Loggers in front of a steam donkey yarder alongside theKapoor sawmill, in the Sooke Hills in 1933. (Sooke Region Museum)

Entrepreneurial Sikhs created successful sawmill operation

Kapoor sawmill one of many operated by Sikhs

Elida Peers

Contributed

One of the factors in the early forest industry of British Columbia was the entrepreneurship of Sikhs from India who established sawmills in this province.

This 1933 photo, originally from the provincial archives, shows workers in front of a steam donkey yarder alongside the Kapoor sawmill, in the Sooke Hills. You can see three fairleads at the right on the donkey sleigh.

Established by Kapoor Singh and Mayo Singh near Mile 35 on the CNR line in 1928, the sawmill employed dozens of men, and developed its own community out in the wilds of the Sooke Hills.

Several kilometres of logging railway serviced the steam-powered sawmill, the water for the steamboilers coming from Council Creek, in territory which is now in the Capital Regional District’s water services district.

Kapoor Singh had come out from India and was homesteading in Ontario when he was contacted by Mayo Singh who had left the Punjab area of India earlier to come out to B.C.

Mayo began working towards his plan to develop his own enterprise by finding employment in other sawmills to learn the business.

Initially he hired Kapoor Singh as bookkeeper but the relationship became a partnership by 1928, when they organized an expanded lumbering enterprise. The business is still in operation today, now headquartered in West Vancouver.

While the sawmill and logging operations were mostly staffed by Sikh immigrants, there were also Chinese, Japanese and European immigrants, enough of them with families that a school was built for the children. One of the teachers for the one-room Kapoor School in the 1930s was May Pollard, who married Alby Davies of Otter Point.

One of the interesting notes about Kapoor Singh that comes to my mind was told by my pioneer Norwegian immigrant father, who arrived in Sooke in 1922.

At about the time of this photo, he took my eldest brother Maywell with him for an extensive hiking and exploring expedition in the Sooke Hills. My dad recounted to us that when they came upon the Kapoor Sawmill on their expedition, Kapoor Singh came out to greet them, and invited the two to come into the cookhouse and enjoy a meal with the crew.

•••

Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.

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