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

Ted KnottI worked in the forest industry from 1955 until the mid 1990’s– about forty years.  I was a faller most of my career.

My father came here in 1945.  He worked in the shipyards in Victoria and we lived there during the war.  In 1944, the war ended practically overnight!  He had used a power saw to cut firewood in Victoria during the war, so he came up here and went to Meade Creek.  The guy who was bull bucker then,  was Buzz Myles.  Buzz took him back to the bunkhouse and there were four of them, which made up a set of fallers in those days.  Then he told them to get some caulk boots and hard hats and sent them out in the morning!   Dad went out and spent two days with Gunnar Neilson, who was an old faller from Cowichan Lake, and that was it… they were set!  By the third day they went out on their own, and it was all paid by the board thousand, so the more you put on the ground the more money you got.  At that time they had two guys falling and two guys hand bucking. In those days, they were often snowed out or there was fire season, and so they only worked six, seven, at best eight months a year.  They had heavy snowfalls all the time.  The odd time a guy went to work from the woods in to the sawmill for the winter.

When we were younger the steam train used to go right by us every day, twice a day sometimes.  We lived down the road about a mile, along the river, and right above it was the water tower.  So, the train used to stop there for water every day.  The train logging had kind of dried up around here when I started logging.  They were all switching over to truck logging.  The Gordon River Camp was built in the 1950s– it was the most modern camp there was and it had a railroad.  But, within a year, they switched to trucks and the railroad was out.  Then they commuted, rather than use the camp… the transition was quite quick.  When the truck logging came in, I imagine it Ted Knott Fallingsaved the company millions because right away they could log on steeper roads with way less preparation. 

The union started in the early 1930’s.  The guy that started it around here was Elmer Bergren, whom I knew well– he was a faller.  In about 1946 or 1947 there was a split in the union and it went to the WIUC (Woodworkers Industrial Union of Canada).  In those days, if you didn’t go along with the establishment, they branded you as a ‘Commie’.  There were some of those guys that were communists, but the bulk of them were just average guys.  The big crunch was that the IWA was affiliated with the US, and a dollar a month off the dues went to the States that we never got anything out of.  Finally, that split away in the 1980’s.  When we were on strike in the 1970s, they took the buses away and we were on strike for six months.  We got an emergency fund from which the Local 1-80 would give a small amount to each employee, so the guys from Gordon River chipped in a whole bunch of money!  We had all worked together at Hillcrest as fallers, and then when Hillcrest closed in 1968, we all went our separate ways.

I was hired out of the Co-Op.  It used to be the main store here in town, and I was there on a Friday night with my mom and dad, when the personnel man from Gordon River, George Lincoln, came in.  He knew my dad real well, and he asked, “Are you looking for a summer job?” I said “Yeah”, so he said “Come out on Monday morning to Gordon River as a powder packer”.  That's when you pack cases of powder Ted Knott Falling(explosive) into the right-of-way, and they blow the stumps– they didn’t have machinery capable of flipping the stumps out.  So, I got to work Monday morning and met the woods foreman, Doug Robson.  He said, “You’re too young and too big for a powder monkey– you come with me.”  So, I went setting chokers from then on. 

I worked maybe a year setting chokers, and then advanced to a rigging slinger.  I worked on the rigging until about 1960 or 1961, and then broke into falling.

Gordon River is about ten miles northwest of Honeymoon Bay – there used to be quite a big camp there.  The crummies would come through from Duncan to pick us up around six in the morning. It was a full camp– there were married quarters and a big bunkhouse crew.  It probably employed two hundred men at the time!  A big portion of our crew came from hiring agencies in Vancouver and so they lived in the bunkhouse.
I also worked at Port McNeil for awhile and Jeune Landing in Alice Arm, right by Port Alice.  We would move machines from the ocean right to the top… it was wickedly steep!  We had to walk up there every morning too.  There was a main road, and they would move two cold deckers right up the hill– after awhile we had to bring the haul back down at nights.  The next morning we would hook up this bullet-shaped thing that they would hang the fuel on, in case they started to run low on fuel.

I lived at Nitnat before it closed, and that is where I met Sharon, my wife.  They had a community hall and a bowling alley there– we met through that. Sharon lived at Nitnat camp, which was also called Camp 3, which Ted Knott Fallingwas run by BCFP at that time.  Part of it was railroad when I worked there, until 1957 when it closed.  There was a little lake out there called Tuck Lake and they had a re-load there, and it went up the hill from there.  The logging trucks, with these eight foot bunks, would come down and lift the whole load from the logging trucks onto the rail car.  Then they would dump them into Lake Cowichan with the rail car– they still used steam trains.

