“’Give a Shantyboy Whisky and His Head Will Go ‘Round’: Liquor and Logging on the British Columbia Coast”, by Kaden Walters

Hello readers! It’s been a quiet last couple of months on the blog, however, this doesn’t reflect the great deal of work that has gone on around here. Since my last post in January, I have spent the following few months away from the archive to focus on university, but Henry has been here alone since then working hard at archiving the vast amount of materials that we still have to work through, and has had little extra time to work on blog posts. Now that I’m back for the summer and the work is more spread out for the time being, I figure it’s as good a time as any to make my presence known again and give the blog an update. About the title, “shantyboy” was an old term for loggers who lived in the shanty shacks of the old logging camps.

While I wondered what I should write this blog post on, the archive chose it for me. While archiving several decades worth of issues from the B.C. Lumber Worker (the official I.W.A. newspaper in British Columbia/Western Canada) I noticed the frequency of liquor advertising within the paper. Showing some of these ads to my family and some friends and seeing their interest (especially in the Lucky Lager ads), I was convinced to at least upload some of them here for others to look at. Taking inspiration from a few places, I decided to expand this post to briefly examine the links between drinking, logging and the union, especially here around the Cowichan Lake. This isn’t the first time that the archive has chosen a blog post for us. Back in November, the (re)discovery of many of Edna Brown’s records had also prompted Henry to write about them on the blog.

While not nearly as important as the records of Edna Brown, I felt that some of these old advertisements were an excellent jumping-off point for further investigation into the origins of this often-celebrated element of local culture. They were also a good opportunity to show how something so small in the archive can lead the researcher down the rabbit hole, as I hope this post manages to demonstrate.

The imagery of some of the pictures here is of low quality. This is because some of the newspaper issues we have here that contain these advertisements are very fragile and are difficult/awkward to scan without risking damage to them.

Advertisements for liquor were prevalent in the B.C. Lumber Worker and skimming through any issue from the first four decades of publication, you are almost guaranteed to find some. Ads for Lucky Lager, Old Style Pilsner, Carling Pilsner, and other hard liquors and wines were a common sight from the 1930s to the 1970s. As parts of these companies various advertising campaigns, the ads found within the B.C. Lumber Worker targeted forestry workers specifically and are interesting as they indicate what brewers believed forestry workers were looking for in their beer. Before the advertising for Lucky Lager stressed its popularity amongst loggers, it highlighted the leisure that it provided the drinker – an equally attractive idea to loggers at the time who worked hard much of the week and had little leisure time upon returning home. Old Style Beer (known today as Pilsner) stressed the masculinity of the beer and the man drinking it, which was a common theme in other non-liquor ads as well. Ads for the Dayton boot company borrowed from the liquor ads and claimed that a “lucky logger” was a logger who wore their caulk boots to work (B.C. Lumber Worker).

While the various brands competed for a while, Lucky Lager ultimately won and solidified itself as the drink of choice for many loggers on Vancouver Island, allowing the brand to triumphantly proclaim in 1968 that “Logger’s days are Lucky days” (B.C. Lumber Worker). With this, Lucky Lager placed itself at the peak of a decades-old local drinking tradition. These advertising campaigns within the B.C. Lumber Worker promoted different brands amongst I.W.A. members and contributed in their own way to a long-lasting element of local culture that has largely remained unchanged until now. The importance of these ads to the I.W.A. is actually somewhat significant in another way, as they for many decades helped fund the regional newspaper. The B.C. Lumber Worker was one of the best tools the I.W.A. executive in British Columbia had to communicate important information to its membership in British Columbia. It is no coincidence that the B.C. Lumber Worker was one of the first battlegrounds between the I.W.A. and the W.I.U.C. during the 1948 union split.

            Drinking eventually came to play a role in other I.W.A. functions as well. A major morale-booster and a common sight in the early years of the union, dances and parties at union halls (such as at Picket Camp in Lake Cowichan) attracted hundreds of workers and their families who would spend the evenings dancing and drinking (Bergren, 1979). These dances were of significant concern for the workers and sub-local executives around the Cowichan Lake. They provided much-needed funds and recreation and were thus highly anticipated events. Funds raised at these events could go towards union business, strike funds, events for the children of workers, various charities, or the war effort and Red Cross during the Second World War (Camp Minutes Books). In the organization of these events, the Ladies’ Auxiliary played a prominent (if not the largest) role, and by extension, played a significant role in keeping union members involved through recreation (Camp Minutes Books).

