Thursday, September 07, 2017

Rust in peace

(continued from A bit of logging camp history.)

Simpson's Folly, they called it. Al Simpson, of the Iron River Logging Company, had built the causeway out into Georgia Strait, but the waves were too strong, and broke up his log booms. He added pieces of derelict ships to make a breakwater, starting with a 68 year old, three-masted clipper ship, the St. Paul, in 1942. The winter storms shifted them around, so he had them dynamited to the ground.

Remains of one of the Oyster Bay derelicts

Near the top of the breakwater, the old iron doesn't collect seaweed.

It wasn't enough. This is open coast, and the currents are strong.

In 1944, H.R. MacMillan bought the logging rights and camp. He expanded its operation, and brought in over one hundred worker's cabins. A cafe, the Blue Grouse, opened next door. And he began an ambitious program to protect the bay, adding, over time, a whole fleet of drowned ships.

The HCMS Matane, Royal Canadian Navy

... British Columbia's first Chief Forester. MacMillan reportedly gained considerable experience in world lumbering during World War I. With his colleague Whitford Julian VanDusen, another forester, MacMillan incorporated a company in 1919 to sell British Columbia lumber products to foreign markets. In 1924, they established a shipping company that would become one of the world's biggest charter companies. ( In response to competition, they began) ... to purchase mills and creat(e) the first truly integrated forestry company in British Columbia.
During World War II, MacMillan acquired numerous small mills and timber tenures on the south coast of British Columbia. (Wikipedia)

When World War II ended, many of the ships used in the war effort became redundant, and were sold off. In 1947, MacMillan bought and beached the Matane (almost new: built in 1943), the Levis, and the Charlottetown, from the Royal Canadian Navy.

Another view of the Matane. This was a large ship.

More ships followed:

  • the WWI destroyer President Burns, 
  • the Union Steamship steamer Lady Pam, 
  • the Consolidated Whaling Company tender Gray (b. 1889), 
  • the Island Tug and Barge Company’s chip barges Drumwall (aka. Puako) and 
  • Betsey Ross (b. 1943), 
  • the San Francisco car ferry Golden Bear, 
  • the steam freighter Chatham, 
  • the car ferry Border Queen, 
  • two tugs (Cape Scott was one), 
  • the 245-foot Muriel (built 1920), and 
  • a large floating drydock.

The ships rested there, slowly rusting, until the mid-1950s, when rocks were brought in to replace them; the ships then were "removed". A 1956 report from the Campbell River Museum archives claims that "Removal of the hulks of old vessels has been underway for some years ... will be completed in 1956."

"Hat guy". Not much left of this ship.

Their footprints are still rusting peacefully today, in 2017.

Rust and barnacle remains.

As to how much they rusted and deteriorated, I put it down to the fact the tide goes out past them and exposes them entirely to air, twice a day, whereas sunken ships are entirely underwater forever and thus somewhat protected from oxidation (rusting.) (From Fransen CR; Graveyard of the Canadian Navy, Flickr.)

(Also see Ted Boggs collection, Campbell River Museum, for photos of logging camp and booming grounds, 1942 - 1945, and Helen Mitchell collection, for typical bunkhouses.)


  1. surprising and interesting history.

  2. Of course MacBlo had the Powell River Mill at the same time. Maybe the difference in how they used the ships was the depth of the water. On the Campbell River side the bay was shallow so sinking was an option. In Powell River the water drops off dramatically so a floating boat boom made more sense. At first I thought he ships were unsightly. Now I think they are an integral part of my home town. - Margy

  3. Yes, the bay here is shallow enough to be exposed at the lowest tides.


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