Professional log salvaging began along the B.C. coast in the late 1880's, and beachcombers have been wrangling stray logs ever since. It has always been a tough way to make a living.
Marine log salvaging increases the efficiency of logging operations by eliminating a source of waste. It also makes maritime travel safer by removing dangerous logs from waterways and shipping lanes.
A downturn in the logging industry means a downturn in the amount of logs available for salvage. These are tough times for log wranglers that retrieve logs that come loose from booms during transportation to the mills.
Marine log salvage is closely controlled by the government, salvage log purchasers, and logging companies. The Vancouver log salvage district, extends from Otter Point on southern Vancouver Island, up the Fraser River into Harrison and Stave lakes on the Lower Mainland, and includes the entire Strait of Georgia and Queen Charlotte Strait.
According to civil law, any log that a salver finds belongs to them, unless someone else can show better title. Logging companies show their ownership of logs by stamping or branding them with their registered timber mark, marine log brand, or ownership tag.
When Comox Logging boomed its logs from Vancouver Island across the Strait of Georgia to Fraser Mills up the Fraser River, its logs bore the circle F log stamp. While the logs were still in the forest the chaser (a member of the skidder crew) would wack each end of every log with a heavy branding hammer, denoting ownership.
These log stamps compressed the grain of the tree for a metre or more up the log. This means that if a beachcomber illegally tried to cut the ends off the logs, the brand would still be visible.
Marine log salvaging was immortalized in CBC's TV program The Beachcombers, which ran from 1972 to 1990 and is still the longest-running dramatic series ever made for Canadian television. Nick Adonidus and friends 'lived' in Gibsons Landing on the Sunshine Coast, a place that has seen thousands of log booms pass by.
On my local 1 km stretch of west-facing beach what usually washes up are whole trees that have fallen into the Sooke River and then are washed down into the harbour with winter storms and high water. It wasn't always that way though.
While talking to a neighbour on the beach I heard that decades ago a person could walk this entire length of beach and never touch the ground. That is how log-strewn the beach was back then. Stray logs everywhere.
It just so happened that the day we had this conversation was the day that a large Western red cedar log washed up on shore. Another beach walker joined the conversation and commented that in his opinion the log was worth many thousands of dollars, and that the owners would be scouring the area looking for it.
My neighbours told me that someone up the river is logging old Western red cedars for shakes and shingles. Somehow a few logs and some logging debris (roots and stumps) were swept into the river by high water levels. Not long after the log washed up I noticed a huge stump of equal proportions in the river upstream of the bridge into town.
A couple more heavy rains combined with high tides and the stump was washed out into the harbour where it lodged on a sandbar. Shortly after that I saw a salvor standing on top of the stump with a gigantic chain saw trying to cut off the bottom part of the tree. He eventually gave up, but next high tide he was out there with his boat hauling the valuable stump away.
This incident made me think of the approximately 100 remaining salvors in the Vancouver log salvage district. With the logging industry changing rapidly these independent workers are having a tough time making ends meet. It's not just our forests that are changing on the coast. Out here entire ways of life that were dependent on resource extraction are becoming endangered themselves.