Fraser Mills: A Company and a Community
Coquitlam’s lush and gigantic trees first drew Frank Ross and James McLaren to open a state-of-the-art sawmill on the banks of the Fraser River in 1890. Located in the area that is now King Edward Street and United Boulevard, the mill was designed to supply wood products to foreign and local markets. With a CPR station located next to it, the area around the mill soon became a small company town called Millside, where the workers lived. However, from 1893 to 1903, the mill was closed due to troublesome economic conditions.
In 1903, a new company, later named the Canadian Western Lumber Company, bought the mills and slowly reopened it in 1906. Millside, which neighboured Maillardville, was soon renamed Fraser Mills and now included a store, post office, barber shop, pool hall, hospital, twenty homes and a manager’s residence. According to Coquitlam Then and Now, in 1911, “the population of Fraser Mills was approximately 877, composed mostly of French Canadians and Europeans, as well as 57 Japanese, 20 Chinese, and 168 East Indians. The plant was reputed at this time to be the largest lumbering operation in the British Empire and the second largest in the world” (Coquitlam Public Library New Horizons for Seniors Committee, p. 35). On March 15, 1913, Fraser Mills seceded from Coquitlam to become a separate municipality. It would not rejoin Coquitlam until 1971.
Over the years, Fraser Mills would operate at a smaller volume due to economic recessions, World Wars, and flooding. In 1931, work had become scarce and the Canadian Western Lumber Company reduced hourly wages from 25 cents per hour to 20 cents, upsetting workers who already were facing poor working conditions with few breaks. Many workers joined the Lumber Workers Industrial Union, but union leaders were fired from Fraser Mills and then blacklisted from working in other mills. On September 17, 1931, the mill workers walked out and formed picket lines. The strike was at times violent on both sides, Rene Marcellin recalled: “I was working at Fraser Mills when the union came in. The strike was pretty rough, pretty nasty. [...] I was a member [of the union], and I was elected to a union position. I was blacklisted by the company because I was active in the union” [p. 76] Neighbours and farmers helped feed the strikers during this difficult time and on December 1, 1931, the strike was finally over. Workers received small wage increases, washrooms with running water, and a lunch room (Coquitlam Public Library New Horizons for Seniors Committee, p. 87).
The Fraser Mills sawmill would be opened for 115 years from 1890 to 2005 and was the largest private employer in Coquitlam (Coquitlam Public Library New Horizons for Seniors Committee, p. 33).
Coquitlam Public Library New Horizons for Seniors Committee. Coquitlam Then and Now. Coquitlam, B.C.: Coquitlam Public Library, 2011.
Pioneer Tales Book Committee. Coquitlam, 100 Years: Reflections on the Past. Coquitlam, B.C.: District of Coquitlam, 1990.
|The Fraser Mills community in 1920. A gate leading to the Canadian Western Lumber Company owned millsite.|