The End of Big Logging

1926 began with promise for the sons of Mossom Martin Boyd. Gardiner, Laurie, and Mossom deGrassi had inherited their father’s logging business and transformed it into a venture for timber speculation. Two decades before, their father had purchased the rights to log crown forest in the Maple Ridge Municipality. These lands, called timber berth Y1 and Y2 by the government, had been a hard sell. Located at the head of a mountain river valley, and partly flooded by a hydroelectric dam, the log lands were practically inaccessible after the neck of the valley had been occupied by a separate timberholder. The McCormick-Deering families of Chicago bought up the rights to log below Y, isolating it. Now, the McCormick’s contractor, Nelson Lougheed, had agreed to pay the Boyds and the Lamperts (timberholders on neighbouring timber berth Z) for their rights to log. Timber harvesting began in January, and by the end of the month two million feet board measure had been removed to the Fraser River. Lougheed was planning to cut 40 million in 1926 and 1927, expanding the harvest to 60-80 million feet board measure in 1928 and afterwards until the completion of the contract in 1931.

1927 would be the year of highest production on timber berths Y and Z, during which the Abernethy Lougheed Logging Company removed 83,799,875 feet board measure from the limits, including over 29 million feet board measure and nearly 39 million feet board measure of the valuable western redcedar and Douglas-fir respectively. In 1912, Clark and Lyford, the forest engineers, had estimated that on TB Y the average Douglas-fir tree contained 2500 feet board measure net, with cedars smaller at 1500 feet board measure. From these figures we can estimate that in 1927 Abernethy and Lougheed removed 15,600 Douglas-fir trees and 19,300 redcedars, in addition to felled trees of other species. The cut of all species totaled just over 67 million feet board measure in 1928, 43 million feet board measure in 1929, and just 4.5 million in the three months of operations in 1930. Added to the cut of less than 29 million board feet in 1926, the year after the signing of the contract between the Boyds, the Lamperts, and Lougheed, the total timber harvested by May 1930 was 227,465,928 feet board measure—representing roughly 49,600 redcedars, 42,000 Douglas-fir, and 33,200 western hemlocks plus a few thousand other specimens sent to the Fraser River mills.

ND [1927-1929]. Men sitting at the “watchman’s shack” near the Gold Creek camp of the Abernethy Lougheed Logging Company. The Lower Gold Creek area was part of the lands contracted to Allco by the Lampert and Boyd family companies.

Unfortunately, we can only guess at the value of these operations to Abernethy Lougheed. While the cut reports also total amounts paid to the Lamperts and the Boyds between 1926 and May 1930 under their agreement, these were payments in instalment for the right to log—quite different from payments for the logs themselves. Abernethy Lougheed’s business was to collect this latter payment by performing the harvesting and transportation of logs to the timber market. Historic prices for Douglas-fir logs on the market in North America, where BC softwood competed with lumber from Washington, Oregon, and the interior west, help indicate the value of the timber species most harvested by Abernethy Lougheed. Between 1926 and 1930, prices for coastal Douglas-fir sawlogs ranged between $15.00 and $16.00 per thousand feet board measure. In total, the Douglas-fir harvested by Abernethy Lougheed could have brought as much as $1,650,000 to be used by the company to pay the government, the timberholders, their employees, and their financial backers.

Log prices did not remain at $15.00 per thousand feet board measure after 1930. In October of 1929, the stock market crash set the stage for a decade of hardship, during which demand for lumber and other commodities plummeted. By 1930 Nelson Lougheed had been elected to the provincial legislature and was serving as the Minister of Lands under the Conservative Simon Fraser Tolmie. The solvency of Abernethy Lougheed, and their ability to complete the contract with the Boyd family, did not appear to be directly in question on March 27, when Laurie informed Cust, “I have not seen Lougheed yet about Lilloet [sic], he was so taken up with the sittings of the House that he had no time to make an appointment and when the Session ended last Saturday he beat it off and got married and is, I understand, gone East on his honey-moon.” At most, the remark suggests the Boyds were concerned by the drastically reduced rate of cut on their timber berths, which Abernethy Lougheed continued to pay out until May.

