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“Rail Logging Comes to an End at Caycuse and Nitinat”, by John Mountain, Digging into History, 2.10 (October, 2020)

I’m currently nosing around in IWA Past-President Bill Routley’s files which have recently acquired by the Kaatza Museum. The museum has decided to make Bill Routley’s files part of the massive IWA archive collection. And while digging around I discovered a piece about Caycuse and its halcyon days of the 1950s – I think the piece was part of a call for a gala reunion for July 30 1988. I enjoyed reading the piece and it gave me the notion that there was a strong sense of community at Caycuse during those times. I was intrigued and thanks to the BCFP Timberline Newsletter for May 1988, I now know a little bit more about Caycuse than I ever did before and about its demise which I suspect Fletcher Challenge had a hand in.

I also love learning about logging railroads and certainly the Lake Cowichan area has a lot to offer. Turns out Caycuse had a very robust rail logging history and thanks to Patrick Hind’s book called Cowichan Valley Industrial Railways, I’ve expanded my knowledge base.

I’ve learned that British Columbia Forest Products continued logging by rail at Camp 6 – to become known as Caycuse – until 1953 when they eventually phased out the railway entirely and changed over to truck logging. For many people this change over was a sad time. Many a young person had grown up to the sound of a steam locomotive as it chuffed its train of loaded log cars to the Camp 6 log dump trestle.

Caycuse had become through the years a family camp that was to see many new houses constructed to accommodate the loggers and their families. Where the old track grade had once skirted the camp, it now passed through the camp and many houses next to the tracks. Children who played alongside the tracks were a concern to mothers as trains routinely entered and left the little community. Some old timers still recall – as children – the trill of seeing the log trains as they dumped their loads into Lake Cowichan.

Perched on the southwest shore of Lake Cowichan, about 40 kilometers along the lakeshore from the town of Lake Cowichan, Caycuse has been the site of intermittent logging since 1907, but became a permanent settlement in 1927 when float houses from a nearby logging camp were moved to the Camp 6 site.

Caycuse once housed more than 200 men who lived, ate, slept in old bunkhouses. Gradually the families followed the loggers to Camp 6, setting up a small community. When Industrial Timber Mills built its plant in Youbou, the Camp 6 settlement remained to provide logs for the new sawmill. Camp 6 continued its railroad logging operation until 1946 when British Columbia Forest Products acquired it as part of its purchase of the Industrial Timber Mills operation at Youbou.

Along with nearby Camp 3 – which was renamed Nitinat – and Camp 6, a merger in the early 1950s BCFP’s Cowichan-Nitinat Logging Division. With bunkhouses, a cookhouse and other outbuildings, including a shop complex and single family homes, Caycuse was one of the centres of life on Lake Cowichan throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

As eluded to earlier, the first dramatic change in Caycuse came in the early 1950s when the age of steam and railroad logging gave way to trucks and roadbuilding. Although families and loggers continued to reside in Caycuse throughout the 1960s and 1970s, an increasing number began living in the larger centres on Vancouver Island. The bunkhouse and cookhouse were closed and eventually demolished.

The passing of rail logging at Caycuse meant that only one logging operation by rail would remain in the valley. This was the logging operation at Nitinat which still had four years before they too would phase out logging by rail operations. And so it was in 1957 that Nitinat logging operations at Kissinger Camp moved from rail to trucks and the company ceased sending their log trains over the CNR rail line between Kissinger and Youbou and down to tidewater at Cowichan Bay or to their Victoria sawmill operation.

Instead the company decided to access their timber in the Vernon Creek region at Nitinat by truck where they dumped their logs nearby in the Shaw Creek area. Logs were then bagged or boomed up for a tow down the lake to the old Lake Logging loadout – one of three log loadouts that existed near Point Ideal in Lake Cowichan.

The Lake Logging loadout was purchased by the British Columbia Forest Products and they took advantage of the balloon track was added in the 1940s to the loadout to facilitate car loading on Canadian Pacific Railway E&N line. From there the E&N shuttled up to two log trains a day down the Lake Cowichan subdivision to Hayward junction on a much more direct route to the old Ladysmith Comox Logging Company yard north of town in the Diamond before being moved down to the Ladysmith tidewater log dump. Hayward junction is adjacent to the current location of the Duncan Walmart at Cowichan Commons shopping area.

The section of Canadian National Railway tracks between Kissinger Camp and Youbou was no longer used for moving logs and was considered out of service. The tracks were soon removed. As with so many old rail grades, much of the current forest service road between Nitinat and Youbou lies on top of the former CNR rail line.

On the south side of the lake-head at Nixon Creek, British Columbia Forest Products had also decided to step away from rail logging and commenced to remove rails as early as 1950. But this had been done only because the timber that was to be harvested was too far from the railway and they felt it was more economical to build truck roads than extend the rail line.

In 1953 it was obvious that the expense of keeping the rail operation would be cost prohibitive and the company decided a complete switch to trucks at Nixon Creek. Before the final rails were pulled however, all the rolling rail stock was brought down to the barge slip at Caycuse and was shipped down the lake. Nearly all of the rolling stock from Nixon Creek left the Cowichan Valley that way and although some was simply broken up for scrap at Caycuse.

For the old timers at Caycuse, it was more than the passing of an era. For many it was the passing of a way of life which they had known for most of their working lives. Rail logging had been a part of camp life since the camp was first built by Industrial Timber Mills.

Today Caycuse is but a ghost of its former self and you can still visit part of the region that echoed the sounds of geared steam locomotives. And if you look closely enough you may even find the remains of the railway age: pieces of car body; part of a locomotive that maybe became derailed after a wild ride down the mountain. In fact you may even find remnants of rotted pilings from the Caycuse old log dump trestle. Yet the memories still linger for many; thank goodness for that.

Overview of Lake Cowichan Railyards showing three log loadout trestles. Note the location of the current Kaatza Museum and former Lake Cowichan E&N Station, and Fern Road for reader orientation purposes.

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.

Special acknowledgement to Patrick O. Hind as I referenced some of his book on Cowichan Valley Industrial Railways. And I would also to acknowledge the British Columbia Forest Products Timberline Newsletter from May 1988 for its Caycuse story. The Caycuse gala reunion was in the summer of 1988.

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.

3 thoughts on ““Rail Logging Comes to an End at Caycuse and Nitinat”, by John Mountain, Digging into History, 2.10 (October, 2020)

  1. I lived in camp 3 as a kid I have a very vivid memory of living in camp3 . My father was the master mechanic in camp 3 from 1940 – to 1957. I would be very interested in talking to John Mountain RE camp 3.


    1. Jim, I just came across this article. I lived in the camp from Jan 51 – Jun 57. My dad was a machinist. I was looking at a class photo from school and you and I are in the picture.

      I have a Nitinat 1982 Reunion booklet and the names of a lot of the people who attended are listed. Was your Mom and Dad – Olga and Ross Ray as they are listed as attending. My mom did not attend as my dad passed away in 1980.

      In looking at the reunion book I notice a “accident free photo” that includes Ross Ray above a photo that includes my dad trap shooting.



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