#1 — The Field family — father Clarence and sons Ron and Roy — founded the original sawmill in 1947 on the site of Arden Elementary. The original property in the Arden area was owned by William Duncan. He built a barn and the building that became the original Fields Sawmill, which was moved to the Courtenay River location in 1949.
#2 — The Fields sold the sawmill to employees Errol Zinck and Bill Phillips in 1969. They resold the mill after just a few years to Peter Gregory of Gregory Manufacturing Ltd.
#3 — Primex Forest Products bought the mill in 1973, primarily to mill and export yellow cedar to the U.S. and Japanese markets. At its peak, Primex employed 160 workers at the Courtenay site.
#4 — Comox Valley citizens tried several times during the 1970s to persuade the City of Courtenay to move the sawmill and protect the Courtenay River estuary. In 1976, Ted Burns tried to move the mill to Vancouver — even Union Bay was suggested — but relocation proved too expensive.
#5 — Primex applied to the City of Courtenay in 1993 to use the site as a storage facility for PCBs. Citizens were shocked because these toxic chemicals could easily seep into the river and the estuary, and maybe even into Farquharson Farms agricultural land located across Comox Road. But the concerns fell on deaf ears at City Hall as the council approved the request.
#6 — A slowing timber market forced Primex to layoff employees in 2000. The workforce shrunk to 115.
#7 — Interfor bought the sawmill from Primex in 2001 in a deal that including the ACORN mill in the Lower Mainland. People suspected that Interfor didn’t want the Field’s Sawmill but got it as part of the ACORN package.
#8 — Interfor said it lost $8 million in the fiscal year 2003-2004, and the mill had several temporary closures.
#9 — In 2004, Interfor closed the mill. They blamed lower-priced competition for the Japanese market from Chinese and European suppliers. It paid severance to employees and demolished the mill in 2006.
#10 — The provincial Ministry of the Environment investigated site soil contamination. It reported no ground water contamination,only surface contamination, and therefore there was no contamination leaching into the river due to a clay layer on the surface. The province did eventually issue a Certificate that remediation was complete.
#11 — Interfor put the 7.8-acre property up for sale in July 2006 for $5.3 million. Project Watershed began negotiations with Interfor in 2014.
Sources provided by Project Watershed staff:
CV Echo April 18, 2008
Donaldson, Betty (2010, Apr 2). “A Brief History of Sawmill Location” /Comox//Valley//Record/: Print.
Editor (2013, Aug 22). “A Look Back into The History of The Comox Valley, Field’s Sawmill” Comox Valley Record: Web 25 Aug. 2017.
Macfarlane, Bill (2006, Feb 10). “An economic Force that sadly is no more” /Comox Valley Echo/: Print.
MacInnis, Bruce (2006, Feb 8). “Field Sawmill Site to be Sold” /Comox Valley Record/: Print.
Martin, Debra (2006, May 16). “Interfor wants to cash in on property, urges city not to pick 19^th St. Bridge” /Comox//Valley//Echo/: Print.
Masters, Ruth (2006, May 23). “Fields Mill and Interfor” /Standing Up For Parks, Wilderness, and Wildlife/: Print.
Ocol, Mary Anne (2007, Apr 13). “Little Contamination Found on Sawmill Site” /Comox//Valley//Echo/: Print.
Racansky, Beth (1993, Nov 10). “The Storage of PCBs at Field Sawmill” /Biology 102/: Print
Wiens, Christina (2007, Jun 5). “Old House Owner has Vision for Sawmill Site” /Comox Valley Echo/: Print.
Weins, Christina (2007, Jul 24). “Field site gets multiple offers” /Comox Valley Echo/: Print.
Wiens, Christina (2008). “Still no sale for sawmill site” /Comox valley Echo: /Print.
What would you suggest for this site? Vilifying the people who are returning this to nature or the seals for beings seals is exactly why our planet is in deep trouble. Many industries have suffered due to human interference. Commercial fishermen no longer have jobs and Comox was once a commercial fishing hub. I guess it should have just stayed an ugly cement parking lot. Thank you to those working hard to help our salmon.
Who’s ‘vilifying’ anyone, Jennifer? That was certainly not my intention, if you’re referring to what I previously wrote.
Since you ask, I personally would have preferred the site be used for some industrial purpose. Something where its riverfront location and already developed attributes could have been used to better overall advantage than what’s now in store for it.
It would still have made a good location for a sawmill, only one arranged substantially differently than what had evolved there after the original Field family’s mill underwent a couple of re-constructions. That evolution engendered some costly inefficiencies even as it corrected others.
I seriously doubt very many people here, other than those formerly employed by, or doing business with, the former sawmill, will ever fully appreciate the substantial economic benefits that business brought into the Comox Valley during all the years of its existence.
It generated real wealth for this area, something that can’t be duplicated by our becoming, as we’ve increasingly become, mainly a holding ground for people waiting to die. However in tune with nature that may be. Nor by watching ‘seals be seals’.
Obviously, though, that’s not to be. I could complain about what I see as a waste of my tax dollars, but I won’t. What will be will be, and hopefully that’ll be of some benefit to humankind in some way, not just seals.
Yes, many industries have suffered because of ‘human interference’, only in a way quite likely different from what you have in mind. In my view the worst form of this is pernicious, (but really, actually needless), financial inflation. We’re aware of that right now, because it’s obvious every time we buy something. Generally, it’s price is higher, often a lot higher, than it was the last time. But inflation’s always present ~ and we even have governments desiring it. And we never even ask, “Why?”