In those days there were a lot of big camps here, three big sawmills and two or three smaller sawmillsgyppo ones.  The first camp out of here when I worked was Hillcrest, then Gordon River, then around Caycuse, Nitnat, and Meade Creek.  Hillcrest would have been the smallest – Gordon River and Caycuse were quite big, but Youbou Sawmill was the biggest.  Honeymoon Bay was supplied by logs from Meade Creek and Gordon River, plus they bought off Caycuse too– they traded.

We were making more than the teachers!  I think it was about twelve to thirteen dollars a day, and a dollar and forty cents an hour when I first started.  Five days a week, I didn’t do much in the evenings– I went to bed because I was up early the next morning, so I was limited.  I didn’t have a night life during the week at all, but it was nothing different than what we were used to growing up.

Ted Knott FallingI used all different kinds of saws, but when I first started it was IEL’s.  Then there were Homelites, McCullochs, and Canadiens for awhile.  Then the Stihls came in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s, and they kind of took over.  By that time, we owned our own saws at Hillcrest.  Later, Husky came in, and pretty well took over the market.  They still have one of the better saws in this area. 

None of them compared to the two-man saws though–  we were lucky enough to miss that!  We’d seen the two-man saws because dad had them.  They could cut a lot of wood!  They were very powerful– it took very strong guys to handle them.  It needed two men:  one on the head end, and one on the machine end.  The bar swivelled, and it had a gear drive and a clutch.  The machine man swung it up on his knees, the crossbars or handlebars, and when it got dead-center, he released the clutch and spun the bar so there was no friction on it.  Then, they put it down to do a back-cut.

They had a near brand-new one that they paid eight hundred dollars for in the forties, an IEL, and it weighed about one hundred and forty pounds.  Then the 'Twin' came, which was another IEL product – they sold a near new one for fifteen dollars to a guy to cut wood with.  It was out-dated just like that!  The same thing happened when the one-man saws took over, and the two-man saws were out-dated.

We got nothing out of  the companies themselves unless we squeezed them!  But, Honeymoon Bay, Hillcrest, Caycuse, and Youbou all had community halls and stuff like that.  When we built the arena here in the 1970’s, Ted Knott Fallingthe companies donated machinery to build it.  We had a huge excavation to do there, and it took the best part of a couple of months.  So, every weekend these cats would roll in on Friday night off the lo-bed – of course the operators would have them all fuelled up.  There was a lighting plant there with big lights, and sometimes we ran them twenty-four hours a day. 

Most of the companies were pretty good  though– BCFP was exceptionally good.  Gordon River and WFI always had Christmas parties for kids in the early days with a present for every kid.  They were a lot different from these companies today!  The only logging facility that works here now is out of Nanaimo.

It’s disgusting to see how the forest industry has changed!  They are probably cutting as much as they did in those days.  The government of the day had a lot to do with it– when they got it all away from the company operations to the contractors.  Now the United States isn’t taking it because all their mills are shut down too! 

The time that I was in it, from the mid 1950’s to the mid 1990’s, was the absolute best of it!  We established the best working conditions, but they didn’t hand it to us on a silver plate – we had lots of strikes and job action.  But, compared to the way it is now… we had by far the best of it!  Anyone who worked in the woods, and sees what is going on now, would tell you the same thing!  When we first moved here in 1945, it was a six day a week operation.  Then they had a big strike, and trekked to Victoria.  Then for one year, they worked for five and a half days.  They soon found it wasn’t feasible to get up at five in the morning and work only half a day, so they switched to only five days a week. It stayed that way until only a couple of years ago.

When the ‘contracting out’ decimated the local towns and industries, it was outsiders and foreign companies that came in.  Then Timber West squeezed them so bad that they all went broke.  Timber West was originally Ted Knott BuckingBCFP, and then Fletcher Challenge bought them out.  BCFP got into financial trouble in the early 1980’s, so they bought up all the outfits they could possibly buy and financed them at a high twenty percent interest rate.  A lot of this never came out, that’s kind of what happened and they had to sell off.  Soon BCFP was no longer around.

To try and re-invigorate the community would take a massive undertaking of the camps being re-established, not as a camp with bunkhouses and cookhouses, but as a central place that would employ local people.  They would have to abide by a set of guidelines that made them a profit, but also made the workers profitable.  I’m sure it is not what old Bennett had in mind when he created a lot of these timber licenses.  It is pretty disgusting to see the way the industry has gone!  When you have anticipated your whole life with the help of the union… now most people think the union is some far-removed thing down in Duncan.  It’s just something you get something out of… they don’t realize that you have to put something in!
Every day of my life I worked in it, and I associated with other people who worked in it.  All my friends and people I know… it was a fairly tight community growing up in this town.  The community kind of lived and died together… if there was a strike things tightened up in the community. 

There were pros and cons of working in the forest industry, but all in all, it was a good experience.  I met a lot of great people and made a good living!