On April 23, 1930, Laurie prodded Abernethy Lougheed to complete payment of all government fees after having been sent a notice from the Department of the Interior that $44.88 was due on TB Y for fire-guarding. The other shoe had dropped by July 1931, by which time Abernethy Lougheed, now a company of Nelson Lougheed and “one remaining employee”, had asked for an extension on their final payment on the timber berths, $81,267.80, due August 1, 1931. The Lampert Lumber Company was not enthusiastic. By telegram on August 6th from Montreal’s Mount Royal Hotel, Nelson Lougheed responded to Lampert’s curt request for payment:

Owing depressed state lumber market unable secure money here meet timber payment. We have plenty of security and have offered substantial bonus unless your bank in Minneapolis or Toronto can assist. Must have reasonable extension meet your payments.

ND [1921-1930]. Locomotive 55 bringing logs out of timber berths W, Y, and Z for the Abernethy and Lougheed Logging Co.  Each train car carried in the thousands of “feet board measure”.

The Boyds, who were more favourable to extension than the Lamperts, convinced the parties to meet in Vancouver at 9am on October 1st. The outcome of the meeting was not extension, but the development of “our rights under the Contract […] in a natural way”. Those rights allowed the Boyds and Lamperts to collect interest on the principal, and, if necessary, take possession of fixed assets belonging to the Abernethy Lougheed company and re-enter the timber berths. “We [the Lampert Lumber Company] would not execute those rights provided they would assure us that they would pay us 7% interest semi-annually, Feb. 1st and August 1st of each year, out of the proceeds of the rent which they will collect from the Dominion Government on the lease on the logging camp and providing they would assure us that they would continue to cut and liquidate remaining fixed assets as soon as general market conditions would permit them to do so without loss.” The logging camp referred to was none other than Abernethy Lougheed’s headquarters camp, “Allco”, which had been given under lease to the government as a relief work camp for vagrants. The Depression had set in badly, and unemployment in British Columbia in the summer of 1931 was edging steadily towards 25%.

On January 29, 1932, Abernethy Lougheed’s bookkeeper, J.B. Sutherland, sent the timberholders a note in lieu of a cheque for interest. The source of income Abernethy Lougheed had intended to use to make the payments, the lease of the former Allco camp to the government, was itself in arrears. The government was unable or unwilling to pay for the use of the camp to house relief workers. Sutherland, however, held out hope that “we are still hoping to receive a payment on account which will put our cash situation in a better position and provide at least a part payment to you of these arrears.”

Privately, Lampert leaned towards legal action—wishing to repossess the timber limits, which Gardiner believed were of little value, or the machinery used by the company. A balance sheet for December 31, 1931 forwarded to the creditors by Sutherland in April showed assets of over $775,000 in second mortgage bonds on the “Edgar-Lougheed Company”, given in return for the company’s use of Abernethy and Lougheed machinery. When the operation defaulted on its own timber mortgage in the United States, Abernethy Lougheed went to court to disentangle their equipment from the reach of the Edgar-Lougheed Company’s primary mortgage holders, who were also demanding payment. Approached by Lawson, the solicitor for the Boyds and Lamperts, for information, bookkeeper Sutherland reported any legal proceedings against the Abernethy Lougheed Logging Co. would force him to declare the company’s bankruptcy.

