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“Digging Into History: The Loggers Navy” by John Mountain, Vol. 2 No. 6

The Logger’s Navy: An Essential Tool for Servicing Members – This month, I want to share with you something that I dug out of the bottom of an archive box – operating log books from the Logger’s Navy from the years 1955 to 1957.

The Logger’s Navy was a boat that was used by Local 1-71 to both organize the unorganized and service the isolated membership. From the earliest days of the IWA, Local 1-71 used the famous Laur Wayne, Logger’s Navy, and later a series of boats called Green Gold, to organize workers up and down the coast and prior to the advent of the compulsory dues check-offs, to collect members’ dues.  The boats were essentially used to reach loggers in distant camps.

Some IWA loggers called the boats “mission ships”  because they carried the gospel of trade unionism to workers in the wilderness. The forty-four foot Laur Wayne was a cabin cruiser and she chalked up a pretty fair record as a union organizer according to a 1943 story in the Vancouver Sun newspaper. Purchased in 1936, by 1943 Laur Wayne had traveled 69,000 miles of BC coastline servicing the membership while sometimes acting as a hospital ship. Often men who suffered sudden illness and accidents were carried to outside communities where they could receive treatment.

The Laur Wayne was replaced by the Logger’s Navy which was built in a shipyard at Squirrel Cove specifically for the Loggers’ Local. It was a forty-foot cabin cruiser with a sleeping and cooking area in the after part and she cruised along at about eight knots an hour. Because of the bunks along each side, the hull had the curvature of something like half an orange. A twenty-mile an hour wind from the southeast in the Gulf of Georgia could produce waves about three to three and half feet high which would be enough to cause the ship to roll from side to side, making travel at times on the Logger’s Navy nearly impossible.

By the mid-fifties, the Logger’s Navy was slated for refit and the log book that I found provided me the story about both its refit and its shakedown voyage. The late 1954 refit required the Logger’s Navy to be hauled up on ways for approximately one month where a number of repairs were done.  

According to the log books, it was necessary to take out and renew tail shaft, remove and repair and replace rudder,  with a close inspection at the rudder stock, rudder bearing, stuffing box and stern bearing. Gumwood planks were removed and replaced in some cases, and replacement planks were installed and caulked. Repairs were made to the bulwarks forward of wheelhouse. Paint was removed from hull which was then filled and sanded and repainted. In addition to new lockers, new refrigeration in the galley and a rebuilt sink, the engine shaft was re-aligned and shaft covers repaired, and a new 500 watt generator installed. Needless to say, the refit was extensive for the short amount of time that it was on the ways.

By February 1955 the Logger’s Navy was ready for its shake down voyage. Trail runs were made in the north arm of the Fraser River where the ship seems to operate very nicely after her refit. After the having batteries serviced and the radio checked and the mattresses cleaned, the Logger’s Navy swung out into the Fraser River for a shakedown run up the coast to Pender Harbour.

According to the log book, the Logger’s Navy left for Pender Harbour at 12:45pm February 25, 1955 and an entry in the log indicates that sawdust dumped in the river from the nearby Hicks Sawmill plugged the engine water cooling intakes. Once that problem was resolved, the Logger’s Navy left the Fraser River and reached Pender Harbour at 6:30pm at evening. It was reported that the motor and ship performed well in spite of heavy weather and a snow storm.

The Logger’s Navy overnighted in Pender Harbour and then left for Beaver Creek under steady snowfall at 12:15pm the next day. Finding the Beaver Creek operation closed, the Logger’s Navy made its way up to Vancouver Bay where it remained overnight. The Vancouver Bay camp was running with about 25 men. At 10:15am on February 28th, the ship dropped ropes and sailed for Britain River.

A half hour after leaving Vancouver Bay, the Logger’s Navy stopped at Moorsome Bluffs only to find the camp still closed and no men working. They arrived at Britain River in high winds and a big chop after an hour only to find two feet of snow accumulated on the dock. Poor weather conditions continued making it necessary to lay over for the night at Britain River.

On March 1st the Logger’s Navy shoved off for Osborn Logging at Narrows Arm at 8:15am via the Sechelt Rapids. Through the Sechelt Rapids at 10:45am, they arrived at the Osborn Logging operation in Narrows Arm near mid-afternoon at 2:00pm – and as the log book noted – under bright sunshine and the snow melting very quickly. They tied up and remained there overnight.

With union business completed, the Logger’s Navy left Narrows Arm at 7:15am for the return trip to Vancouver via Egmont. The ship encountered more winter conditions with the ship being so iced up that it was impossible to stand on deck. Looks like they cruised by Francis Island at 11:12am; then through Welcome Pass at 11:58am; and to the Merry Island Light by 12:20pm.  The Logger’s Navy arrived in Vancouver late afternoon at 5:50pm in front of a heavy westerly and it was noted that the ship handled well in a following sea.

All in, the shakedown trip for the refit lasted five days with nine and a half hour of sail time. This account in the Logger’s Navy log book has provided an interesting narrative that speaks volumes about the importance of having a ship that could be used to connect the isolated membership. While this story is mostly about the Logger’s Navy, the ships used by Local 1-71 on the BC coast during a forty year span between the 1930s and the 1970s were an essential tool for servicing the membership.

  • Thanks to the BC Lumberworker newspaper and the history book The IWA in Canada: The Life and Times of an Industrial Union for additional information on the Logger’s Navy

I’m so glad to be playing a part in preserving the history of the IWA. If you’re interested in my discoveries, I urge you to contact staff at the Kaatza Museum for more information. Next time in Digging Into History, I’ll take another deep dive into the archives and share some more interesting stories.

John Mountain is a retired United Steelworkers Canadian National Office Staff Representative and former IWA Local 1-80 Union Member. He lives in Chemainus and volunteers some of his time at the Kaatza Museum in Lake Cowichan.

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