Brickworks was backed by British capital (part 1)

Editor’s note: Filmmaker Phil Ives has produced a short video about historian and Citizen columnist T.W. Paterson. Click here to view.


"Brick factory at Cowichan Station. Negotiations are pending to acquire property between Cowichan

Station and Hillbank for the purpose of erecting an upto-date brick factory for the manufacture of pressed and all high class products of that description…"

So the Cowichan Leader reported, briefly, in mid-June 1927.

A week later, blaring frontpage headlines announced BRICK INDUSTRY ASSURED; operations, backed by British capital, were to begin within six weeks. The XL Sand, Gravel and Brick Co. Ltd., with head office in Duncan, was to set up its plant on 97 acres at Cowichan Station. Among its principals were local heavyweights, real estate and insurance broker J.H. Whittome, and well-known city solicitor C.F. Davie.

The site, which had drawn British interest more than a decade earlier, had been chosen for its "practically inexhaustible" supply of shale that, based upon scientific analysis, was ideal for the purpose. In charge of this side of the operation was Capt. A.J. Gaul, a graduate of the De Beers School of Mines, South Africa.

Brick-pressing equipment, said to have been bought and paid for (this reference was meant to assure readers that the company was solid), was en route from its English manufacturers; upon delivery from the Lower Mainland to Cowichan Bay by scow, and installation on-site, it would produce 180,000 bricks per day. The plant would be hydroelectrically generated from a dam to be constructed at nearby Moss Falls, near Bear Creek’s confluence with the Koksilah River. Even at low ebb, it was expected to produce at least 250 h.p. "It will be of interest to residents to learn that it is hoped to supply light to Cowichan Station, the stores and halls [Cowichan Station was then a bustling village], but no definite promises can, of course, be made at this point."

Another projected plus, one very much in keeping with the times if not with the ages, was the reference to the all-British company’s pro-white labour policy – "as far as is possible". Meaning that they’d employ better-paid whites so long as it was fiscally expedient. It was expected that as many as 40 employees would be needed overall.

Even before arrival of the equipment, men were drilling test holes into the shale to determine the best point of access, and pouring concrete footings for buildings and machinery. Besides the brick plant, two kilns and sewer pipe manufactory, the operation was to have its own boarding house and a store although most employees were expected to be hired locally and commute to work. The company would utilize its own bricks, fired in a pit in the open air.

"When the machinery arrives at Cowichan Bay, residents of the day will see that a substantial and up-to-date plant is being put in by the company," officials asserted.

The list of machinery sounds impressive even today: six tri-process brick presses; two 11-foot grinding mills weighing 24 tons each; one solid-bottom 8-foot grinding mill for re-grinding bricks spoiled in firing; elevators; spiral conveyors; pianowire screens "and a complete equipment of pulleys, shafting and other requisites".

Some of those pulleys, used to belt-drive machinery, were in themselves seven feet in diameter.

Each brick would pass between two 80-ton presses. Other products to be manufactured were roofing and flooring tiles, garden edging and sewer and drain pipes.

All of this, under the expert eye of British brickmaker L. Lupont, was grandly expected to achieve products of a quality "equal to the highest on the Pacific Coast" at competitive prices during a building boom throughout B.C. and Washington.

Too bad nobody foresaw the beginning of the Great Depression just over a year later.

(To be continued)