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Dateline Cowichan: Tough times hit the local forest industry
For forestry and mill workers, the early 1980s were a devastating time in Cowichan. Several small mills closed their doors.
And in February 1983 Chemainus sawmill, once the cream of the Commonwealth crop, still lay idle. Formerly owned by forestry giant MacMillan Bloedel, the oft-times flourishing lumber exporter had been purchased by Noranda who had taken over MB assets. And it had the potential to make a profit, unemployed workers charged.
“If they allowed us to get the better grade log, we could probably make money,” said Joe Hill, spokesman for the Chemainus Sawmill Action Committee. “They’re overextended overseas at the expense of the Chemainus workers.”
MLA Barbara Wallace also castigated the company for its lack of action and for shirking its obligation to the community. And at the time, she was doubtful the owners would reopen the mill.
Hill was disappointed that during a protest greeting Premier Bill Bennett in Chemainus, Bennett was reluctant to lean on MB to try to get the mill reopened.
He pointed out that the company had cancelled its planned $50 million expansion program even though the newest equipment in the building was installed in the planer mill in 1951.
The old Boatland property on Somenos flats bought two years before for $250,000 by North Cowichan was leased to the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce and the Cowichan Naturalists for $1 a year.
In the midst of an outbreak of street sign vandalism, North Cowichan council decided against constructing its signs of steel rather than wood because there would be extra costs and no guarantees the metal posts would last longer than the wooden ones.
When a controversial lime port was proposed for Bare Point at Chemainus, former mayor Gerry Smith said he didn’t think there was enough space, and council received two letters complaining the proposed port would damage the habitat of sea-bird colonies.