.Blubber Bay Quarry’s Party
Historic business celebrates 100 years
by Gary Grieco - firstname.lastname@example.org
Blubber Bay Quarry has influenced Texada Island economically and socially since 1907
when the Blubber Bay Lime Syndicate was formed, initiating a mining legacy that
would continue unbroken into the next century. The quarry’s name evokes images of
stout ships and hardy sailors, like Elijah Fader, who was reported to have been the last
sea-going hunter to cut up whales for their oil in Blubber Bay 17 years earlier. But on
this grey, damp 1907 dawn, twenty mine workers trudged along its sandy shores with
their thoughts not on whales or the piles of white bleached bones on the beach, but of
the hard day’s labour ahead of them. Their destination was a ten-ton-a-day lime kiln
they had been building, block by stone block, for almost a year.
The lime business was improving, and in February 1910 the Blubber Bay Syndicate
formed the Vancouver-Texada Lime Co Ltd in order to raise capital. A few months later this company was voluntarily wound down, and on June 11, 1910, Pacific Lime Company was incorporated. Blubber Bay effectively became the capital of Texada after WWII when the prices of copper and gold declined, and Van Anda went into a deep recession. By contrast, Pacific Lime had a stable operation with a work force of 60 Caucasians, 60 Chinese, and an office staff of ten. They operated the quarry until 1955 when it passed into the hands of Gypsum Lime and Alabastine Canada Ltd, and then sold to Domtar Chemicals in1956. Oregon Portland Cement acquired the quarry in 1983, and a year later it was merged into the current owners, Ash Grove Cement.
Blubber Bay was always a company town, and had a typical one-room school in the 1930s; half a dozen rows of seats ranging from Grade 1 to Grade 8, and a wood stove for heat. Ringing the school bell in the tower was a much sought-after privilege. It was the ship’s bell from the original Empress of Japan, and reputed to weigh over 600 pounds. With its momentum, it could lift a child on the end of the rope. The social life of the community revolved around the school, which doubled as a community hall and gathering place for community events such as Friday night card parties, Saturday night dances, and Sunday church services. There are wonderful recorded memories of silent movie nights, when Charlie Chaplin and Pearl White flicks were shown free of charge for the children, and ten cents for adults.
The company general store built in 1928 had no competition—no supermarkets or daily freight, and no consumer co-ops or easy communication to the outside world. The postmaster/store manager had a position of authority in the community and reigned like a prince—his castle moat being the long counter separating his stock from the public. Goods from the company store were usually bought on credit by company workers. The company superintendent would take note on ‘boat days’ of which employees were receiving extra large orders from elsewhere and they would be told, “The company store also sells those items.”
Company houses were laid out within identical grids, each lot having a garden plot, and a woodshed which also contained the outhouse. They were expected to be maintained by the employee, and rent in 1958 was $16 a month. Chinese workers were quartered in two basic bunkhouses situated on the eastern boundary of the property.
In May 1949, Mae Webb visited the limestone quarries in Blubber Bay and reported in the Powell River News that, “It’s a unique spot in that half the town is the property of Pacific Lime Company, (the larger operation), and the other half is owned by BC Cement. The two companies live and operate side by side in complete harmony.” She went on to describe the now abandoned Glory Hole number 1. “Its a huge excavation, 300 feet deep and at least as wide across the top, shaped like a giant cup. At the bottom is an accumulation of surface water. It is the most beautiful turquoise blue imaginable.” Some believe that ghosts of Chinese workers who scaled the 365-foot limestone wall on rickety wooden ladders twice a day, still linger.
Marine transportation was the only way to get from the island to other coastal points. From the earliest days union boats and the CPR steamers Charmer, Princess Royal and Princess Mary provided a weekly connection between Blubber Bay, Comox, and Vancouver. They could arrive at any time day or night, and in the 1950’s would broadcast their schedule on Spilsbury radios. They would announce their arrival with piercing shrieks of their whistles. The CPR’s Princess Mary, now a restaurant in Victoria, had a distinctive whistle of one long and one short. In 1955 the inauguration of the Atrevida, a small car ferry, brought regular service between Blubber Bay, Van Anda, and Westview. The little ship served for 14 years.
Island transportation was primitive. A wagon road was put through from Blubber Bay to Van Anda in 1910 to deliver the mail, but it retained its deer-trail status right up until the mid-fifties. The first car did not appear on Texada until 1925, and Maury Liebich growing up in Blubber Bay recounts, “My father always had a car, but we might only make the trip from Blubber Bay to Van Anda twice a year, at Christmas and Easter.”
Blubber Bay Quarry is still an active mining company, but the ‘little community that was’ has disappeared. All that remains are a few former company houses, some of which are now home to the Texada Heritage Museum, Holtenwood Gallery, and Manyana Shop.
Blubber Bay Quarry is a member of an elite club. “It is one of six Canadian mines with the distinction of continuously operating for 100 years,” according to former mine manager, Ted Thomson. “It’s an honour, but I don’t know if we will ever catch up to the Wieliczka salt mine in Poland, where mining began in the 13th century and has never stopped.”