Work boots in the Museum collection
Introduction The second half of the 1800’s saw the arrival of early pioneers such as Thomas Degnen, Magnus Edgar, John Silva and others. As the population of white settlers on Gabriola grew, so did various industries. The Museum collections contain artifacts, photos, and documentation related to the industries described below. The photo above shows the entrance to the Museum lined with a millstone and a millstone cutter, reminders of the sandstone quarries described below.

Part of the Postal Service Collection
Delivering the Mail

Communication is important within any community. For Islanders, communication to the outside world is vital.

Early pioneers brought mail from Nanaimo and delivered it to their Gabriola neighbours. In 1884 the Canadian government contracted with Alex Shaw to collect and deliver mail for the southern part of the Island only. Bob Hoggan looked after the mail for the north Island.

Various Islanders oversaw mail delivery through the years, until 1950, when Frank Hiley became Postmaster. He was instructed to build a Post Office in three days, which he completed at the corner of Berry Point and Seagirt Rd with the help of local Islanders.

In 1969 Canada Post built a post office on the current site next to the Womens’ Institute, and the building was enlarged in 1999.

The Museum display recounts this history with photos and artifacts that include TP Taylor’s cash box, Frank Hiley’s letter scales, and a record of register letters from the 1930s.

Withey's Wharf in the 1950's Museum collection
Withey’s Shipyard (mid-1900’s)

In 1945, Les Withey moved from Vancouver to Silva Bay where he partnered with fisherman Norm Sear to establish the first shipyard at Silva Bay, from 1945-1949. In 1950 Les took over ownership and incorporated Withey’s Shipyard Limited. Power yachts, naval personnel boats and pleasure boats were some of the watercraft built at Withey’s Shipyard. The business also included maintenance and repair work. The shipyard employed about thirty people in the mid-1950’s. Les and his wife Marg expanded the business to include a coffee shop, eventually Withey’s Restaurant, as well as Silva Bay Marina in the 1960’s. The marina was sold in 1968 to Silva Bay Resorts Ltd., and the shipward was sold to a couple from Maple Bay in 1974. Les Withey died in 1987, and his wife Marg in 1992.

[The complete history of Withey’s Shipyard is available in SHALE : the Journal of the Gabriola Historical & Museum Society, Issue 22, January 2010]

Logging with springboards, c. 1900Museum collection
Logging on Gabriola

Extensive forests have supported an active logging industry in the Pacific Northwest since the 1800s. Until the 1950’s, logging on Gabriola used human manpower, with axes and one- or two-man saws. The Gabriola Museum logging display focuses on the springboard techniques used on Gabriola in the first half of the 20th century. Insert photo of display

The Sunrise Lumber Company (early 1900's)

Sunrise sawmill, Silva Bay, 1923Museum collection
was established in 1919 on land in the Silva Bay area, leased by John Silva. Although historical records are incomplete, the record in the ABC Lumber Directory (5th ed, 1923) listed:

The Sunrise Lumber Company, South Gabriola BC. Established 1919. Y. Shinde, President and Manager; K. Shinde, Sales Manager. Manufacturers of Fir, Cedar, Spruce, Hemlock; Finish Lumber, Dimensions (ie 2x4s) Ties, Boxes. Daily production capacity 15, 000 board feet.

The Gabriola East School, built by Abraham Crocker on land near the log church, used lumber cut by the Sunrise Lumber Company. Fire destroyed the sawmill in 1925.

[The story of the Japanese-Canadians of Silva Bay, including Sunrise Lumber Company, is available in SHALE : the Journal of the Gabriola Historical & Museum Society, Issue 25, March 2011]

The Gabriola Brickyard in operation Museum collection
The Brickyard (early 1900’s)

For more than five decades until the early 1950s, the Gabriola Brickyard was the largest industry on the island. Millions of bricks were manufactured and exported annually to Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster where they were mortared into roads and buildings.

Many of Gabriola's homes today incorporate attractive, locally produced Dominion bricks, in their fireplaces and patios. The beach at the bottom of Brickyard Hill contains brick fragments scattered amongst its pebbles.

If you know where to look nearby on the hillside, you can still see some traces of what once was a busy clay quarry and brick factory.

Although the first company to operate the brickyard was not incorporated until 1911, there is evidence that the business was already operating during the 1890s. It continued to produce millions of bricks a year until 1952.

[The complete story of the Brickyard, is available in SHALE : the Journal of the Gabriola Historical & Museum Society, Issue 15, May 2007]

The Sandstone Quarries (late 1800’s early 1900’s)

Millstones in Clyde Coats’ driveway Museum collection

Most Gabriolans are aware that a sandstone quarry on Gabriola produced millstones for use in pulp and paper mills during the 1930s. Evidence of this local industry survives in an area of cylindrical sandstone pits filled with rainwater, high above Easthom Road and Descanso Bay. A large cylinder of sandstone lies next to a rusted industrial circular saw in front of the Gabriola Museum. Many more of the huge perforated stone cylinders are piled into an impressive entrance to Clyde Coats’ driveway off South Road.

Millstone holesMuseum collection

Fewer people are aware that for more than a decade at the turn of the 20th century the same outcropping of sandstone that produced millstones was also quarried to produce building stone for historically significant structures in Victoria and Vancouver, such as the Post Office and Customs House on Government Street in Victoria, Gabriola House in Vancouver, and the Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver.

In 1935, the Gabriola quarry was in satisfactory working condition but operated only intermittently. Ministry reports and local residents agree that the Gabriola quarry stopped producing pulp stones in 1936.

On December 10, 1993, Clyde Coats’ company transferred the covenanted historic quarry site to the Islands Trust Fund Board. In 2000, The Islands Trust Fund, Gabriola Historical & Museum Society, and the Nanaimo and Area Land Stewards Society became the registered joint stewards of the covenanted lands. The site is currently temporarily inaccessible due to safety concerns.

The complete story of the Sandstone Quarries, is available in SHALE : the Journal of the Gabriola Historical & Museum Society, Issue 19, November 2008

On the web, there are also shorter versions of articles that appeared in SHALE that deal with a number of the industries mentioned above:
Brickyard history
Sandstone quarries
Withey's Silva Bay shipyard
Diatomaceous earth mine