Company events also provided members with another chance to meet and relax together. Although not held by the union, company parties also attracted huge crowds who danced and drank with each other into the early morning as they would at a union party (Bergren, 1979). On Saturday nights, many loggers would come into Lake Cowichan from camp and head for the beer parlour, where workers from across the various camps had a chance to meet almost weekly (Bowen, 1995). Likewise, taking trips to Vancouver during shutdowns to drink and party had been a common practice of many loggers for decades and continued into the founding years of the I.W.A. at least (Bergren, 1979). These excursions into town and beyond likely would have promoted a feeling of camaraderie amongst the forestry workers of the Cowichan Valley, and talking about union affairs at these events was not uncommon (Bergren, 1979 and Bowen, 1995). Both union and company events were essential for getting union members and their families together and keeping them involved, especially in the uncertain early years of unionism around the Cowichan Lake.

Numerous workers of Local 1-80 (Lake Cowichan) enjoy the holidays in the camp cookhouse with numerous bottles of an unknown lager. Exact date and location unknown.

            As drinking was such an ingrained aspect of logging culture, it is unsurprising then to find that many employers used alcohol to enforce workplace hierarchies and convince their employees to work harder. One early owner of the Riverside Inn in Lake Cowichan (one of the only places in town to drink in the late-1800s) was also the owner of a logging camp on the lake and would recuperate some of his paid wages by serving drinks to “some or all of the 125 men he employed in his logging operation” (Bowen, 1995). One of the union’s earliest campaigns was against the increases in production demanded by employers. To get workers to support this often dangerous practice, they were bribed with beer. At one camp, the skidder crew received a barrel of beer on the last Saturday (workers only had one day off) of each month if they surpassed three million feet processed, and an additional two bottles per person if a company record was broken. (Bowen, 1995). Bribery was not an exclusively old-time practice either. Even as late as 1986, the I.W.A. was concerned about the company foreman at the Weldwood mill in Squamish giving beer to striking members there, which the union executive disliked and stopped. (Negotiation Minutes, 1986). Whether this was to bribe the strikers into more cordial relations with the company or to hurt the strike’s image is unknown. Still, the executive action taken to stop the practice indicates that they were worried about it nonetheless.

            As one might imagine, combining a dangerous working environment with a prominent drinking culture did create some problems. Numerous logger’s shanties (song usually sung while working) from the late 1800s (or even earlier) indicate that drinking was by the founding of the I.W.A. in 1937 had been a common pastime amongst forestry workers for a long time, and the danger was already well-known to them (Glazer, 1977). The usage of beer to coax workers into supporting speed-up quickly took a toll. While crews appreciated the beer, one worker noted that “someone got killed pretty near every time” an attempt to break a company record was made (Bowen, 1995). More were undoubtedly injured even if records were not broken. The workers were not always safe after hours either. Stories from Camp 6 at Caycuse during the floathouse days describe more than one person there falling off of the boardwalk and drowning after a night of drinking (Bowen, 1995).

Floathouses at Camp 6, 1940s. (Wilmer Gold Photo Collection)

Other stories reveal that heavy drinking was sometimes used by immigrant loggers who did not speak English to combat the isolation they felt while at camp, which had a serious negative impact on the mental health of some (Bowen, 1995). For reasons such as these, not every camp allowed alcohol. Nevertheless, it always seemed to find a way inside. Camp 6 was one such camp. Although the sale or delivery of liquor to workers at camp was forbidden, smugglers and bootleggers reliably satisfied the need every weekend (Bowen, 1995). Another danger then, and as the song below will also show, was that drinking could easily leave a logger with an empty wallet and little to show for his hard work. Alcohol consumption at work varied widely between camps. At Camp 6, drinking was rare on the job, but at Meade’s Creek, it became the topic of discussion (Bowen, 1995 and Camp Minutes Books). Minutes from these meetings show that “discipline… particularly with regard to drunkenness,” was being encouraged by union organizers (Camp Minutes Books). It was not always the job of the union to keep workers in line. Before the I.W.A., one logging supervisor working for Hillcrest in Mesachie took it upon himself to keep drinking out of the worksite. He reportedly “fired three or four [men] every morning just because they didn’t walk to the crummy right” (Bowen, 1995).

Drinking may have also been dangerous for the union itself, as an injured, dead, or fired union member (or potential member) was one less person for the I.W.A. to draw strength from.

Here, a worker so eager to drink Lucky forgets to take his hard hat off before pouring a mug… Or he’s drinking at work. Perhaps a problematic image in a paper that tried to promote safety amongst its readers. (From B.C. Lumber Worker)

I’d like to wrap things up with an old logger’s shanty about a common occurrence the night before and the morning of heading back to camp: lots of drinking and a pounding headache. This song likely dates back to sometime between the early 1910s and early 1920s, but this version comes from folk-singer Joe Glazer’s 1977 album, “Songs for Woodworkers” which was made to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the I.W.A. and can be found below. Note that the man Tom Roberts mentioned in the song was the somewhat-crooked owner of the Grand Hotel (he was killed in a shootout at a poker game sometime between 1918 and 1923) and that the “Cassiar” was the name of the ship that took many loggers back to their camps along the coast at the time.

