Wally Knott on saw and his partner Red Meyers at Meades Creek Oct. 1945 by W.H.Gold PhotoMOFM Logo
Leona Portelance
Leona PortelanceMy father worked for Hillcrest Lumber Company as a dry kiln operator, and then my husband Neil became a saw filer at the mill as well.  His brother Leo was called the head filer and then Neil came along and worked as one of the saw filersRuth Buckham’s father, Mr. Dickson, recommended to my dad that he contact Hillcrest Lumber Company, which was originally located at Sahtlam, and go over to the mill site and apply for a job…so he did!  In no time he got the job of being a dry kiln operator.  They used steam heat to dry the lumber and there was always moisture coming out of the lumber, so they had containers at the corner of the building and it would catch all the moisture coming out…so it would fill up the barrels with hot water.  We lived just below the area where the dry kiln was, so every Monday morning my dad would walk up from our house over to the dry kiln and bring hot water down for my mother’s washing.  By that time we had an electric washing machine so he would make sure he brought enough water to fill the washing machine so my mother could wash her clothes. 

Life was very difficult in those early years - we were living with a family that had two or three children in a two room shack.  That was where we lived when my dad first got started, and they were living out on Menzies Road at a place called Blairs.  They had a big house but we didn’t live in it – we moved into the two room shack with this other family.  So, there we were:  four of us living with this family of five.  But, before we knew it, we found a house on Barjum Road which was one of those roads that went through the forest at the end of Menzies Road and you would end up at Riverbottom Road.  The house was good but there was no insulation with only two by fours dividing all the rooms.  So, to make a little extra money while my dad was working in the woods, we let two fellows who worked with him stay at our house, the “Barnjum Lodge” we called it.  My mother did the cooking on a big stove that was flat on the floor, a humungous stove, so we managed with that during the first winter.  I have a picture of myself sitting on a stump with snow all around…it looked good!  My first walk to school was to Sahtlam school – I had to walk from the Barnjum Lodge area to Sahtlam school through the forest.  My aunt, who used to live in the area around Duncan always talked about cougars and bears, so every snap of a branch I thought it was a cougar!  My brother had developed measles so he couldn’t go to school and I had to go by myself…that was exciting!  I never did see a cougar in all those years.

One memory I have before I got married, was when my brother and I made a trip to Alberta when I was twenty one.  My  brother had a motorcycle, a little BSA, and he delivered papers with that.  He would go all the way down to Berkey’s Corner,pick up these papers, then come back to Sahtlam Hillcrestand deliver papers around the village.  So, because he had the motorbike, I suggested that we go to Alberta for the first of July StampedePonoka was well-known for being the first Stampede of the season so, I talked him into going – I had one Leona Portelance 1940'shundred dollars and he had the motorbike.  So, away we went with this one hundred dollars and the motorbike!  Gas was very reasonable then and the war hadn’t quite started and a lot of my friends were still home (they hadn’t joined the forces yet) so they went with us to the Ponoka Stampede… I think I was 21.  When my brother was delivering papers, he just had a carrier on the back of the motorbike that was attached to the wheels, so he tied a sponge to the carrier and I rode that the whole way to Ponoka.  It wasn’t very comfortable but the worst part was that my face got wind burned.  We didn’t have the heavy-duty helmets and jackets – I had a knitted sweater made of heavy wool and a bandanna around my head …that was it!  We didn’t even get caught in a rainstorm.  We stopped at a hotel for the nights – I had my room and he had his.  Our best clothes we sent ahead on the train so that I would have a decent dress to wear when we got there.  It took about 3-4 days to get there.  I met him in Vancouver and we rode to Revelstoke the first day.  In those days, the bridges were hanging out over the edge of the Fraser Canyon – boy, what a trip to see that when you are riding so close to the ground… there you are!  So, we did that and stayed at Revelstoke the first night.  Then the next day we went to Banff and it had rained the night before.  The road was graded and looked good, like it had been paved, but when we rode on it we found out that it was more like clay.  As soon as the bike hit that, away it went!  It left me sitting in the clay and my brother had got his pant leg caught in the starter of the motorbike - it carried him down the road a little ways and then stopped.  So he picked up the motorbike, got up and we got back on the bike and rode it into Carstairs and had breakfast.  So, there we were covered in clay and I think everyone in the restaurant was looking at us!  Then we carried on and went into Ponoka that afternoon.

