The Communities : WHY THE COWICHAN VALLEY
Logging camp, wide view
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In the early 20th Century, the towns of the Cowichan region were tied to the logging industry. Businesses served the loggers, the mill workers, and their families. Homes and other buildings were constructed with wood from local operations. Funding for schools, parks, places of worship and other community projects came from the loggers and the companies they worked for. While the early Cowichan settlers came for the farming, the communities that exist today grew from the lumber industry.
It might seem that Cowichan's towns grew from logging camps into permanent communities as loggers married, had children and settled into their jobs. But this was not the case. Logging camps were mobile so that they could be taken close to the logging site. When the trees were logged, they moved on, often leaving little behind except cleared land, roads and water access. This remaining infrastructure contributed to future settlements in the area.
Towns were not always close to logging operations, and the loggers commuted from their homes to the forests. This became increasingly common as roads were improved in the Cowichan Valley. Towns had other features and industries like agriculture and fishing that made them good places to live.
A number of Cowichan's towns were built alongside sawmills. Youbou, on the north shore of Cowichan Lake, was established as a mill town after the Youbou mill was built in 1913. Named for Mr. Yount and Mr. Bouton of the Empire Logging Company, Youbou continued to play a major role as a freshwater sawmill town until Timberwest closed the mill in 2001. Chemainus was also a sawmill town. It relied on the saltwater of the coast rather than the fresh water of Cowichan Lake.
Greeting card, building in Honeymoon Bay, Chinese bunkhouses
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Honeymoon Bay, on the southeast shore of Cowichan Lake, was logged from 1897 onward. A shingle mill opened in 1920, and a sawmill started in 1942. Western Forest Industries Limited took over operations in 1947 and began to erect housing for their employees. These small, wood-frame homes were arranged in neat rows with gardens and painted in fresh colours. WFI added a Community Hall in 1948.
Some communities were essentially built up by the logging and milling companies to house their employees. In 1942, Hillcrest Lumber Company moved to the second growth woods around Mesachie Lake. The townsite was completely laid out and developed under the direction of the company, down to the donation of fruit trees to grace the yards of the new buildings. These trees are now part of the local logging heritage.
Duncan, Lake Cowichan and Paldi are three Cowichan towns with notable histories. Greater Cowichan also includes the communities of Cobble Hill, Crofton, Genoa Bay, Maple Bay, Mill Bay, Nitinat, Shawnigan Lake, Westholme and other towns and villages that sustained themselves with local agriculture but grew wealthy through logging.