Click any of the quick-links below to jump to specific chapters:
1. Bamberton Beginnings (1904-1915)
2. War Times (1916-1946)
3. Prosperity (1947-1969)
4. Putting a Mountain Through a Sieve:
The Cement Manufacturing Process
5. Dust to Bust (1970-1982)
6.Village Life (1912-1982)
The origins of the BC Cement Company can be traced back to 1904. In that year, Mr. Robert Pim Butchart founded a cement company at Tod Inlet, near Victoria. It was the only cement producing company west of the Great Lakes and proved to be a very lucrative venture. This early cement company was followed in 1912 by a second firm, The Portland Cement Construction Company Of London, England. Mr. HKG Bamber, the company’s Managing Director, established the new company after a visit to BC. On his recommendation a plant was constructed on the west shore of Saanich Inlet, approximately 35km north of Victoria. The community that developed was named Bamberton in Mr. Bamber’s honour.
The plant was unique in that the site selected was on a steep mountain slope and the operation a gravity feed design. In order to begin construction the dense forest had to be cleared. Water continually drained off the steep hillside and had to be diverted in wooden flumes. All jobs were done manually or with the help of teams of horses. Tracks were laid for small gauge railcars, which were used to move equipment and material. The workers lived in tents erected near the shore while the engineers and supervising staff built small wooden houses further up the hill. There was no road; an incline hoist was built to move men and supplies up and down the hillside. The hoist man would raise or lower a platform from the hoist house, down to the waterfront or vice versa. Those who chose not to ride the hoist could climb up or down stairs, of which there were reportedly over 380.
In 1913 Mr. Bamber announced:
The plant had barely gotten underway when World War I began and with the crash of the real estate boom the demand for cement plummeted. Soon the Portland Cement Co. had to concede that there was not enough business for two companies and in 1916 Bamberton was shut down.
In 1919 the two companies were amalgamated and the name changed to the BC Cement Company with Mr. Butchart continuing as President and Managing Director.
In 1921 Mr. Butchart's closed his quarry at Tod Inlet and developed the famed Butchart Gardens. The original two kilns at Bamberton were increased to three when he added the large kiln from Tod Inlet. At that time Bamberton was reopened with Mr. Henry Anderson as the manager.
In 1926 Robert Butchart decided to retire as Managing Director of the BC Cement Company and turned the job over to
Edwin Tomlin. Plant production continued to increase and in 1930 the Blubber Bay Quarry on Texada Island was purchased
to supplement the quarry at Bamberton. Seven days a week the rock was loaded onto scows and towed 16 hours to the Bamberton
In the 1930s the Depression slowed cement production. The Bamberton plant only operated a few months of the year and there were many lay offs. Enough cement was produced to fill the silos and then operations were shut down until the cement could be sold. Key men were needed for this intermittent production so small jobs such as maintenance and security were found to keep them employed.
During this time the company provided free rent, electricity and water in the company village. As a result very few people wanted to leave because living and working conditions though a bit thin were considered good for the time. It was fortunate that many of the employees remained on site because in the 1940s the demand for cement skyrocketed.
When World War II was declared there were huge orders for cement for defence purposes. Even though the Bamberton plant was 25 years old it was pushed to capacity and cement poured forth 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The graving dock at Esquimalt, fourth largest in the world, the huge naval structures at HMCS Dockyard and HMCS Naden as well as many fortifications and airports are evidence of how great a part Bamberton cement played in national defence.
The wages at the time were:
In 1944 Edwin Tomlin died and his son Nigel took over as president of the company. At 29 Nigel became one of the youngest top executives in Canadian history. The huge demand for cement continued after the war and so with vision and boldness he planned a $4million expansion of the Bamberton plant.
Bamberton's expansion included new kilns, crushers and dry mills, all bigger and more efficient than ever before. In 1953 the Texada Island quarry operation was discontinued and the Cobble Hill Quarry was purchased.
The company claimed there was enough limestone at Cobble Hill to provide for 50 years of operation. It was here that the largest blast on Vancouver Island, up to that time, was detonated. Twelve and a half tons of dynamite blasted loose 125,000 tons of rock. The dislodged stone only provided for two and a half months of plant production and the demand continued to rise. At first, Copley Brothers trucks brought the rock down the highway to the Bamberton road and through the village to the plant.
A few years later a 13km company road was built from the quarry to the Bamberton site. Thirty Ton diesel trucks hauled loads 16 hour a day to keep the plant operating.
In 1955 the BC Cement Company celebrated 50 years of operation. When they merged with Ocean Cement in 1957 they became the largest cement producer in the Pacific Northwest, producing 8 million bags of cement a year.
In 1959 the company presented the province with land for Bamberton Beach Park. In 1962 Bamberton was rated one of the two world's most highly efficient industrial operations.
Throughout BC there is evidence of the importance of cement derived from the Bamberton plant. It was used to build the major bridges and buildings in Vancouver as well as the Deas Island Tunnel. Hydroelectric projects, mining operations, and airports throughout BC. as well as the aluminium plant in Kitimat, were built with cement from Bamberton. Bamberton cement was also used to build the vast pulp and paper industry of the province as well as playing its full part in the development of the BC oil and natural gas industry.
