The Kaatza Station Museum: The Mayo Lumber Company
I spent some time at the Kaatza Station Museum’s archives in Lake Cowichan. The Museum had insightful information about the local Mayo Lumber Company that highlighted its progressive hiring practices when it was formed in 1917. The Mayo Lumber Company was established by a group of Sikhs from the Punjab area in India (BC Forestry). The Mayo Lumber Company was located near Lake Cowichan, a freshwater lake in southern Vancouver Island. The company gained a reputation for hiring skilled people regardless of race and routinely hired Japanese, Chinese and East-Indian workers (Kaatza Station Museum Archives). At the time, racial lines were heavily divided and almost all lumber companies only hired Caucasian workers. Mayo’s hiring policies had a huge influence on the logging town of Cowichan making it multicultural.
The company was managed by Mayo Singh Manhas and Kapoor Singh (BC Forestry). Only Kapoor could speak the English language. Mayo Singh Manhas arrived in Canada in 1906 and worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He managed to gain experience in mill work on the mainland years later and then he purchased the timber rights. Kapoor Singh initially immigrated to San Francisco in 1906. Kapoor’s interest in the lumber industry led him to become a business partner with Mayo Singh. Both purchased a mill in New Westminister and later moved it to Vancouver Island. After several years, Mayo Singh left the company to develop his own mill nearby on the Canadian National Railway line at Sooke Lake (Kaatza Station Museum Archives).
Mayo Singh used his wealth for the benefit of Southern Vancouver Island. He provided employment, advocated for equality rights and financed various groups of delegations to Ottawa. The delegates acted as a voice for the minorities who were disenchanted with the injustices and prejudices inflicted upon them. Mayo donated to multiple community organizations. He donated to the building of new schools and temples for those of Sikhs and Japanese ancestry (Kaatza Station Museum Archives).
The Mayo Lumber Company is an early example of minority owned/operated businesses on Vancouver Island that had a long lasting influence on those living on Vancouver Island.
Kaatza Station Museum Archives- 993.29 summary by curator Barbara
“Mayo Lumber Co. 3. BC” Forest Discovery Center.
http://bcforestdiscoverycentre.com/?page_id=640 (accessed: November 10 2015).