Kendalle Freeman, Summer Student – Shawnigan Lake Museum
The Shawnigan Lake Lumber Company began 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. The site he chose for the sawmill was centrally located along the E & N railway and gave him access to all of the major markets as well as four different export facilities. The property was inexpensive, it was available, and it was next to good timber. Lossee had a lease for all of the timber from the lake shore to a mile back.
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 sawmill.
Forestry developed slowly until the 1890’s but, by the turn of the century, it was the leading industry in the province.
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 to adopt the new techniques. This meant that most improvements happened to the already existing equipment and methods. The sawmill went from circular head saws to band saws and from oxen to steam power to electric power. Originally, trees were cut down with axes, wedges, long crosscut saws, and springboards. Power saws came along much later. In the early days, 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 logs would be dumped into the lake and towed to the mill 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.
Christopher Boyd bought the mill, in 1940, started operations again but he was also unsuccessful in reviving the company.
Boyd ran the mill for two years, until Dec 1941. He sold the mill to Ted Robeson, Grant Hawthorn and Fred Price in 1942. After one year, the mill (Shawnigan Lumber Company) was sold, again, to H.R. Macmillan, in the name of Gerry Wellburn. It was then called Shawnigan Division of MacMillan and Bloedel.
Soon after, the H.R. MacMillan Export Company bought it. By the time this company bought the mill, 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 was closed permanently. The closing of the saw mill was a huge blow to the Shawnigan Lake community as it employed many locals.
The last fire, in 1944, completely destroyed the mill and it was not re-built.
If you are interested in learning more, visit the Shawnigan Lake Museum and watch the movie that tells this story.