Under the Agreement between Abernethy Lougheed and the Lamperts and Boyds, A&L agreed to pay all fees on timber berths Y and Z. In May of 1932, the Boyds discovered the logging company had defaulted on its timber license dues since 1931. To lower future calculated payments, the Boyds received permission from the Department of the Interior to survey and sever logged-off acreages no longer of economic value. The Department’s collections staff was in disarray and had neither served notice of the default nor attempted to collect it. The timber holders agreed to take no action on the payment of rentals, preferring to maintain the ties between the issue and A&L’s insolvency. The Boyds felt they could defer payment because the government was strategically weak and lacked the resources and will to evict its timber operators properly. The government, like the timber holders and speculators, needed the economy to improve before they could advance their interests. In 1933, after months of inaction, Cust explained the government’s unenviable position to Leonard Lampert Jr, writing,

“As you may imagine there are a number of timber berths being allowed to lapse and the policy of the Government is to nurse along these cases with the hope that the lessees will in the early future pay up and keep the licenses in good standing again. If the Government is stiff with the defaulters it will likely lose considerable revenue, of which it is of course in the utmost need. With this in view, my feeling is that the Government will be in no hurry to cancel the licenses.” 

By the summer of 1933, fees in default on TB Z totaled $6,596.21, and on TB Y $1,845.50. As a year had passed with no visible progress, Lampert again pressed in June 1932 for legal action. Lampert wished to ensure that the logging equipment, if it could be returned to the books of A&L, would become a frozen asset to be claimed by the timberholders in lieu of their $80,000 balance forward. The idea of reclaiming the timber berths and evicting A&L, who had never been transferred the government timber license, was anathema to the timber holders. Firstly, the lands were now extensively logged—Cust estimated all of the merchantable timber on Y1, Y2, and Z1 had been removed—meaning they were of uncertain value. Secondly, they were not liquid—meaning they had no cash potential unless the economy and the regrowth of the forest could dramatically restore them. Thirdly, maintaining them required paying government fees and pouring money into timber operations with dim prospects.

ND [1926-30]. Logs from timber berths Y1 and Y2 at the top of Alouette Lake were boomed and floated to the logging railway.  Several dozen thousand trees were removed from the Alouette Lake area by water and rail.

No legal action progressed as the Boyds, communicating with Lougheed through his bookkeeper Sutherland, understood such action could be for naught if the company could not repossess its equipment from the American logging operation to which it had been leased. The situation briefly looked up in May, when the American court was due to rule on the case tying up Abernethy Lougheed’s machinery. But any optimism was misplaced. Although the lawsuit terminated in settlement, Abernethy Lougheed appeared to take no action to repossess the machinery they had leased or to settle their outstanding debts. Wondering why this should be the case, JH Lawson discovered, to everyone’s dismay, that the machinery had been frozen by the Miami Corporation, A&L’s Chicago backers, as a payout for its stake in the totally insolvent company. On November 23, 1933 Lawson despaired,

“If we put Abernethy & Lougheed into bankruptcy the only available asset would be the machinery if we reacquire title to it and some odd assets in the balance sheet of little value. How this can be done without settling with the Miami Corporation I do not know at the present time. It would mean that the receiver in bankruptcy would have to embark on extensive litigation with a small prospect of success and with no cash on hand with which to carry on such litigation or get his own remuneration. The conclusion that […] I have arrived at at this time is that the situation from the creditors’ point of view is perfectly hopeless and does not justify the expenditure of more money.”

This left the timber license holders with three options: put Abernethy Lougheed into receivership, take judgement against the company for the amount of the unpaid balance with interest, or repossess the timber limits. None were palatable. The first course of action would require extensive litigation that no party thought advisable. The second would only pay out if Abernethy Lougheed could recover their machinery from the Miami Corporation and use it to generate revenue by logging. The third course would provide no relief from fees in default and deed the Boyds and Lamperts worthless, denuded lands. The timberholders took no action. Eventually, the government cancelled $40,000 owed to it by the Abernethy Lougheed Logging Company in exchange for cancelling the company’s timber license in berth W, where the land would be preserved for park purposes. With no hope of reclaiming any amount from Abernethy Lougheed, the Boyds and Lamperts contracted with the Crown to cancel their outstanding timber license dues in return for cancelling the licenses after 1943. Together the timber berths in Maple Ridge Municipality formed the basis for a new provincial protected area, today Golden Ears Park.

Matthew Shields