Surrey History

Logging Operations in South Surrey

Lumber Mill, Shingle Mills in South Surrey

Logging operations were extensive throughout Surrey. However, the specifics of operations has been limited to South Surrey. These operations were typical of those throughout Surrey.

Hazelmere hand loggers

Giant trees such as this Fir was typical of the trees felled by hand loggers. Spring boards where cut into the base of the tree so that the loggers could put in the undercut where the tree trunk began to thin above the root. Here the Shepherd Brothers are putting in the undercut.

Hand-logging with Oxen 1870s to 1880s – In 1872 William McDougall arrived with his family and took up a quarter section at Elgin. He immediately began to log his land as well as other land west of Elgin. He probably used oxen as they were better equipped to travel over the peat and bog land than horses. The logs were drawn down skid roads and dumped into the Nicomekl River. They were boomed west of the Semiahmoo Road Bridge and finally taken by tugs to the Royal City Planing Mills in New Westminster.

Oxen logging Surrey Center

This picture is typical of oxen logging operation in Surrey. This picture is taken at Surrey Centre with the original Municipal Hall in the left background.

Oxen logging was not extensive in South Surrey, yet a number of pioneers have memories of the operations. In 1892 when Ted Thrift was about five years old he recalls watching one of the last oxen–logging operations; a twelve–oxen string pulled out three big logs in the vicinity of the present Peace Portal Golf Course. Oxen seem to have been used in logging operations in the 1880s, after which they were replaced by horses. Oxen operations were centered on the Nicomekl at Elgin, along the Ocean Park foreshore, and in the upper Campbell River basin.

Horse logging

Logging with horses in Surrey in 1889. Teams such as these pulled the logs from the woods over skid roads to the booming grounds.

Hand–logging with Horses 1880s to 1927 – Horses began to be used extensively in Surrey in the 1880s and 1890s. The Royal City Planing Mills (RCPM) in New Westminster were the most important market for the logs. Local loggers, in South Surrey, working under contract to the RCPM were the Gilley brothers, King and Allan, and the Roper brothers.

It was during this period that skid roads began to honeycomb the uplands of South Surrey, and they ran down to the Serpentine, Nicomekl, and Campbell Rivers, as well as into Semiahmoo Bay. John Pearson provided a description of the characteristic skid road.

Skid roads

Skid Roads provided the avenues for moving a series of logs from the uplands to tide water.

The skid road was constructed of ten foot logs, 10 to 20 inches in diameter and the logs were spaced 9 feet apart and partly buried in the ground to make them rigid. The tip of the skids were adzed to form a trough for the logs to ride in and when they became worn down a hardwood block, called a glutt, was mortised into the worn part.
For the haul down to the water, the logs were placed one behind the other and fastened together with a five foot chain called the Dog Chain, and behind the last log came the Go Devil. The Go Devil was made of two logs with boards on top and a seat in each end for the teamster. Teams of oxen and later horses were used for hauling the logs and for a ten-horse team, three to six logs would make a load. In wet or boggy areas a solid corduroy road would be built.

Beach booming at White Rock

After moving the logs along skid roads to tide water, small teams of horses where used to form log booms. Here horses are being used to build booms on the beach at White Rock about 1910.

The Royal City Logging Ditch – It was during the 1880s that the Royal City Planing Mills built a logging ditch which ran from the uplands down to the Nicomekl river. This was located about one-quarter of a mile west of the Coast Meridian Road. The logging ditch had been dug by Chinese labourers brought in by the RCPM. The ditch was a small creek which was deepened and enlarged, and into this the waters of neighbouring creeks were diverted. On the upland a series of control gates were constructed to conserve the water. The logs were brought to the ditch with the help of skid roads and teams of horses. The following is a description of how the ditch operated.

A series of flood gates were put in, to hold back the water. Each day, the cut logs were put into the ditches, a flood gate was opened, and logs and water would pour down the ditch to the next retention pond. A second gate would then be opened, and a third, until the logs reached the Nicomekl river. In the evening the gates would be closed and water built up for the next day's run of logs. The logs were then moved down the Nicomekl to Elgin and boomed west of the Semiahmoo Road bridge. The logging ditch was used by RCPM until the New Westminster and Southern Railway was completed in 1891, after which the company began shipping the logs by rail. However, the ditch continued to be used by a number of small independent logging firms.

