Potatoes and Logs A Source of Early Conflict

Settlement by Europeans moved quickly in the Cowichan Valley after initial settlements in the 1850’s. By 1890, a number of logging operators were at work around Cowichan Lake.

Of course, there was no roadway or rail at the time and the loggers made use of the Cowichan River in sending their logs down Cowichan River to the Bay.

This action was causing considerable damage to Cowichan Indian Reserves lining the Cowichan and Koksilah Rivers. In a letter dated 23 March 1891, Indian Agent Lomas wrote to B.C. Indian Superintendent A.W. Vowell, that,

“… a considerable damage has been done to the Cowichan Indian Reserve, and large losses sustained by a number of Indians, by the recent floods, and by the manner in which Messrs Hughitt [and] Maclntyre have run their logs from the Cowichan Lake.”

He goes on to report that acres of land on the banks of the river had been carried away, destroying houses, barns and fencing owned by natives living and farming on their reserve lands.

In his letter he enclosed a copy of a notice he had sent to the mill-owners a month earlier telling them of the damage and calling their attention to the damage done by log- jambs forming in the river.

And while the loggers visited him in person and promised to clear the logs, they did not. In fact, Lomas reported that “a large number of logs are lying in the Indian fields.”

He wrote that one native had “ lost between $300 and $400 worth of personal property besides land, barns and house. Another Indian by the carrying away of banks lost his barn and contents — i.e. produce of 4 -1/2 acres of grain, many others have lost their crop of potatoes,…”

In back and forth correspondence it was reported that the damage to Indian lands between 1874 and 1892 amounted to 117 acres valued at $11,782 plus property damage to houses, fences, and so on, at $2197. The damage was largely in Somenos Village and Quamichan Village.

As late as 1893 no action had yet been taken and Agent Lomas once again appealed the case for an injunction to the Colonial Office. Finally an injunction was granted Dec.1893 which held in place until 1898.

In the meantime, the issue of native fisheries in the building of weirs had been noted as early as 1878 to present an obstacle to logging.

It should be no surprise that in 1894 the restriction of fishing was once again taken up. In fact arrests were made.

Gradually, over the years, almost all fishing was eliminated. This paved the way for a new company, The Cowichan Lumber Company, to be allowed to begin floating logs down the river once again in 1898. But this time it was done under close supervision with no damage.

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