Kenneth Charlton, born in the family home at Fraser Mills in 1919, mentions the multicultural nature of the work force in the early years. He describes the town when he was growing up as a kind of “United Nations”, with English, Scots, Welsh, French Canadians, Norwegians, Swedes, Japanese, Chinese, and South Asians. He remembers children of all these ethnic groups playing, competing in sports, and going to school together. Kenneth’s parents, Jack and Minnie Charlton, emigrated from England to Canada, settling in Fraser Mills around 1908.17 Many recollections of Fraser Mills refer to its wooden sidewalks and those of neighbouring Maillardville. Florida Nadon Lamoureux remembers that they had the
advantage of floating when the Fraser River overflowed its banks, but they were also slippery and dangerous in the rain.18 Harold Schiefke was born in 1911 in Fraser Mills. His father, who had come to the town from Bellingham, Washington in 1909, worked at the plant as a millwright. Harold’s recollections show that the mill owner provided for the residents’ personal needs in a way that today (and perhaps even then, too) might appear paternalistic, but for which many workers were no doubt grateful. “We lived in the Fraser Mills townsite – you had to work at the mill to live in the town site. You paid a very nominal rent. You burned wood from the mill and, later on, sawdust. Lighting was supplied by the company. The lights went out at one o’clock at night. Every once in a while, you got your house redone painted and wallpapered.”19 A company doctor looked after the workers and their families. All the employees had $2 per month deducted from their wages to pay the doctor.20 Harold started his schooling at the two room Millside school around 1917. According to him, the school was paid for by the mill owner.21 When there were too many students at the school, some children were sent to New Westminster for their schooling, again at the mill owner’s expense. The mill owner owned the general store in Fraser Mills. Above it was the meeting hall
for the municipality of Fraser Mills (which seceded from the District of Coquitlam in 1913), where elections for reeve and councillors were held. According to Harold, all elections were by acclamation: “You had to own property in Fraser Mills, and of course, the company owned all the property. They would say, well, you got this and you got this, and you’re now this and you’re now that. You’d better agree.”22 The annual Christmas party was held in the company’s clubhouse. The workers paid for and cooked their turkeys and vegetables themselves.
1886 to 1914
Stuart Windblad, whose grandfather Andrew J. (Snap) Stewart was hired as a foreman at Fraser Mills in 1905, recalls that Snap Stuart was one of many Americans recruited from Washington State by the mill owner for management and skilled positions in the early years. Stuart lived on King Edward Ave., near the top of the hill, and his grandfather lived a few doors away. Occupational status at the mill, as well as ethnicity, affected where one lived: “The higher you were in the company, the closer you were to the top of the hill.” House colours also reflected the corporate link: “Every once in a while, the company would repaper the inside of the house, and repaint the outside. You could have any colors you wanted, as long as they were white and green, or green and white. Those were the company colors.”16
Another long-time resident of Fraser Mills, Elsie Windram McKinnon, remembers that the daily rhythm of life in Fraser Mills was marked by the sawmill’s whistle: “The first one sounded at 7 a.m. to awaken its employees, and the second at 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. to begin work. It sounded again at noon, and again at 10 minutes to five, quitting time. I believe the 10 minutes to the hour was to coincide with the tram schedule. The whistle was also used to call the firemen, and there was a code for those who knew it as to where the fire was located. This whistle could be heard for miles around, and local folk set their clocks by it, and expected their men folk and children home shortly after it sounded.”23 Harold Schiefke, who was one of the chiefs of the Fraser Mills fire department, notes that fire was an ever-present danger for both the mill and the town site. Sparks flew from the sawmill and shingle burners, and the dryers in the plywood factory got very hot. 37