Logging with Donkey engines and Railways, 1887–1927

Donkey Engine

Logging with steam donkey engines. Logs were pulled out of the bush with the donkey engines and loaded with horses aboard rail cars for movement to the booming grounds. This picture was taken in the vicinity of the Pacific Highway and Brown Road.

Logging reached its peak in South Surrey when railway logging began. The first rail line in Surrey was a logging spur built in 1887 for Royal City Planing Mills. In that year the locomotive Curley was brought up the Nicomekl River on a scow and landed about one quarter mile west of the Coast Meridian Road. It was hauled up the old Royal City logging ditch to the section of rail which ran west from the ditch. This standard–gauge logging spur ran with a slight rise to the west. From it a great many feeder spurs led to timber tracts. Steam donkey engines or teams of horses would pull the logs to the rail lines. They would then be hauled by Curley and dumped into the logging ditch.

During the time "Curley" was operating in South Surrey (1887–1894), the Royal City Planing Mills was purchased by British Columbia Mills, Timber and Trading Company (1889) which operated Hastings Sawmill Company. For this reason, it is not unusual to see references to both companies regarding the ownership of "Curley" and the subject logging operations.


The Royal City Planing Mill's locomotive "Curley" with Bob Harvie the engineer in 1894. Logs were initially hauled to the logging ditch but after the completion of the New Westminster and Southern Railways logs were hauled to the Port Kells booming grounds.

Curley at Hastings Mill

The spur west of the logging ditch operated from 1887 to 1889. A section east of the logging ditch to Hazelmere was built in 1890 at the time the New Westminster and Southern Railway (NWSR) was constructed. With the completion of the NWSR in 1891, the Royal City logging ditch was abandoned by the company as logs now moved directly by rail to Port Kells. They were then dumped into the Fraser River for movement to New Westminster.

Horse loading

Horses remained an important part of the logging scene. They were the primary means of loading the logs onto the flat cars. In some areas they were also used to move the smaller timber to the loading site.

Logging locomotive

This appears to be the same locomotive as in the pictures above, but the spark arrester on its smoke stack has been removed. By the end of the logging era in South Surrey, the railway equipment was considerably larger and more sophisticated. This engine is a former main line railway locomotive.

Between 1872 and 1904 logging in South Surrey was dominated by large lumber companies operating out of New Westminster. The largest and most extensive operation were those undertaken by or on behalf of the Royal City Planing Mill. Brunette Mills, however, also operated camps.

Brunette Saw Mill

The Brunette Saw Mill was one of the major milling companies that harvested some of the richest and most accessible timber from the uplands of Surrey. The logs were moved by water and later by rail for processing.

By 1904 the big companies had skimmed the richest and most accessible timber from the uplands. None of this timber was ever milled in Surrey. It was always moved out of this district by water or by rail for processing in New Westminster.

Royal City Logging Company cook house

A Royal City Logging Company cook house at East Kensington in 1898. Such large operations became important markets for local farm products. Operations such as this one harvested the logs for milling outside of the District.

Campbell River Timber Company operated a narrow gauge logging railway in the Ocean Park/Crescent Heights area from 1917–1920. From it a great many feeder spurs led to timber tracts above Crescent Beach. The north south section of the line ran from a log shute at the Nicomekl River south past the present Crescent United Church. The line ran south and turned to the east in the vicinity of 22nd avenue and then angled southeast and curley back northeast just south of 20th Ave. Upon reaching the crown of the uplands south of Dogwood Park it turned northward to avoid a shallow lake in the area east of 136th Street. The timber harvested was made into booms in the Nicomelkl River and towed around the point to the Campbell River Sawmill at the mouth of the Campbell River.

Ocean Park Logging Railway

Fir Tree on Crescent Heights

This was the last of the big firs around Crescent Beach. The picture was taken by Jack Berry in 1957 with his camera set on automatic. It had survived for a short time because it was too difficult to fall and drag to the Japanese mill that was set up in 30s to manufacture railroad ties and oars to be shipped off to Japan. The lady in the picture was his first wife, Gladys. He has a picture of the stump after the tree was cut down about ten years later.

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