Hemlock Panels Made By Canadian Western Lumber Co. Date Unknown
and sat idle for the next ten years, a victim of depressed economic conditions. In 1903 a new company bought the mill. However its owners still delayed reopening until they received a promise from the Canadian federal government that the channel of the Fraser River would be dredged to improve navigation.11 In 1906, the mill started up again. The first few years were slow going, due to the depressed state of the lumber business throughout Canada (partly caused by unfavourable tariffs). Then, as now, the resource based Canadian economy was highly sensitive to world commodity prices and other external conditions. Nevertheless, the little town
In 1910 the company operating the mill changed its name to Canadian Western Lumber Company. Another milestone in Fraser Mills’ history also occurred about this time, reflecting the town’s growing population and importance. For years, residents of Fraser Mills and neighbouring areas in Coquitlam who wished to go to New Westminster (including children on their way to school) had to walk many kilometres to the nearest tram line in Sapperton. But in 1910, the British Columbia Electric Railway Company announced that the New Westminster tram line would be extended to Fraser Mills.12 According to the 1911 census, the population of Fraser Mills was approximately 877, composed mostly of French Canadians and Europeans, as well as 57 Japanese, 20 Chinese, and 168 East Indians. The plant was reputed at this time to be the largest lumbering operation in the British Empire and the second largest in the world.13 In 1913 a shingle mill, plywood plant and door factory were added to Fraser Mills. However, the boom years were almost over. By the end of 1913, a recession set in and continued into 1914. Then World War I broke out in August, 1914. Many mill workers enlisted, and the mill operated only three or four
days a week. It would be many years before the mill returned to full capacity.14
Life at Fraser Mills Fraser Mills is an early example of the many company towns that would arise, and sometimes disappear, in Western Canada in the twentieth century. (Until 1913, as discussed below, Fraser Mills was not a separate legal municipality: it was a part of the District of Coquitlam.) The hallmark of the company town is the presence of one major employer who is attracted to the area to exploit some natural resource. At Fraser Mills that resource was timber, and the mill shaped daily life in the little town in many different ways.
1886 to 1914
of Fraser Mills, as Millside was now called, grew. Soon it included a manager’s residence, about twenty houses, a store, post office, hospital, office block, barber shop and pool hall. Four police officers maintained law and order.
We need to look beyond the statistics of the sawmill’s corporate history and operations to see this. One excellent source of information are the written recollections of the people who lived there. Many of the existing accounts were written in the early 1990s by residents who were born in Fraser Mills during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Of course their memories of childhood are subject to the usual frailties of memory that occur as time passes. Furthermore, their knowledge of events and conditions in Fraser Mills before they were born is necessarily second-hand because it is based on what they learned from their parents, grandparents and other older relatives. Still, their stories contain some of the best evidence available on these early days in Coquitlam.15 35
Published on Mar 3, 2017