This, more than anything else, causes all the real things people once did on a viable scale ~ be it fishing, farming, logging, saw-milling, retailing, etc., including even the services of banking ~ to continually have to grow beyond what is viable in a futile attempt to financially survive. Until we’re prepared to understand and deal with this cause, instead of our constant, pathetic and hopeless bemoaning over its inevitable effects, which we all too often mistakenly blame on ‘greed’, there will be endless conflicts over nature.
Excellent article explaining how the saw mill made it easy for seals to kill & extremely difficult for salmon to get through, nevermind survive.
The saw mill altered the landscape & many small channels that protected the salmon were lost + the steel wall became the killing wall for seals eating salmon.
Grateful for the hard work of Project Watershed & First Nations in restoring Kuss Kuss Sum. Nature Restoration is vital for ALL of us, the more we take from Planet Earth, the more we destroy, the more we all lose. Time for (long overdue) change.
Joe Thomson is absolutely dead on with his very accurate knowledge and first hand information. Regarding Fields mill.
The history above has an error. Bill Phillips and Errol Zinck were not employees of Field Sawmills while the Field family still owned it. Both men were employed by Crown Zellerbach Canada Ltd. at that company’s Elk Falls complex in Campbell River and left there to buy Field’s mill.
They purchased the sawmill from the Fields in late 1967 or early 1968 and demolished most of it in 1969 to make way for a new sawmill that had been constructed by them and opened that year.
The new mill was in between where the original mill was located along the river and Comox Road. Subsequent to its opening, a secondary ‘scragg’ mill to process really small logs was also constructed where the original Field mill had stood. This facility was not successful as originally designed, and was only used for a short time.
The new main mill constructed under the Phillips and Zinck management had the misfortune to come on line just as the American lumber market entered one of its periodic downturns. Fields main product at that time was 16′ Douglas Fir 2x4s, which were exported, first through EACOM, and later through Seaboard, to the east coast of the USA via the Panama Canal.
The company weathered some very difficult times during the early 1970’s, but partly through the assistance of their former employer, Crown Zellerbach Canada, and its then head, Robert Rogers, (later BC Lieutenant- Governor), it managed to survive. By 1973 the US lumber market had largely recovered. By this time, however, considerable further investment was necessary if the company was to remain in business, and there was some trepidation about that on the part of the two partners after the difficult period they’d just come through.
Peter Gregory, a Vancouver area sawmill operator, had two mills in the lower mainland operating as Acorn Forest Products. Both had been started as stud mills cutting any low cost logs he could purchase, and he had been quite successful with them. Sensing rising competition from eastern Canadian and BC Interior stud mills, Gregory’s small log stud mill was stretched to enable it to cut 16′ lengths, and then sold to BC Forest Products, a major integrated forest company.
At that time the Japanese were showing growing interest in increasing their purchases of BC lumber, and had several lower mainland sawmills under contract to do ‘custom sawing’ for them.
A Japanese importer bought the logs, mainly hemlock or cypress, (yellow cedar), and paid a BC mill to cut them into the sizes used in the construction of traditionally styled Japanese houses. Gregory felt there was a better opportunity in this market than in the US one, and purchased Field Sawmills to take advantage of it. His remaining lower mainland mill was also converted into a Japanese cutting mill. Field’s mill custom sawed for only a short while, and then began to buy ‘pulp’ cypress logs on their own and mill them to Japanese sizes, selling the product through trading companies bringing Japanese products into Canada and arranging return cargoes from BC to Japan.
Under Gregory’s ownership, (Gregory Industries Ltd., which was a public company with shares listed on the stock exchange), the mill underwent a number of badly needed improvements. The original log pond was filled in, and later that area was hard surfaced with thick reinforced concrete for a log storage yard. Many other upgrades were made.
Peter Gregory himself was involved in a number of other business ventures, including some development of condos near the ski facilities at Whistler. These businesses did not pan out as expected, and he subsequently found himself in serious financial difficulty personally. To extricate himself from this situation his associates in the management of Gregory Industries purchased his interests in that company, and the name was changed to Primex Forest Products Ltd., which remained a publicly traded company until it was taken over by Interfor some years later.
The “PCBs” mentioned above were chemicals used heavily diluted in water to prevent ‘sap stain’ from developing on freshly sawn lumber. Without such treatment, some of the species sawn at Fields would have been subject to severe mold attack in as little as a week after being piled, rendering the wood valueless for its intended purposes, (exposed posts and beams in the framework of a traditional Japanese home). Fields later obviated the need for such treatment by kiln drying their lumber after trucking it to another facility in Chemainus. An operation that could have been, and should have been, carried out right here in Courtenay. If there had been a proper appreciation on the part of the general public and our elected representatives of what that sawmill meant to this area in terms of our overall economic well-being.
I hope the above will help set the record straight as to the history of the former sawmill site. I was employed by Fields in the late 1960’s, and did a considerable amount of business with them in the 1970s and early 1980’s after starting my own lumber milling business. I knew all the principals over the years, from Ron and Roy Field, right through to George Malpass, who headed Primex.
When that sawmill closed this community lost far more than will ever be gained by what’s now proposed for that site. I will say this, from what I observed personally during my time as debarker operator at the original Field mill, if you want to save the salmon, shoot the seals. It might sound brutal, but that’s what’s needed. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and money. Time after time from the old barker shack that had a bird’s eye view of the river, we’d see seals take one bite out of a returning salmon, and then move on to take one bite out of another one. It was like a great big game to them. They never finished eating the first one they had, they were out to see how many they could kill. Humans aren’t the only ones that despoil things wantonly.