David and Sally Gray looks through the photographic archives with Elida Peers from the Sooke Region Historical Society.

Lumber Lions: Filming the past

Ottawa filmmaker takes a look at Sooke's lumber baron

When Davis Gray was growing up in Victoria his family kept a boat in Tod Inlet and as a kid he discovered an old Chinese and Sikh workers’ village at the old cement plant. He unearthed artifacts and in the overgrown forests he found Chinese pots, whiskey bottles, pig’s teeth, you name it.

“I was curious about who these people were and who lived there,” said Gray.

He discovered that about 40 of the 150 workers were Sikhs and this opened up discussions among people who knew the men who worked there. Gray was there to record the early history and immigration stories of British Columbia’s early Sikhs.

Gray chose to research and film the Sikh angle and has spent the last 50 years doing so.

Singh translates to Lion in Punjabi, hence the title Lumber Lions, the film Gray is producing for OMNI Television tracing the involvement of the Sikhs in the B.C. lumber industry. This will be the fifth film on Sikh stories documented by Gray. One of his films, “Beyond the Gardens’ Wall” was shown at the Victoria Film Festival.

David and Sally Gary have formed their own film and production company from their home base in Ottawa. David spent 21 years as a museum scientist and Sally is a writer and editor.

“David’s a fact person, I’m a story person,” said Sally.

Sooke has a Sikh connection through the old Kapoor lumber mill which was located at the southern end of Sooke Lake. It skirts the Galloping Goose Trail and the Sooke River. It was located where the old CNR tracks cross Council Creek which is in the Capital Regional District watershed.

Gray and his wife Sally were in Sooke last week to trek up to the old mill site and record it on film, and they were at the Sooke Region Museum to scour the archives for photos of the mill, which operated from 1928 to 1940.

Gray and an entourage hiked up to the mill site which no longer has any buildings or structures, just cement foundations and bits of metal sticking out of the ground.

“It was a wonderful gathering,” said Gray.

The sentiment was echoed by Elida Peers who said, “it was absolutely great” and that the CRD had every asset poured in to this tour.

The main thread of the story/film follows three lumber lions who started in the lumber industry in the early 1900s. Kapoor, Mayo and Doman Singh all started as labourers in the mills of the day and went on to start their own. The Kapoor family still owns property and logs in the area of the old mill.

The project began in January and will finish in July. Gray has spent a lot of time in the provincial archives searching for moving images of Sikhs.

“It’s not easy,” said Gray. “There’s treasure in the archives as well as on the ground.”

The hour long film will first be shown on OMNI television and there is a possibility it will then be screened in Sooke.

For more information on the Grays and their work, go to: www.arcticgrayhound.ca.