Joe Glazer – Grand Hotel

There’s a place in Vancouver the loggers know well,

It’s a place where they keep rotgut whisky to sell,

They also keep boarders, and they keep them like hell,

And the name of that place is the Grand Hotel.

Oh, the Grand Hotel when the loggers come in,

It’s amusing to see the proprietor grin,

For he knows they’ve got cash, and he’ll soon have it all,

“So, come boys have a drink!” You’ll hear Tom Roberts call.

In the morning Tom Roberts comes up to the door,

And there he sees loggers all over the floor,

He shouts as he hauls them up onto their feet:

“Drink up you bums or get out on the street!”

Well we’re going back to work and we’re still pretty high,

With a bottle of rum and a mickey of rye,

A dozen of beer and a two-gallon jar,

And passes for camp on the ol’ Cassiar.

A later image of the S.S. Cassiar at the dock in Vancouver, 1945. (Image from the City of Vancouver Archives)

Finally, I’d also like to sincerely thank the Kaatza Station Museum and Archives and the Kaatza Historical Society for again providing me with the opportunity to be here, the records which made this post possible, and the platform with which to share it with everyone. Also, thank you Henry for helping direct my research and with the editing of this post.


Bergren, Myrtle. Tough Timber: The Loggers of British Columbia. Vancouver: Elgin Publications, 1979.

Bowen, Lynn. Those Lake People: Stories of Cowichan Lake. Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1995.

Camp minute books from both Lake Cowichan and Meade’s Creek.

Editions of the B.C./Western Canadian Lumber Worker.

Foot, Richard. “Rum as a Combat Motivator.” National Post, 17 March 2000. https://wordpress.viu.ca/davies/h101-rum-as-a-combat-motivator/ (Accessed 5 June 2021). Not used here but was an inspiration, especially for the section on industry enforcing its hierarchy with liquor.

Glazer, Joe. “Grand Hotel.” In Songs for Woodworkers. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 1977. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7cyel7rqHY (Accessed 5 June 2021).

I.W.A. Provincial Negotiating Committee Minutes, 1986.

John, Henry. “Records Belonging to Edna Brown, Leading Figure in the Women’s Labour Movement (Re)Discovered at the Kaatza Station Museum and Archives.” The International Woodworkers of America Archive, 2020. https://iwaarchive.wordpress.com/2020/11/03/records-belonging-to-edna-brown-leading-figure-in-the-womens-labour-movement-rediscovered-at-the-kaatza-station-museum-and-archives-by-henry-john/ (Accessed 4 June 2021).

Lindsay, Jack. S.S. Cassiar [II] at Dock, 1945. City of Vancouver Archives. https://searcharchives.vancouver.ca/s-s-cassiar-ii-at-dock (Accessed 9 June 2021).

Mangelsdorf, Rob. “Local, Not Lucky: Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Foreign-Owned Macro Swill.” The Growler, 2019. https://bc.thegrowler.ca/features/local-not-lucky-friends-dont-let-friends-drink-foreign-owned-macro-swill/ (Accessed 3 June 2021). Another inspiration for this post, especially the exploration of the cultural ties between drinking and the logging industry as this is something I felt the article lacked.

McLachlan, Drew. “Lake Cowichan Adults Drinking 320 Litres of Alcohol per Year, Topping Island Rates.” Lake Cowichan Gazette, 12 August 2015. https://www.lakecowichangazette.com/news/lake-cowichan-adults-drinking-320-litres-of-alcohol-per-year-topping-island-rates/ (Accessed 11 June 2021).

Photos from the Wilmer Gold Photo Collection.

Cover Photo: Sicks’ Capilano Brewery ad from 1947. (From B.C. Lumber Worker)

2 thoughts on ““’Give a Shantyboy Whisky and His Head Will Go ‘Round’: Liquor and Logging on the British Columbia Coast”, by Kaden Walters

  1. Another awesome and interesting blog Kaden

    The last part made me think of the stories Grandma June and Papa Nels told us about the times that Uncle Neil (Eckert) would come into Vancouver after being up coast logging. He had a pocket full of money and would end up spending it all at the a hotel (probably one such as the Grande)on booze and women Many times he never made it over to the Island to visit his family on his days off because he would spend all of his hard earned money and have to go back up coast to work again

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: