The Sorenseons and the Cathels

Timber giants, the men and the Douglas fir

Elida Peers writes about the history of the Sooke region

Charlie Sorenson and Ted Cathels were contract loggers who arrived at Jordan River at the very heyday of harvesting the tall timbers.  This photo, c1920 shows the two men taking a lounging stance for the photographer, while no doubt calculating the board feet to be harvested within their reach.

In 1919 an American syndicate took over the logging interests that had established themselves at Jordan River, and called themselves Canadian Puget Sound Lumber and Timber Company Ltd.  Among CPS’s contract loggers were the Cathels and Sorenson partners. The two established a camp at the river that employed 70 men on one side operating a high-lead system and six Washington Ironworks steam donkeys.  While they also harvested spruce and hemlock, the bulk of their cut was Douglas fir.

They were able to cut 60,000 board feet of timber a day. A quote from Western Timberman, July 1921 says “the timber was very large, running up to about 5,000 board feet to the log in fir and spruce, and of excellent quality.” Logging west of Jordan River, the partners used a log chute and a 1,200 foot tightline to bring the logs down to tidewater, according to a long-ago interview with Shirley oldtimer Ivan French.

The partners also operated a saw mill which had the capacity to mill 35,000 board feet a day.  One of the markets for the mill’s lumber was supplying the manufacturers of wagons and agricultural machinery. Management changes at Jordan River led the partners to move further up the coast to Port Renfrew where they established a rail logging operation. The track ran from Beach Camp as far as Granite Creek and eventually ran a total of 15  miles.

At Fairy Lake in the San Juan valley, Cathels and Sorenson logged a stand of giant spruce. The partners eventually operated four steam locomotives on the line, a Baldwin and three Shays, up until the depression began a decline in the market by the early 1930s.

Visitors and residents alike enjoy seeing the big trees when they have an opportunity to view a forest giant, but in our lifetimes we’ll never see the stands that graced the rainforest in the days of Cathels and Sorenson.  Thankful we are, that in the early 1970s BC Forest Products superintendent Bob Robertson saved the world-record Red Creek Fir at Port Renfrew, a legacy that still stands.

Elida Peers, Historian

Sooke Region Museum

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