Turning Back the Pages: Columbia River Lumber Company became a memory after years of success

By Colleen Palumbo

I was sitting here wondering what to write about this week when the news came that the “Old Bottle Depot” had burned to the ground in the early morning hours of Thursday May 23.

Built by the Columbia River Lumber Company around 1899 this building served many purposes over the years, but mainly it has been a warehouse. It was one of the oldest buildings in town.

Here is the history of the Columbia River Lumber Company.

The first mill in the Columbia Valley proper was put up and operated by Golden’s famous riverboat Captain Armstrong in 1887 at the 12 Mile, towards Parson. This mill was run by water power off of Twin Creeks.

In 1891, another mill was built on the site where the present sewage lagoon is situated in southwest Golden near the Columbia River. It was called the Golden Sawmill Company and the company was not incorporated until November 1893. At this time the company’s stationary listed mills at Golden, Beaver, Kault and Carlin.

By November of 1895, the Golden Lumber Company employed 130 men and hoped to increase that number to 175. Production was intense. There were 1,200 ties per day supplied to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). To put this into perspective it took 3,000 ties to lay a single mile of track so it would take two and a half days to cut enough ties to lay one mile of track.

In April 1897, an ex-CPR Baldwin locomotive was purchased. The engine, which had been built in 1872 for the Northern Pacific Railway, had later become the first CPR construction locomotive to arrive in Winnipeg.

Like most other forest companies in the East Kootenay at the time, the Golden Lumber Company used the Columbia and its tributaries to float the logs to the mill. Often the amount put into the river was huge. For example, the log pile at McLaughlin’s camp was a mile long and nearly 30 feet in height. Most of the logs would have been 16 feet in length.

In February of 1901, the Golden Lumber Company became reincorporated as the Columbia River Lumber Company or the CRL as it was known locally. It was capitalized to the amount of $750,000 divided into shares of $100. Its head office was listed in Golden. It appears from the written record, both in government documents and the Golden Star, that Barber operated it first under the earlier name and was later succeeded in management by Carlin, along with another partner, Jones.

As the century began, the company was under the ownership of Michael B. Carlin and Frederick Jones. Logging and mill construction crews were active in the Golden area. During the spring of 1899, a gang of men took out two million feet of logs at Blaeberry for the CRL. A half mile chute was built and logs were shot into the Columbia for floating down to Beaver where they were boomed. A significant development in March 1899 was the reconstruction and enlargement of the Golden mill. The plant’s capacity was doubled to 60,000 board feet per day. As well, a new camp was opened near Carbonate Landing, south of Golden.

In 1902, the company was going strong. The management of Carlin and Jones was expansive in other directions too. In 1903, the Upper Columbia Navigation and Tramway Company was purchased by the CRL. The five steamers – Ptarmigan, North Star, Hyak, Selkirk, and Pert – berthed often at Golden. The tramway connected the dock with the CPR track and goods were easily transferred between the two points.

The history of the Columbia River Lumber Company operation at Golden has always been remarkable for its logging railroad. In the early days of the company, most of the logs were cut in the bush during the winter, and hauled by a sleigh-like contraption to the riverbank. When spring came, they were floated down to the mill.

The summer of 1926, as had most summers before it, opened with the crackle of forest fires in the bush of Moberly, Blaeberry, Forde, and Donald. In such a fashion did the end come for the Columbia River Lumber Company. The loss of timber on the West Bench was so great as to prevent further operation. Over the next few years, the company slowly retreated from the area. In September, 1927, once it had milled the remainder of the stockpiled wood and the last board had been planed, the CRL closed its Golden offices in April, 1929. It shipped its three logging locomotives and all its planing machines to other mills. From then on the Columbia River Lumber Company became a memory in Golden.

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