By the end of 1964, the Bamberton plant had produced over 44 million barrels or 7 ½ million tons of Portland Cement, requiring 11 ½ million tons of limestone and secondary materials over 2 million tons of coal, 900,000 barrels of oil and 378,000 tons of gypsum. The annual payroll in 1965 exceeded $900,000 and assets totalled $16 million.
In the early days the limestone was quarried at the Bamberton site, but later when the Cobble Hill quarry was purchased the quarried limestone was transported to the plant by trucks, where it was dumped into the “Glory Hole”. It was fed into the primary crusher and withdrawn as required by remotely controlled feeders and conveyor belts to be further reduced by secondary and tertiary crushers and proportioned with the correct amount of sand. Finally, the mix was stored in one of ten raw mill feed bins. In the 60s the entire crushing operation from storage pile to feed bin was fully automated and watched over by closed circuit TV from the central control room.
Drawn from the bins, the limestone and sand were conveyed along with water to the raw mills…large rotating steel cylinders each containing approximately 25 tons of steel balls. Inside the cylinders the steel balls quickly pulverized the feed into a finely ground powder and 30 to 32% water was added, this thick white fluid was called slurry. From here the slurry was pumped successively into air-agitated storage basins where continual sampling, analyzing and blending was carried out. It was thoroughly mixed by revolving paddles set under a rotating platform.
The slurry was then pumped to the kilns. It was fed into the high end of the kiln at a constant rate where it took three hours to work its way through. The long steel cylinder lined with firebrick rotated slowly on giant rollers and moved the material continuously towards the lower or discharge end. The slurry was first dried out which produced some 750 tons of water per day that was evaporated and discharged through the stacks. The drying process generated large amounts of dust.
In 1967/69 electrostatic precipitators were installed that acted like huge dust magnets. The precipitators, which were the most modern in the province, reduced solid pollution by 99%.
The temperature of the kiln was maintained by the combustion of fine, dry coal dust, so fine it acted as a gas, which was fed into the cylinder by a blast of air. Later bunker C oil replaced the use of coal. When the temperature rose to 2300deg. F chemical reactions commenced among the ingredients and they fused together to form "cement clinker'. The hot clinker in the form of small black nodules was discharged from the lower end of the kiln into air coolers where its temperature was reduced to 200 deg F. It was then conveyed to a covered storage area.
The last step in manufacturing cement was the finish grinding. The clinker was first recovered from the storage area and fed into a cone crusher for reduction to a 3/8 inch screen size. The crushed clinker was then conveyed to one of two 5,000 barrel silos used to feed the main finishing mill. One % gypsum was added to retard the setting stage and then these two ingredients were fed to the finishing mill, a large rotating cylinder similar to the raw mill and containing 100 tons of steel balls.
Here the mixture was ground dry to an extremely fine powder that permitted it to pass through a screen of 10,000 apertures per square inch. A screen so fine that it could actually hold water. The finished cement was blown pneumatically to the storage silos for sacking or bulk shipment by road and water.
In the early days the cement was poured into barrels, later jute sacks sewn on site were used but these were replaced by heavy paper bags. Each sack held 87 ½ pounds, four sacks equalled the old barrel. Every 15 minutes in alternating shifts, workers filled 350 bags with cement hot from the silos.
The cement was shipped to market in the company's three boats, the Island King, Shean or Teco carrying 16,000, 10,000 or 6,500 sacks each.
The quality of all cements produced at Bamberton was closely controlled on a round-the-clock basis. To carry out this control programme, two laboratories were maintained: a central laboratory run on a 7-day week, day-shift basis, and a control laboratory operating on a continuous three-shift basis.
As well as continual checks at every stage of manufacture, a complete daily analysis was made of all kiln feed.
Through its many years of operation Bamberton, maintained an enviable safety record and received the Safe Year Commemorative Trophy for many years running. The company offered incentives to maintain this good safety record and provided free safety boots to workers if they achieved an accident free year.
After the prosperity and optimism of the 60s the 70s brought a downward turn and Bamberton’s demise began.
Beale’s Quarry on Texada Island had been for sale and the logical buyer was Ocean Cement. But the company’s managers felt the price was too high and decided to sit tight. However, the Lafarge Co. of Paris purchased the quarry and built a $12 ½ million cement plant in Richmond BC.
By 1975 competition from La Farge was beginning to be felt. To combat this, Genstar, now the owner of Ocean Cement, decided to build a new ultra-modern plant in Delta, BC. The new plant would have fewer employees than Bamberton, be more efficient and less expensive to operate. Production at Bamberton was cut way back due to a reduced demand for cement and rumors of the plant closure begin to circulate.
In 1977 a company press release said Bamberton was scheduled to close in the spring of 1978. However, at the eleventh hour, Bamberton received a reprieve, and continued to operate through 1979 and 1980. As 1980 drew to a close, the United Cement, Lime and Gypsum workers Union called a strike at the Delta plant and the next day it spread to Bamberton.
