War Times (1916-1946)
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.
The winter of 1916 will be remembered as the year of the big snow. I remember one storm that started as sleet and then came down in storming blinding fury. When it stopped about 4 feet of snow lay on the level down our way. (N.P. Dougan)
My Dad lived in a tent on the Malahat the first winter after the cement plant shut down. He had only a lantern for heat. He was lucky to find a job at the shipyards and moved to Victoria. (Em Blatchfort ne Baldock)
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.
Mr. Anderson was strict but a kindly boss. Employees toed the mark or were dismissed. One employee took home enough cement to make a lawn roller. He was given short notice. Another was apprehended siphoning gas from cars and though he had a wife and children he had to leave. (A Ellis)
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 plant.
In the 1930s the Depression slowed cement production. The Bamberton plant only operated a few months of the year and there were many layoffs. 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.
It was an eerie, echoing place; the only person there was the watchman. (A Ellis)
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 defense 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.
For the first time, employees from Mill Bay and Cobble Hill were brought in. Up till then, outside workers weren’t encouraged. (A Ellis)
The wages at the time were:
- LABOURERS .65 HOUR
- TRUCK DRIVER .80 HOUR
- MECHANIC. .90 HOUR
Gas was rationed during the war so we used to row our boat across to Brentwood Bay to get groceries. We would have to walk up the long hill, carry the bags back to the boat and then row back to Bamberton. It took us most of the day. (Joe DeLisle)
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.