Castlegar Community Album: People From the Past

Castlegar Community Album: Westley

About 10 km up the Columbia River from Castlegar, between West Robson and Brooklyn, the town and mill site of Westley was located. Westley was nothing more, and nothing less, than a one-industry sawmill town.

The Yale-Columbia Company was incorporated November 3, 1899, with a capital stock of $500,000 in $1 shares. The head office was situated at Greenwood, with the President being Louis Blue; Vice-President, Peter Genelle (after whom, with his brother John, the community of Genelle is named); Secretary-Treasurer J.E. Poupore (a rail siding between Genelle and Blueberry Creek still bears his name); General Manager, Adolph Fisher; Director, John Genelle.

The Westley mill was built in 1902 and operated until destroyed by fire in 1909. Taken over by American interests in 1906, the Yale-Columbia Company became one of the largest lumbering concerns in the province. It had mills at Greenwood, Revelstoke, Phoenix, Rock Creek, Comaplix, Rossland, Ymir, Cascade and Westley which employed 250 men, with an additional 300 working in the woods. The three mills at Revelstoke, Comaplix and Westley alone represented an investment of $200,000 and produced 25,000,000 board feet one year. The company had timber limits in East and West Kootenay which covered 50,000 acres and represented an additional $500,000 investment.

The CPR line split the Westley sawmill into two sections. On the river side of the track was the sawmill proper, along with the planermill, dry kiln, lumber yard and sawdust burner. A bunkhouse used by East Indian labourers was also on the river side. On the upper or west side of the tracks was the company store, office, a boarding house and several smaller houses for employees with families. On an upper bench behind Westley the company had a farm that grew produce for the cookhouse as well as hay for the horses used at the mill.

There was no road from the mill to Castlegar. A person either walked or caught the train. For business purposes the CPR had granted the company permission to use a hand car on the tracks. The tugs “Smuggler” and “Yale” were busy on the lake keeping the mill supplied with logs.

It was during the noon hour break on a day in 1909 that someone spotted a fire in a sawdust pile near the jack ladder, resulting from a spark jumping from the burner. The alarm whistle blared its warning and men poured out of the cookhouse and scrambled for the firefighting equipment. Within one hour the sawmill, planermill, dry kiln, lumber yard and the East Indian bunkhouse were all engulfed by flames. When the fire was finally put out the East Indians had lost everything and all that remained of the buildings and equipment on the river side of the tracks was a mass of twisted metal.

An insurance company representative arrived at Westley and Mr. Bowman, the owner, came up from St. Louis. They negotiated for three days until a reported settlement of $99,999.99 was agreed upon. The scrap iron was sold to the Nelson Iron Works. It took three men a total of six months to remove it. Several employees stayed on until 1911, finally selling the logs to the Edgewood Lumber Company sawmill which William Waldie built in 1910 near Castlegar.

Fire plagued the Westley site. On July 25, 1925 an electrical storm started a fire above the old Westley site which resulted in a major forest fire burning from Westley to Merry Creek in Kinnaird, threatening Castlegar. The Westley Lumber Company built a mill on this site in 1927-28, which also burnt down in 1931.

Yale Columbia Sawmill
The Yale Columbia Sawmill at Westley, B.C. in 1902. Westley was located in the area now occupied (2010) by the…
Yale Columbia Sawmill
The Yale-Columbia Sawmill at Westley, B.C., just up the Columbia River from Castlegar. There is a man in foreground in…
Celgar Pulp Mill at Castlegar, B.C.
The Celgar Pulp Mill constructed on the east bank of the Columbia River at Westley, a couple of miles upstream…