Bad timing doomed XL Bricks’ Cowichan predecessor

(Conclusion) At Cowichan, 35 miles or thereabouts from the Capital City of Victoria, Vancouver Island, there has been recently discovered a vast Shale Deposit so placed by Nature that it can at a very low cost be manufactured into Terra Cotta ware of the finest kind, Hollow Tile for Fireproof Buildings, Bricks of all kinds from the highest class Re-pressed Brick for facing purposes and for Paving Streets and Roads down to Common Brick as also into vitrified sewer pipe, land draining and other tiles, for all of which there is already an immense demand to say nothing of the possibilities of the future…

Whew! In that single breathtaking sentence (115 words no less) the Prospectus for the Cowichan Re-Pressed Brick & Tile Co. Ltd. made its case to prospective investors in 1912. Its seven directors consisted of a "B.C. merchant," a rancher, an engineer (who’d also superintend the operation), a real estate agent and three brokers.

They were pleased to offer to the public the opportunity "to show their faith in the Island and its wonderful resources by investing in the shares of the Company and thus providing the Capital for the creation and operation of an Industry which the Directors confidently believe will be a remunerative one to the shareholders and also fund employment to a large number of persons and thus aid in building up Vancouver Island as an Industrial Centre".

All this was based upon the potential extraction and processing of "an almost unlimited supply" of highgrade shale – "the best," declared engineer L. Lupton, "I have handled since leaving Accrington, England". He was reinforced by a gushing D.W. Hanbury who described the property as splendid and wonderful, and offered to buy as many shares as he could afford.

An added plus was the property’s proximity to the E&N Railway, as was the nearby Koksilah River, and Moss Falls as a possible hydro-electric source, and all required lumber could be logged and milled on-site.

There definitely was a market potential as 75 per cent of all terra cotta products then used in construction projects on the Island came from Washington State with duties and freight charges attached.

This company never even got off the ground, at least in its original guise, a victim of bad timing and circumstances totally beyond its control. 1912 marked the beginning of the end of one of the greatest development booms B.C. has ever experienced, one primarily financed by British and German investors. I said beginning of the end because, even then, growing political dissension in Europe leading, just two years later, to world war, was beginning to chill investment.

As we’ve seen, its 1927 successor, the XL Sand, Gravel & Brick Co., was also doomed by poor timing. This, after going to the considerable expense of building two large kilns, damming Moss Falls to provide hydro-electric power, and importing large and expensive equipment from England. For the XL, it wasn’t world war that brought them down but the (socalled) Great Depression. The stock market crash that plunged the world into an economic drought lasted right through the Dirty ’30s.

The late Jack Fleetwood, a lifetime Cowichan Station resident, blamed mismanagement and the resulting loss of investor confidence for its failure. In 1935 – less than 10 years from start to finish – the rusting machinery was cut up for scrap.

George Highmoor operated Cowichan Brick Co. on the site of the ill-fated brickyard, 1930-44.

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