Donkeys and snow chutes at Summit Lake, BC

Summit Lake and a history the Summit Lake Lumber Company

  • Feb. 10, 2016 12:00 p.m.

Summit Lake is located midway between Nakusp on the Upper Arrow Lake of the Columbia River, and Rosebery on Slocan Lake,in the West Kootenay of southern British Columbia. This scenic lake is 3.5 kilometres long, and half a kilometre wide.

In 1908, when George Robinson was building the Summit Lake Lumber Company mill there, conditions were ideal for theundertaking! There was flat land for a townsite and mill. The Nakusp and Slocan Railway ran along the lakeshore. The lake itselfwould transport logs to the mill. It was expected they would cut over one hundred million feet of standing timber. A double millwas built to produce telegraph poles on one side, and ties on the other. Several innovations unique to the time were used inlogging operations at Summit Lake.

One was high lead yarding. Once a tree is cut, it must be yarded, or transported, to a central landing. High lead yarding uses thelifting power of high rigging lines to move logs. A specially chosen spar tree would be climbed by a logger, who limbed andtopped it a hazardous undertaking indeed! Then blocks and cables, to be used in moving the logs, were then attached to thespar. Power was provided by a steam donkey, a machine with straps, cables, and winches. The steam donkey would move itselfaround from place to place, as needed. High lead logging was common at the West Coast, but not inland. In the West Kootenayof those days, Summit Lake was only one of two logging shows that used the high lead system.

Once at the landing, logs still needed to be moved to the lake, where they would be towed to the mill. Initially, the loggers laiddown rails of small logs to the water. Horses pulled logs on cars with hollow wheels, which could run on the wooden rails. Thissystem had a few problems! Sometimes the loaded car got going too fast, and ran into the horses. Sometimes the cars jumpedright off the rails. This led to the laying of steel rails. Logs were then loaded onto cars with brakes, which coasted down to thewater. Horses pulled the empty cars back up the slope.

Chutes were used to carry logs down steeper mountainsides to the lake. They usually would be made of greased wood. In thewinter, Summit Lake could receive up to three metres of snow. Those early loggers used the white stuff to make a unique snow,or ice, chute for log transport. First, they tramped down a path to the water. Then, on a mild day, they would lead a horse pullinga log down the path. When the path froze, they could shoot logs down. As snow continued to fall, the walls of the chute rosehigher and higher. The heat of friction from a log sliding down would melt the chute; then it would freeze again.

The Summit Lake mill burned in March 1920. A lucrative pole business was established on the site in 1921. This business oncesent a 102-foot flagpole out, on three rail cars, on its way to England!

In 1925, a fierce forest fire burned everything at Summit Lake except for the Railway station. A road eventually went through thearea, and it subsequently became a popular picnic site and camping area. The steel rails stayed there until being torn up forscrap metal during World War II.

 

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