanson was the chief engineer down at the sawmill, and he liked tinkering and designing.  He designed a couple of speeders that were very good, and eventually that is what we were all going to work on.  He is the one who designed the whistles for the locomotives.  He actually had a ‘whistle farm’ up at the Crown Zellerbach area around Nanaimo Lakes.  He had an old steam donkey that he rigged up, and used it to go out where he could experiment with the different whistles without bothering anybody. My friend, Bill Wilson, was the foreman at Crown Zellerbach.  One day he met Bob who was complaining that someone had gone up there and stolen a whole bunch of his pipe.  Bill said, “What are you worried about?  That’s how you got it in the first place!” 

I ran a D8 Cat, and I had to keep it greased everyday.  There were days that I had a difficult time keeping it running.  I wasn’t a mechanic, but I managed to keep it going!  There was a mechanic at camp that used to come out and do major work.  We were arch logging– where we would drag an arch behind the Cat.  There were about five chokers and we needed five big logs for one load.  I guess it was some time in the sixties when we switched to a steel spar.

Jack Halme on Steam PotThey had a skidder up at Copper Canyon that was a Willamette, named after the Willamette River in Portland and they converted that to a diesel.  They took the boiler off it and put two twin 275 HP Cummings in it.  It was quite successful once we got the engines synchronized.  As a matter of fact, it’s probably still sitting up in the bushes!  They took the engines out of it, and salvaged everything they could; except for the drums, and the undercarriage.  After we switched to truck logging, they put a carriage underneath it.  There were about twenty or so with the flanges cut off.  It used to take three Cats to move it – two in front pulling, and one behind pushing. 

My brother-in-law, Clarence Evans, was the sawyer at Mayo Lumber Company.  When I got laid off at Copper Canyon, he got me a position in the filing room at Paldi. When the war broke out in 1939, shipping wasn’t that great and they couldn’t get rid of the lumber, so they shut the nightshift down (I was working night shift).  By this time Clarence had gone down to saw at Englewood, which was an English company.  He told me there was an opening for a filer, so I went for a month and a half.  Nothing happened there – they were unable to get rid of the lumber because there were no ships.  So I came back, and when I got back here, there was an opening at Copper Canyon again. 

Right across from Chemainus Bay, BC Hydro put in a turbine.  It was a gas-fired turbine similar to the one they have in Burrard Inlet in Vancouver.  It was supposed to boost the power until they got the juice in from the John Hart Dam.  The company owned the property, but it was timbered with Coast grade… small stuff.  They decided when they felled it all, that the company could use the logs, and that it should be done with the skidder. 

John Coupland & a Madill YarderWe logged all that area down where the tank farm is across the bay from Chemainus.  I used to work on the weekends with Bill Nummy, who was a skidder-rigger by trade; but on the weekends he came down and was more or less in charge of the job.  We hauled them over the side, and dumped them in the bay there.  They had quite the stack of logs on the side of the road!  I figured that the road crew would manage to get them into the water, but they decided it wasn’t their job.  They had an old steam pile driver that they used to drive piles around the bay.  A fellow by the name of Dan Banks ran it, and he took it out into the middle of the bay.  The water wasn’t very deep, but I put my gum boots on because I was chasing.  I was able to put a block up on the bluff above these logs, and they floated a few turns into the bay. 

Bill was looking for the key log, because he wanted to bring the whole pile down.  He found it alright!  He gave Dan the ‘go-ahead’ but the old steam pot stalled.  So Dan gave lots of slack, and then he ragged on the throttle.  As soon as the line got tight, instead of the logs coming, the drum broke.  So they had to get the master mechanic over to fix it.  He knew Dan, and what he’d done, so he came over and measured it up for new bearings.  He took the longest time doing it, and he was kidding Dan the whole time! 

In the summer when it got hot, we started working an earlier shift.  When it got too hot, we would shut down until it rained.  When we weren’t working in the summer, I would go steelhead fishing up the river.  In the winter time, when the snow got too deep, we weren’t able to work either!

The coldest job in the world is sitting on a Cat in the wintertime! The trouble was, in the summertime they used to reverse the flow of the fans so it blew out frontwards… so it was fairly decent to sit there.  Until we talked them into reversing the fans in the wintertime, we nearly froze to death!  If you were working hard enough, and the fan was pointing towards you, it was bearable. 

When we were working to scale we could make more money.  Some of those guys were running all day! Then they all went on strike, because they weren’t making as much money higher up the mountain.  They didn’t win what they wanted, they wanted more money per thousand board, but the company finally talked them into going on day wages.  Things have settled down now, although there have been quite a few fatalities lately with guys working by themselves.

The E&N land grant line was given to Dunsmuir when he put the E&N railway through.  The government controlled this side of it, and it runs right up to Strathcona Park.  Dunsmuir unloaded all the land to the CPR after he got the railway built.  CPR has all the Lidgerwood Skiddermineral rights – they’ve sold all the timber a piece at a time.  If you find any minerals on that land, you can’t work it… its all theirs. 

We were working in the back end of the Copper Canyon area, and I was running the yarder up on the side hill, and it looked down on the main road down below.  Some geologist from Cominco in Trail came up in a Jeep with little picks, and they were picking at the rock at the side of the road.  It turned out that CPR was letting the logging companies put the roads in, but every three or four years they would come in to see if they could find anything. 

All the good timber on the river was logged in its time, now it is getting smaller.  I guess it’s only natural that the good stuff goes first.  I was fortunate enough to retire before Weyerheuser took over. The forest industry has just about had it.  It’s gotten to the point where one company, controls most of the timber on the south end of the Island now… and they don’t seem to be doing too much with it!