Tuesday, September 05, 2017

A bit of logging camp history

In 1923, a pair of loggers set up a small logging camp at Oyster Bay, just north of the outlet of the Oyster River. The land is flat here; streams and creeks dawdle down to the coast, stopping here and there to make sloughs and flooded meadows. Roads across the wetlands were corduroy; cut logs laid across the road bed (or swamp bed), sometimes with sand or gravel fill. It made for a bumpy ride in those old logging trucks.

The bay itself is more a slight dent in the coastline, open to the waves and currents of Georgia Strait. Better a semi-bay for mooring log booms than none, and the flat surrounding land was a good place to lay out workers' cabins and logging machinery.

Looking inland from the tip of the breakwater. Flat river bottom land ahead.

The flatlands had other residents in those first years. Around the depression years, a relief camp housed young men otherwise out of work. They cleared land, worked on the roads; the cordwood road was gravelled; there were bridges to build and repair.

In 1938, a dry year, sparks from small logging operations set off dozens of small brush fires in the Campbell River - Courtenay area. Oyster Bay is in the centre. One fire grew into a raging blaze that eventually consumed 470 square kilometres of Vancouver Island Forest; at the end, over 2000 men fought it, hopelessly until the rains came.

When that was over, the Forestry department hired 40 men to cut a road through from Courtenay to Campbell River; they also replanted trees that had been lost in the fire.

The breakwater, today. Rocks and rust. Simpson's ship pieces.

As World War II was getting underway, the need for lumber grew. Al Simpson, of the Iron River Logging Company, bought the old logging camp and built a causeway out into the bay to enclose his booming ground. As added protection from the huge waves kicked up by winter storms in Georgia Strait, he sunk parts from dismantled ships as a breakwater.

Rusted ladder. One of Simpson's collection?

The causeway was here. Looking straight east across the channel.

And now, we have a real bay. Coastal currents have been bringing in sand and debris, piling up along Simpson's causeway at first, then on the added breakwater, changing the shape of the shoreline, even building bird habitat.

Three pilings left over from the causeway, with flying kildeer.

Google map. Oyster River at the bottom, the wide-open "bay", with the modern, enclosed bay at the star.

Tomorrow: MacBlo, the war's remnants, and today's hulks.


  1. Love checking out your blog, always a good read. These pictures are amazing!

  2. Kind of like the Powell River Mill using the hulks to create a breakwater, but rather than sinking the huge cement ships they left them floating. Now there are plans to sink some of them to become an artificial reef. The ships are so old they are becoming unseaworthy and as reefs they can provide underwater habitat and scuba diving attractions. They are busy cleaning up the first ship to make it environmentally friendly. - Margy

    1. That was one thing they never thought of back then; making the ships environmentally friendly, although I'm sure the fuel was reclaimed, and there were no plastics to worry about. They seem to be providing habitat ok; they're mostly covered in sea lettuce.


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