Kendalle Freeman, Summer Student – Shawnigan Lake Museum
The Shawnigan Lake Lumber Company began a simple start in the late 1880’s.This meant the company went into production just before the boom on the Prairies. William Lossee was the founder of this company and the site he chose for the saw mill made it so that it was dependent on railway access. His reasoning for this was that the property was inexpensive, it was available, and it was next to good timber. The site was also centrally located as the railway gave access to all of the major markets as well as four different export facilities. Lossee had a lease for all the timber that was a mile back from the shoreline.
He soon sold his interest in the company to William Munsie and Theophilus Elford. Munsie and Elford developed the enterprise into a firm of significance and distinction. Later, their sons, William Munsie Jr., Frank Elford and Ray Elford, ran the saw mill.
Forestry developed slowly until the 1890’s but by the turn of the century it was the leading industry in the province. The very first sawmill of North America started in 1611 and the first one in Canada was in 1646. By 1889, 33 sawmills were in business with 6 of them on Vancouver Island.
What affected the Shawnigan Lake mill and logging operations also affected the Shawnigan Lake community as the mill was a big factor in the establishment of the community. Many of the men on the lumber crew became the first settlers on the lake. If the industry left it would have had a huge impact on the community.
The Shawnigan Lake Lumber Company was most successful in the area of technological innovation. The company waited until difficult logging conditions forced them into adopting the new techniques. This meant that most improvements happened to the already existing equipment and methods. The saw mill went from circular head saws to band saws and they went from oxen to steam power to electric power. Originally trees were cut down by axes, wedges, long crosscut saws, and springboards until power saws came along. At the start of the company the logs were hauled on skid roads using oxen or horses. Then donkey engines (steam engine) replaced the oxen. Donkey engines allowed the loggers to cover new area while logging at a greater speed. To get the logs off the rails and to the mill the loggers would dump the logs into the lake and have them towed by boat.
By 1914 the company experimented with high lead logging. This made it possible to transport logs over rough terrain. Shawnigan Lake was the first to attempt the high lead logging method. The decade 1921-1931 was the last prosperous decade of the Shawnigan Lake Lumber Company as it had started to become financially weaker due to the Great Depression. There was also climate disaster during this time as there hadn’t been much rainfall. Another blow to the mill were the three fires it had with the last one completely destroying it.
The saw mill did get rebuilt in 1936 with the cost being just over $12,000. After the rebuild four different operators were unable to get the company into a profitable production. William Munsie Jr. ended up selling his shares to Christopher Boyd who started operations again but he was also unsuccessful in reviving the company. Boyd sold to a partnership of E.L. Robson, Fred Price, and Grant Hawthorne. Soon after though, the H.R. MacMillan Export Company had bought it from that partnership. By the time this company had bought the mill, though, it was falling apart and the logging equipment was reaching a point where it wasn’t worth maintaining. On August 14, 1943 the Shawnigan Lake Lumber Company closed permanently. The closing of the saw mill was a huge blow to the Shawnigan Lake community but the community was able to survive as the area had been established as a resort centre and many individuals had taken up residence.
If you are interested in learning more come to the Shawnigan Lake Museum and watch the movie that goes with this as well as being able to look at the logging displays!