Looking Back: B.C.’s largest shingle mill was in Ruskin
Stoltze Manufacturing Co. is mostly forgotten today, but at one time its mill at the Stave River – where the trailer park is today – was the largest shingle mill in British Columbia.
Although the company carried the Stoltze name, the president of the company was a James Sobey, born in England and raised in Nova Scotia.
In the late 1890s, Sobey and some partners started a shingle mill with the name Sobey Manufacturing Co. at Ballard, now part of Seattle, and another one at Granite Falls, Washington.
Two Stoltze brothers worked at Sobey’s Granite Falls plant. Henry Stoltze was foreman of the mill and Arthur Stoltze was “knot sawyer.”
Around 1910, Sobey sold his share in the Granite Falls enterprise and planned the opening of a mill at Ruskin in partnership with Henry Stoltze. The new company was called Stoltze Manufacturing Co.
James Flaherty, Henry’s brother-in-law, who had also been working for Sobey at Granite Falls, went to Ruskin in the summer of 1912 to build the shingle mill.
The beginning of production in 1913 happened to coincide with a slump in the building industry in Vancouver, but access to the American market assured that the Ruskin mill worked to its full capacity. A new dry kiln was even added to the Ruskin mill “to meet the increase in demand.”
James Sobey, president of Stoltze Manufacturing Co., was a silent partner, while Henry A. Stoltze, as managing director, took care of the company’s business from an office in Vancouver. Arthur H. Stoltze, his brother, managed bolt cutting on a big scale at Stave Falls, and James Flaherty was in charge of the entire operation in Ruskin.
To secure an ample supply of cedar, Stoltze first acquired 1,000 acres of standing timber at an unknown location in the Stave area and, in addition, bought “large quantities” of cedar from Abernethy-Lougheed when A&L won the contract for 8,000 acres of timber at Stave Lake in 1914.
The Pacific Coast Lumberman of July 1919 reports: “About 250 men are employed in [Stoltze’s] limits and the average daily input in bolts is 135 cords.”
Stoltze had mile-long flumes to take the shingle bolts down to Stave Lake. A spillway at the dam took the bolts down to the river below to float to the mill.
In 1923, only Stoltze (400,000) and Fraser Mills (350,000) produced more shingles per day than the next best mill (200,000).
Stoltze was then a very successful company.
The Stoltzes and the Flahertys were close-knit families as is evident from entries in the “Ruskin Notes,” the social column of the Weekly Gazette, telling about their frequently visiting each other in Vancouver or Ruskin. Their “motoring” included trips to the United States, calling on family and friends.
The most spectacular trip recalled was one undertaken in 1923 by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Stoltze, who “motored” to California and Mexico and back, mostly camping on the way.
In 1926, with access to cedar reduced in the Stave Lake area, Stoltze purchased extensive timber berths on Blue Mountain along Dewdney Trunk Road. As the operation at Stave Lake diminished, Arthur Stoltze’s position became redundant. He moved away from Ruskin and later joined his son Virgil in logging operations at Harrison Lake, Squamish, and on Vancouver Island.
The following year, 1927, James Flaherty retired, and a son of managing director Henry Stoltze took over the supervision of a now very reduced operation at Ruskin.
Not much later, the two original partners died: first James Sobey at Ballard in 1930, and a year later Henry Stoltze in Vancouver.
By then, Stoltze Manufacturing Co. was only a minor shingle producer, struggling for survival.
Henry’s son remained in charge of the mill at Ruskin until 1936, when it changed its name and management.
Stoltze’s production depended on a Japanese workforce both in the woods and in the mill, and it stopped operating in the early 1940s after the internment of the Japanese and the departure of many of their white substitutes to the war.
In the following years, the mill and the achievements of the Stoltzes started slipping away from memory.
– By Fred Braches, a local historian who lives in Whonnock.