I worked at the mill in Paldi for a little while during the war because there was a shortage of men…so they hired women!  We took lumber that had been planed and stacked it on little blocks.  It was hard work!  One girl got the easy job of being the stamper but the rest of us had to do the heavy lifting.  I did this for about six months.  I met my husband while working at the mill in Paldi- I was getting friendly with Neil and we decided we should probably get married.  It was before Christmas and we wanted to beat the income tax so we got married on December 23…we beat the income tax!  I guess it was in 1942 because I was 22 and I was born in 1920.

My husband was up early in the morning and gone to work!  He was home by 5:00 for supper, and we always had our big meal then.  A lot of them caught a bus from Duncan, but I think Neil and his brother had their own vehicle.  I lived with my parents before we got married and Neil was living with his brother and eventually lived Leona, Carol & Neil Portelancein a little cabin of his own.  When we got married we moved into a house… it didn’t take much moving!  We had enough money to buy a stove and  linolium. My dad painted the little pantry section.  We also had a heater, which we called “air tight” heaters, and they were definitely air tight!  They were tin heaters which were heated with wood and so they heated up a room in no time.  Eventually, once the mill moved to Mesachie Lake in 1948, Neil lined the air tight heater with brick so it was a lot safer.  He also made a metal contraption that regulated the heat, and it was so well-made that it kept the heat going all night long. 

I learned to crochet…my sister-in-law who lived next door to us crocheted so she taught me.  Neil was also a gardener and he found a little area where he could grow things… beets were the best!  So, one day I made beet pickles using a recipe my sister-in-law had and it was all wrong…I certainly learned my lesson and started to use my own head after that!  She used an amount of vinegar that was supposed to preserve the beets but it wasn’t enough and I didn’t seal the jars properly so they spoiled.  I was so upset at all the trouble that Neil had gone to growing the beets and I ended up spoiling them all… I sure cried over it.

Neil was always at work and late getting home… but he was very good at what he did– he was more like an inventor.  He could invent things to make the job easier and more up-to-date…he would come up with new innovations.  Then we bought a corner store on Coronation.  Once Hillcrest moved, he went down to work at Crofton and filed saws there until he retired.  At that time, you had to retire at the age of 65.  He also liked to do wood-working as a hobby and was very good at it!  He made quite a few items out of wood:  coffee tables, lamps, bowls.  When we got to Mesachie Lake, they all got together and built a hall and the Anglican Church that was there.  It was a log church made out of split logs, and didn’t look like a log churchfrom the outside.  Inside, though, it looked more like logs.  There was another man, Mr. Biscovich, who worked with metal and made the lights for the inside of the church.  Then another fellow had something to do with the burl font, used for christenings.  So, I had my two children christened there but they didn’t both get married in the Anglican Church.  My daughter chose the United Church in Duncan but my son chose the Anglican Church at Mesachie Lake while it was still there.  They then moved the church to Lake Cowichan where it is to this day.

Mesachie Lake Filing RoomPaldi and Hillcrest each had their own halls, so we would go to some of their dances and maybe some of them came to our dances. We took up square dancing at Mesachie Lake and we were called the Mesachie Mixers …. Those were the days!  Each camp also had a section for Japanese, Chinese, etc.  I know at Sahtlam there was a Chinese cemetery that I think is still there. Paldi also was quite similar but had more of an East Indian population.  Wally Oppal, who is in government now, grew up at Mesachie Lake and we called him “Taroo”.  He was at our last Hillcrest reunion.

We were close to the mill when they took it down.  Then you could put a bid on some of the buildings that were left and we put a bid on a dry shed, a very large building with a super roof and wonderful lumber.  So, we got busy then and took this building down.  Then we bought a lot in Lake Cowichan and thought we could then use that lumber to start to build a house in Lake Cowichan.  Well, to rent a house up at Mesachie Lake was very reasonable at that time; it was $20/month and eventually went up to $25/month.  So, I said “It’s crazy to build a house when you can rent a house that was being looked after so well for only $20/month”, so we eventually sold the lumber and the lot… the whole works!