by Lori Treloar
Have you ever wondered about the street names in our community? Losee Road is a short road that runs south off Baldy Mountain Road.
Other than the occasional traveler along the Goldstream Trail, there were few visitors in the
“uninhabited wilderness” at Shawnigan Lake until the mid 1880s. The first permanent development at Shawnigan Lake was the hotel, Morton House, built in 1885. The E & N railway, completed in 1886, made further development in the area a reality.
William Losee arrived in BC with the credentials to earn him the position of Master Mechanic with the E & N. In his job, he travelled regularly up and down Vancouver Island. Losee recognized the value of the timber around Shawnigan Lake, and taking a risk, he approached James Dunsmuir for a lease on the timber in the area. Dunsmuir granted Losee the rights to all of the timber within one mile from the lakeshore all the way around the lake. In exchange,
Losee agreed to pay the E & N 50 cents per 1000 ft of sawn lumber.
With a timber agreement in hand, he bought Lot 13, for $105, on June 3, 1890. The 4 ¼ acre site was nestled between the lake and the railway and Losee wasted no time building his mill. Losee’s decision to place his mill next to the railway was deliberate. Most mills of the day were located near to their market or at an ocean port facility. Instead, Losee, thinking outside the box, decided to transport his product by rail. He knew that it was cheaper to transport lumber than to ship logs.
The railway connection gave him access to several markets close by including Victoria, Nanaimo and Cowichan. In addition, he was central to four ocean-going ports on the island.
Losee realized that he needed an experienced sawmill man to help and took on Ewan Morrison, a foreman at the sawmill in Chemainus, as a partner. By the fall of 1890, the mill was in business under the name Losee and Morrison. They soon realized that they needed more machinery and more power.
Losee traveled to Ontario to acquire the equipment and left Morrison to oversee mill operations. When Losee returned in March 1891, he found that Morrison had neglected the mill and it was in such bad shape that it had to be shut down. Morrison had
also spent the money in the bank and left the crew half paid. It was a critical situation and it forced Losee to sell his mill. Losee then moved to Victoria and established a shingle mill that didn’t last long either. Obviously, he was a man of vision but lacking in business acumen.
Mr. Losee’s contribution to the development of Shawnigan Lake was short lived but significant. Although Losee didn’t make a success of his mill, the owners that followed built the mill into an economic mainstay in the community. It is somewhat surprising that Losee’s name wasn’t used on a more prominent road.