The earliest mill known to have been built in South Surrey was in the Halls Prairie district where Thomas McMillan began homesteading in 1879. It was here in the early 1880s that he started the first small lumber mill, but it is not known how long the mill operated. This appears to have been an isolated venture, and it might be said that the period of local mill construction did not really begin until 1904 when George Thrift built a combined shingle mill and lumber mill in Hazelmere. The mill was located at the crossing of the New Westminster Southern Railway and the Stokes Road (20th Ave). Thrift had begun logging timber from the family homestead. To haul the logs to the mill wooden rails were laid down, and horse–drawn pulleys were used to bring the logs in In 1906 the mill was sold to Harold Hunter and Frank Fox. These men eventually established the largest and most extensive logging and milling operations in the district.
When Fox and Hunter took over the Thrift Mill they enlarged it, replacing the wooden rails with a narrow-gauge system which they also extended. In 1907 they had a standard–gauge logging spur put in from the New Westminster and Southern Railway (NWSR) just east of where the old Royal City line came in. This Fox and Hunter logging spur operated from 1907 until 1917. The lumber and shingles produced were shipped via the NWSR to markets outside of South Surrey. In 1912 the mill burned to the ground.
About the same time, the Banner Shingle Company opened a shingle mill at Crescent Beach. The Crescent Beach mill was located on the south bank of the Nicomekl River just upstream of the railway trestle, a site now occupied by Crescent Beach Marina. The shingle mill apparently shared the site with the Excelsior Lumber Company, which was owned by the same Fox and Hunter interests as the Banner Shingle Company. A weir, or low dam, was built on the mill property to create a pond for storing logs. At high tide there was sufficient depth of water over the weir to allow logs to be floated into the pond. When the tide receded, the weir retained enough water in the pond for the logs and single bolts to be pushed through the water to the mill. The mill may have started operations slightly prior to the railway's arrival. In any case, it appears shingles from the mill were initially transported by barge to the Erie Mill Company dock at Blaine for loading onto ships or railcars, as GN records show a siding into the mill was not constructed until 1912, three years after the mill was known to have started operation. Barrie Sanford, Railway by the Bay, p33
The Bannerman Lumber Mill, Crescent
Map Courtesy of Kathleen Moore
With the opening of the Great Northern line in 1909, Fox and Hunter established a shingle mill at White Rock. This was known as the Banner Shingle Company shingle mill. It was located in the vicinity of the present Marine Drive and High Street and Bay Street. Logs were hauled down a skid road from the uplands with teams, and the shingles shipped out via the Great Northern. This mill burned down in 1913. With the loss of both mills in such quick succession, Harold Hunter and Frank Fox undertook a major rebuilding program. In 1913 construction began on the Campbell River Mill and it started operating in the fall of that year. This mill was located on the Campbell River on part of the Semiahmoo Indian Reserve. The mill operated from 1913 to 1927 and grew to be one of the largest lumber concerns on the Pacific Coast, with an average cut of 150,000 feet per day. Initially logs were supplied from the Fox and Hunter operation in Hazelmere, and in Ocean Park.
The following article appeared in the April 11, 1918 issue of The British Columbian:
One of the largest and most important of industries in the Municipality of Surrey is the lumber mill operated at the mouth of the Campbell River, close to the shores of Semiahmoo Bay and Drayton Harbor, by the Campbell River Lumber Company Limited. The company, with its allied shingle mills and lumber camps, has a pay roll of over 300 men, running into some $35,000 per month. The big lumber mill is fitted with the latest and most up–to–date machinery and labor–saving devices, all run by electric motive power, with steam auxiliary, and turns out timber, flooring, siding, ceiling, shiplap, mouldings and other dressed lumber with an average cut of 100,000 feet per day. This lumber is shipped in carload lots to the prairies and other eastern Canadian points, as well as to a number of places in the United States.
Three shingle mills are operated by the Campbell River Lumber Company, one of which is the Hadden shingle mill at Cloverdale, another is the Union shingle mill at White Rock and the other is the Banner mill at Crescent. Each of these mills turn out some thirty thousand shingles per day, averaging about 560,000 for the week, the bulk of which is shipped to Pennsylvania.
Two logging camps are run in connection with the lumber mill, and these camps employ about 120 men. One camp is situated at Otter and the logs are brought direct from the camp right into the mill yards by way of the Great Northern Railway Company, as a spur with several loading and unloading switches connects the lumber mill with the main Pacific coast line of the Hill system. Stag Bay, Hernando island, is the situation of the other camp, and the logs from that point reach the mill by water route, coming into the booming grounds at the mouth of the river and at the flats of Semiahmoo Bay by tug boat.
Quite a little settlement is springing up in the immediate neighborhood of the mill and upwards of twelve new houses have recently been erected at Orchard Beach, a sub–division of White Rock, almost opposite to the mill site. All these houses are already taken up by employees of the lumber mill and several more residences are in the course of construction.
A later source of timber was provided from the Columbia Valley in the vicinity of Sumas and Chilliwack.
The following story was published in the March 21, 1922 edition of The British Columbian:
The head of the Campbell River Lumber Company is Mr. H. W. Hunter, mayor of Blaine, Washington. Mr. Hunter is quoted in the Bellingham Herald as saying: "The Campbell River Lumber Co., Ltd., has just purchased from the Westminster Mill Co., Ltd., of New Westminster, a tract of timber consisting of about 9000 acres. The timber is located in the Columbia Valley between the boundary line and Cultus Lake. This tract has been owned and held for years by the McLarens of Eastern Canada and only sold by them last December. The timber is about 85 percent fir and the balance cedar. The fir being old growth yellow fir is one of the finest tracts of fir in British Columbia and a very easy logging chance.... The logs will all be hauled by the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul to Bellingham, where they will be dumped and boomed from there to our mills at White Rock."