In December 1980 Bamberton’s closure was officially announced and workers received their lay off notices. Although the company finally settled with the union in July, it was too late for Bamberton. Under the terms of the new contract, only six employees would remain at the site, to run a cement distribution terminal.
So ended 75 years of cement production in the area. They had been good years and in that time Bamberton cement had traveled the world. Because of its low radioactive content it was used to build nuclear facilities at Chalk River, Ontario, Long Island, New York and Berkley, California. It had also been shipped to Alaska, the Yukon. Washington State, Mexico, South America, Ceylon, Saudi Arabia, and San Marcus Island in the Far East. After the plant was closed RCMP and armed forces personal used the buildings for simulated hostage taking situations and high explosives practice.
At the beginning of the plant’s construction workers lived in tents while the higher level personal were housed in small wooden buildings built further up on the hillside.
When the plant reopened in the 1920s the company town began to grow. Because of its relative isolation it was a close-knit community.
The nearest road was the Malahat Drive but when it opened in 1911 it was little more than a wagon-track that wound its way to Victoria. Although it did offer a means of transportation to Bamberton residents, a trip to the “big city” was a hazardous journey. In the early 20’s motorists drove on the “other” side of the road, in the British tradition. The narrow road was very winding and although it climbed to 1100 ft at the summit there were no guardrails. For the first ten years it had only a mud and gravel surface so the road often washed out in the rain and in dryer weather, clouds of dust covered both cars and passengers.
Despite its relative isolation by 1924 the Bamberton plant was producing over a million dollars worth of cement.
In the early days most supplies were brought in by company tug and barge.
Single men lived near the shore in a bunkhouse that could house and feed 70 men. Many of the married men lived with their families in company homes built on the hillside above the plant.
There were 27 houses in all and the rent ranged from $10 to $35 a month over the span of the plant's operation. Water was included in the rent, as the company owned Oliphant Lake and piped 400,000 gal a day down the hillside to the village and the plant. The company also provided any maintenance needed, and the village was always neat and well kept. There were also 3 company houses, south of the plant called the 'beach houses'.
Another resident who had come from England as a bride in 1948 lived in another "beach house" north of the plant.
The manager's house was the largest in the village, set in its own grounds, complete with a swimming pool. When Reg Haskins was the manager, he won a lottery, which consisted of a case of whiskey. He gave the whiskey to a local contractor in trade, to build the lower lawn. It was a perfect 7 iron long course. Perfect for Reg who was an avid golfer.
Bamberton gardens were dazzling pictures of colour. Garden pests were seldom seen, perhaps because of the lime dust that coated the area. When Robert Butchart, was the president of the Cement Company he provided seeds and plants free of charge and villagers were encouraged to grow gardens.
By the 1920s there were enough children at Bamberton, to warrant a school. In 1924 Miss Irma Glyde Trowsse was hired to teach grades 1 to 8. She was paid $90 a month, and lived with her mother in a house adjacent to the school.
Miss Trowsse taught at Bamberton until the 1960's, when due to declining enrolment the school was closed. She retired in 1969, having taught for 45 years and in her honour the cement company's haul road was named Trowsse Road.
In the early days, when summer arrived everyone from the village would take part in the annual company picnic. They would be taken across the inlet on company boats to a picnic at Deep Cove where lunch and tea were served. During the afternoon many went in for a swim and games and races with were held with the married men competing against the single men.
In 1927 the company built a Recreation Hall, which became the centre of the community's activities. It was a large building with a wrap around veranda, located at the end of the village street. Along side the building was a tennis court, constructed of cement of course. The dance floor was as large as that at the Empress Hotel and dances, variety shows, business meetings and other gatherings were held on a regular basis. Wednesday night was card party night. The Company sponsored Halloween Parties with fireworks, contests for the best costumes and goody bags filled with candy.
The Christmas Parties seem to be the favourite memory of all the village residents. All the children of families living in Bamberton, the company village at Tod Inlet, and the children of company staff members were invited. The company bought every child a gift, which was given out by the kiln foreman, dressed as Santa. The children and parents also enjoyed a wonderful turkey dinner with all the trimmings. A couple of days before the partial closure of the plant for Christmas, the Company also delivered a turkey to every family in the village.
When winter brought the snow and ice, children and adults alike, would pull their sleds up to the highway at the top of Bamberton Road. From there they would toboggan down the full mile past all the village houses to the garages at the end of the village street.
After the plant closed in 1980, the once thriving village became a modern-day ghost town. Ads appeared in the local papers and some of the buildings were moved to new locations. The Community Hall, the school and several of the houses have been given a new lease on life in the Cowichan area.
Malahat Drive early 1900's
Malahat Drive early 1900's
Miss Irma Glyde Trowsse
The Trowsse home
News of Trowsse's retirement
Tennis at the Recreation Hall
Party at the Recreation Hall
Santa at the Christmas party
Ghost town after closure
An era has passed and Bamberton is no more, but although the buildings may be gone the memories will live on forever. Here are some additional memories from some past Bamberton residents: