People of the Bay – George Weeks

February 5th, 2013
George Weeks aboard his home.

George Weeks aboard his home, Cowichan Bay Village.

George Weeks has lived on the southern end of Vancouver Island and around the Cowichan Valley most of his life. Born at the Duncan Hospital in 1937, it wasn’t long before he and his mother were ready for the car and boat ride home to Caycuse, where his father was a steam locomotive engineer and logger.

Today Caycuse is a mere shadow of it’s former self. Located about 20 km past the community of Lake Cowichan on the south shore, it was originally a float camp. It was was an isolated logging camp across the lake from Youbou, owned by the Empire Lumber Company around 1910. In 1926 Gilson & McCoy took over the operation and moved it to its present location at Nixon Creek.

Closed from 1931 to 1933 due to the Depression, Caycuse re-opened under the new ownership of Industrial Timber Mills. In 1946, BC Forest Products took over.  At its peak, in the early 1950′s, an estimated 1000 loggers and their families lived at the camp. Fletcher Challenge Canada acquired the operation in 1988 and closed the operation down in 1992.

When George lived there from that first day in 1937 to 1945 Caycuse was a going concern. Thriving on the brisk business war demands made on Vancouver Island’s resources, logging camps like Caycuse were hives of activity and opportunity. Work, which had been hard to come by during the depression, presented itself readily. Lumber of all sorts was in demand.

Camp-6 Caycuse

Camp-6 Caycuse Lake Cowichan

George remembers those days as a youngster growing up amidst all that hustle, watching his father run train-load after train-load of prime timber through town and to the log dump. It was a time when steam locomotives were kings of the forest and the men who ran them were highly respected. George’s father, like all locomotive engineers had a signature whistle, and George still recalls how, as a boy of 7 he’d begin running toward the track on hearing the sound. Toward mind you, not onto or even all that near to the track. George would venture just close enough to be able to wave. He’d been taught how to behave around trains, as had all children who lived at the camp. On occasion his father would stop, pick him up and allow him to ride in the cab for a while. This was against Company policy, but nobody really complained.

There was a school of course, Caycuse prided itself on the quality of education it could give to it’s young citizens. But plenty of time was spent out of school as well. Time for fishing in the lake, for exploring and hiking and living a robust out-door life. Nobody needed extra exercise in those days, it came naturally as part of growing up.

Having spent VE day in 1945 in Port Alberni, by 1946 George’s family had moved to Franklin River Camp, which was nearby.

Some families moved a lot in those years. Where in the recent past, a forest company would fly it’s workers into remote camps, in the 1940′s they moved the entire family in. There are still a lot of bunk houses serving as residences to this day, even though logging in the area may well have run it’s course.

By 1955 George was working just North of Campbell River as Boom man at Menzies Bay. From 1957 to 1959, he worked at the same job, for Hillcrest Lumber in Mesachie Lake. From 1959 to 1969 he worked for the Mill in Crofton first on the boom, and then at the steam plant. He’d finally managed to follow in his Father’s footsteps more or less. There weren’t any steam locomotives to drive, trucks had taken over the job of hauling logs out of the woods, but many of the same skills applied in the stationary plant.

Having grown up around industry and just a few steps away from the waters of Lake Cowichan, it only seemed natural that George would have his own boat. He bought his first sizable vessel in 1962 and a better one in 1964. Since then, he’s owned a succession of vessels and enjoyed living aboard each one. Owning and living on one’s boat afforded the mobility and experience he’d need for his next line of work.
Fisherboy II

From 1969 to 1979, he worked for the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans as an inspector. From River’s Inlet to the lower portion of the Queen Charlotte Islands, it was George’s job to represent the Department . For this he was paid $5.80 hourly for an eight hour day, and his boat earned an additional $12 daily. Fuel was provided by the Ministry and available at various points on his route. It was a job he enjoyed, a job which allowed him to travel up and down the coast for 10 years in the marine environment he loves.

Fisherboy II at Pier 67, Cowichan Bay Village

Fisherboy II at Pier 67, Cowichan Bay Village

When the Department of Fisheries ended this sort of operation in 1979, George took a camp watchman’s job, continuing to live on his boat while he tended to the needs of logging camps shut down during the off seasons. 1985 found him in Ocean Falls working as third engineer, again in the steam plant. When that operation closed, he found himself able to once again use the experience he’d gained as a fisheries patrolman, this time in aide of the National Census. He knew almost every settlement in the area he’d once worked for the Ministry and of course this made the job easier and cut down on the time needed. It paid handsomely as well, for the Federal Government was keen to get the facts and figures.

Today George lives here in Cowichan Bay, aboard his retired commercial fishing seiner Fisherboy II. It’s a 45 foot vessel, broad of beam and comfortable inside, with a large, slow turning Volvo diesel engine that makes plenty of power. Fisherboy II is only 5 years younger than George himself. You’ll see him out in the bay from time to time, tending to his crab pots, towing a boat out to deep anchorage or a float home across the bay. Occasionally, he takes visitors out for a tour. Some mornings you’ll see him visit Bo’s Rainbow Cafe, where he attends the regular coffee gathering from 8:00 til 9:00.

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