Without the logging industry, Campbell River may not have grown into the city it is today.
It owes particular thanks to the International Timber Company – better known as the Elk River Timber Company (ERT) – which established its presence in the region in 1906. During its boom years between 1929 and 1953, it employed as many as 600 workers at one time, most of whom lived at the 10 logging camps scattered throughout the 30,000 acres of land.
Camps were equipped with portable bunkhouses that slept 8 or 9 men. They were heated by wood stoves, had electric lights, and beds with springs. There was a community bathroom, a cookhouse, dining room, pool hall, reading room, Chinese laundry, barber, and even a store. Most of the employees were single men, but for those with families, there were married quarters.
Irene Quinn was born at Camp 3 on June 30, 1927 and lived there until her family moved to Merville in 1940. After her marriage in 1948, she and her husband took up residence at Camp 8. Irene’s recollections of camp life have been documented and are now on file at the Campbell River Archives.
Irene said camp life was good. There was a camp school where – along with an education and recreational activities – students received vaccinations from the visiting nurse. School parties were catered by the cookhouse.
When not in school, Irene helped at home. During the depression, goods were hard to come by, and she recalled her aunt making underpants from sugar sacks. Bread and cookies were all homemade. Laundry was done by hand. Her mother boiled the clothes, and using a washboard with soap made of bacon fat and lye, she scrubbed them until they were clean and then hung them to dry on one of the 400 foot clotheslines. Mostly the children amused themselves, but because Irene’s father owned a Whippet (car), she sometimes got to go to the picture show in Cumberland. It cost 5 cents during the week and 10 cents on the weekend.
Irene couldn’t recall any major illnesses. Coughs and colds were treated with Buckley’s cough medicine or a homemade syrup derived from a mixture of onions and brown sugar reduced to juice in the warming oven. Iodine and mercurochrome were used to deal with cuts and scrapes.
Irene’s family lived in Merville during the war years when her father changed jobs, and her greatest memory was of working hard. Jobs were difficult to come by, but Irene was a good worker and found employment first at a bakery where she earned $15/week and then at Shaw Motors, greasing cars and logging trucks for the hefty wage of $16/week. It may not seem like much, but Irene earned enough to put herself and her two sisters through business school in Courtenay.
When Irene married Morris Quinn in 1948, it was back to logging, this time in Camp 8 on Echo Lake. Morris lost a leg when he was crushed between two trucks, but once he adjusted to his artificial limb, he went back to work and didn’t miss another day. Irene kept house – washing and waxing her floors every single day – washing clothes by hand as her mother had done, ironing everything, and looking after three children.
For entertainment, married couples divided into two teams to play Paper Chase. One team would tear up paper and run around the camp dropping pieces. It was the job of the other team to find the pieces and pick them up—sort of recreational recycling.
In 1953-54, timber began to be moved by trucks instead of train, and as a result, the camp houses were gradually removed and employees began being bussed to work from Campbell River. In 1980, BC Forest Products bought ERT and that was the end of the era. Today it is difficult to find traces of those once thriving logging camps.
Reminder: Cemetery Tour (mentioned in June’s column) is Aug 16 at 10 a.m. $10 call Janice 250-203-0585 to sign up.