The mill operated until 1927 when it was forced to close due to a lack of quality timber within reasonable shipping distances, and to depressed market conditions.
Frank Fox and Harold Hunter operated the Campbell River Mill in East White Rock from 1913 to 1927. It was one of the largest operations of its kind in South Surrey.
The Campbell River Mill was the largest operation of its kind in South Surrey. Its planing operations could fill a variety of orders. It also had a small dry kiln operation. In its advertising it stressed its large timber holding of soft, old growth Yellow Fir throughout the Fraser Valley.
White Rock resident Ray Stewart prepared the following outline history for the White Rock Historical Society in 1957.
The enterprise began in high hopes of success. The new extensive plant with its complement of 150 or more men caused a building boom along the waterfront and at the east end of the community. Many Chinese were employed and were accommodated in bunkhouses near where the present Catholic church is on the Indian Reserve, and near where the old dam is at the Campbell River mouth. Although there was a bunkhouse for the Japanese a number of them built houses behind where the Park Cafe stands today. A few East Indians also were employed at the plant...
By 1921 the business was sufficiently established to warrant extensive improvements. Such apparatus as; a band head–rig, band re-saw, and a gang saw, were then added to the plant. In its best days the plant cut over 150,000 feet of lumber. It had seven dry kilns, and with its sizers, three matchers, and a sticker, produced all types of dimension lumber, shiplap, flooring, and molding. Sometimes, in the early 1920s as many as 250 men were employed. There were often two shifts operating... The Canadian Prairie market took most of the mills’ output, but many scowloads for export were taken from the end of the mill pier. Years of Promise: White Rock 1858–1958
Most of the mill site was built on piles. Only at high tide was there enough water in the river to store logs. Continuous dredging was required, and piles places every 12 feet in the river to hold back the sand and silt. Eventually, the dam was built to hold water, and store logs to keep the supply constant... The 120 foot by 213 foot sawmill and planing mill were second to none on the coast... The 1800 foot company pier was built in 1921... Three spur tracks were constructed to the mill in 1917. They were removed in 1938. Years of Promise: White Rock 1858–1958
Other small operators also established mills in South Surrey after 1904. In 1906 James Hadden brought his family to Elgin and he and his son Billy built a planing mill on the south bank of the Nicomekl river at the old Semiahmoo Road crossing. This was a small family operation, and the mill was run for local orders only. Supplies of logs were purchased from other logging camps operating on the Nicomekl River. The Haddens operated their mill from 1906 until 1917. The Haddens had operated a second mill in Cloverdale on the site of the present Fraser Downs Raceway parking lot. The logs were taken from a pond in Cloverdale creek and the mill was located near the site of original Cloverdale Museum. The mill closed in 1909 as the local timber supply was depleated.
Bob McLean built a planing mill in 1914 on the Nicomekl River where the New Westminster and Southern Railway crosses it. McLean had a tract of timber which he logged, milled, and shipped by rail to the metropolitan market. This mill operated from 1914 to approximately 1923.
In 1917 a group of White Rock men established the White Rock Tie and Lumber Company. This small mill operated near the former site of the Fox and Hunter shingle mill in west White Rock. Its main products were railway ties and trestle ties which were shipped out on the Great Northern. Logs were cut from second growth stands on the uplands and moved by sleigh and later skid road to the mill. The mill was forced to close in 1925 when local supplies of timber were no longer available, along with high timber prices, and non–paying customers made continued operation impossible.
In 1923 Flannigan and McKay built a large planing mill on Campbell River Road just west of the Surrey–Langley border. This mill was able to keep operating when all others in South Surrey had closed as its timber supplies came from South Langley. The mill hauled its logs over a narrow–gauge rail line which ran east from the mill for over three–quarters of a mile. This operation closed in 1940.
Flannigan and McKay logged just east of the Surrey–Langley border. The mill hauled its logs over a rail line using horses for power. The line ran east from the mill located on Campbell River Road just west of the Surrey–Langley border.
A few smaller operation, some using portable mills, operated for very short periods before moving on. A shingle mill operated on the Campbell River at Halls Prairie Road, and a second one operated at Pacific Highway and Bamford Road. Both were small, short–lived operations. In 192–30 a Japanese oar mill, powered by a small diesel engine, was established near the end of Bayview Drive (bordering Sandy Trail), next to the Great Northern tracks, in Crescent Beach. This was a family operation, the timber coming from first growth material on the bluff overlooking Crescent. The oars were made for small fishing and pleasure boats. This family operation came to a close in the early 1930s when the local timber supply was exhausted.
In short, the golden era of local milling operations lasted from about 1904 to 1927. By 1927 local timber supplies had virtually come to an end. Only the Flannigan and McKay mill with timber supplies from South Langley could maintain operations. During this era, South Surrey was a community dominated by the forest industry. The sight of camps with their skid roads, cookhouses, bunkhouses, stables, blacksmith shops, teams of horses, and many pieces of equipment was commonplace. A great deal of the labour force was Japanese, Chinese, or East Indian, especially that of the large milling concerns. The logging camps and mill communities became excellent markets for the farm produce and the horses of nearby settlers. This local market bolstered farm incomes considerably for a good many years.
Years of Promise: White Rock 1858 – 1958 Lorraine Ellenwood
The British Columbian
The Surrey Story
Along the Way Margaret Lang Hastings
Railway by the Bay: 100 Years of Trains at White Rock, Crescent Beach and Ocean Park. 2009 Barrie Sandford