The Camps : INTRODUCTION
Camp 10 moving to Chemanus
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Since the opening of trails to Cowichan Lake, logging has been a part of life in the area. The first camp opened in 1885 by William Sutton of Ontario and paved the way for a series of logging communities well known across the Island . Caycuse Camp, Gordon River Camp, Camp 6, Rounds Camp, and Mayo Camp. Logging camps have dotted the shores of the Lake and surrounding areas for much of the last century, camps that made a home for the men and their families working the forests.
A comfortable camp with a good cook was gold to the logging men and would attract and keep the best workers. A gyppo camp might have a harder time finding good men for the forest.
The camp buildings were portable with skids on the bottom and were moved around to access the best timber. In fact, some of the communities in the Cowichan sprung from the cleared remains of logging camps utilizing the existing water and rail lines. When the camp settled near a good patch of workable forest, boardwalks were built to connect the buildings. During the time of rail, a line might be constructed in the camp connecting the settlement to the forest and to the nearest communities. The camp speeder would take men to work in the hills and later take the families to the nearby town.
The camps themselves were built in clear cuts and as one logger's wife lamented, far away from the majestic views of the forests they were harvesting. The camp would consist of bunkhouses for the single men, Queen's palaces if the camp had single female cookhouse workers and family houses if it was a family camp. The camp might have a cookhouse with the kitchen and dining hall, a post office, a schoolhouse, a surveyor's office and a recreation hall. Early camps had a smithy and later a filing shack where tools were sharpened and repaired. Some of the larger camps would have a commissary and at least one even had their own saloon and brothel.
Some of the camps, such as Camp 6, were made up of connecting float houses moored in Lake Cowichan or the nearby rivers. It was easier and cheaper to access the logs close to the shore from these floating camps. Everything from bunkhouses to cookhouses was on water, connected with a floating boardwalk. This made for quite a few falls, especially at night after a nip with the buddies!
Logging camp, ground level view
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The majority of the camps were racially segregated. The Chinese, Japanese and Sikh workers had their own bunkhouses and cookhouses in the camps and friendships were not unheard of between the ethnic groups, but they were rare. In some of the Cowichan Valley camps, one event that brought the camp together was Chinese New Year. A yearly banquet with Chinese food and bottles of whiskey at every table ensured everyone had a good time and a few hangovers the next day as well! Many of the children that grew up in the camps have fond memories of receiving gifts on Chinese New Year's from the single Chinese male camp workers.
The logging camps in the Cowichan area and British Columbia as a whole began to decline in the 1950's. The provincial government rapidly expanded the highway system during this time and with easier access to logging sites, many families preferred to be in larger communities, closer to services that were not available while in the remote camps.