Copper Canyon to Kew Gardens 1958

MARCH 1958

Sixty years ago, in Copper Canyon, MacMillan Bloedel’s Chemainus Sawmill Division on Vancouver Island, British Columbia; a very long and straight log was taken down from the mountain and sent to Kew Gardens in England where it became the longest flagpole in the world. It was erected to celebrate the centenary of the Province of British Columbia and the bicentenary of the Botanical Gardens in 1959. It replaced a shorter flagpole, which had been erected in 1919 and had also come from the forests of British Columbia.

 

 

It took a lot of planning to get that tree out of the woods safely with no injury to all the men involved in this huge and somewhat dangerous undertaking. The 272-foot tree was first limbed and topped, with crew members operating a donkey and a cat working together to first lower the tree. Cables and blocks had to be attached because the tree was leaning and thus required support on the way down. The rigging and felling took three days and many people were involved in this gruelling task. My father, Harold James Smith, operated one of the loaders that got the log hoisted onto the trucks.

 

 

After the pole was yarded and loaded on to two Hayes logging trucks, it began its treacherous journey down the winding roads of the mountain and across a trestle bridge. It rested on “false bunks” made of several logs on each truck, which raised the pole high enough that it could swivel which it certainly did during this journey. These bunks and the log swivelling as it travelled can be seen in the photo gallery above. The two trucks travelled over 20 miles of winding logging roads with just 2 feet of leeway at one spot.

 

 

The two men driving those trucks needed to have remarkable coordination to work together to bring this Douglas fir pole down these narrow, one-way-only logging roads.

After the log reached the water, it was towed to Vancouver and then put aboard the 450-foot-long ocean freighter Wavecrest, bound for the Thames River and Kew Gardens.

The first mention of this event that I could find was a very small and modest piece on page 5 of the Nanaimo Daily News dated Mon, Mar 31, 1958, entitled “SMALL STICK”.

Small Stick from Copper Canyon

Small Stick from Copper Canyon

 

By the time the pole had arrived in England, the event had attracted the interest of Life Magazine and they displayed some photos and an article in the May 19, 1958 issue on page 28 under the headline “A LOOK AT THE WORLD’S WEEK”.

Here is what Life magazine had to say:

“A LONG LOG GOING A LONG WAY
Swinging out into a rocky gorge, a 275-foot log went gingerly around a British Columbia mountainside on two giant trucks and headed for England. A Douglas fir, it was a gift from British Columbia to Great Britain, will be set up in London as the world’s highest wooden flagpole.

– Life Magazine May 19, 1958

 

 

By August of 1958, the Tampa Bay Times recorded the progress on the flagpole. There was much more work to be done before the flagstaff was finally erected in Kew Gardens. It had to be barked and shaped which took several more months.

 

Tampa Bay Times 24 Aug 1958

Tampa Bay Times 24 Aug 1958

 

Once erected, the wooden pole was entered into the Guinness Book of Records in 1959 as the tallest in the world, at 225 feet in height.

Shown below is a later 2-page spread from the March 1961 issue of the BC Credit Unionist. I’ve also included a link to the full edition of the BC Credit Unionist March 1961.

BC Credit Unionist March 1961 p8 & p9

BC Credit Unionist 1 March 1961 p8 & p9

The pictures submitted to the BC Credit Unionist magazine were taken by John Ulinder who was the bull bucker at Copper Canyon at the time. He chose the tree, supervised the falling and took most of the photos shown in this post, including the one with the trucks on the trestle that also appeared in Life magazine as shown above.

 

Kew Gardens Flagpole Fallers:George Cross (left), John Ulinder (Bull Bucker) and Vic Rodman (right)

George Cross (left), John Ulinder (Bull Bucker) and Vic Rodman (right)
John Ulinder Collection

 

Kew Gardens Flagpole Newspaper Clipping from John Ulinder Collection

Kew Gardens Flagpole Newspaper Clipping
John Ulinder Collection

 

Kew Flagpole Dismantled

The 1959 flagpole would hold its position in the gardens until 2007 when it was taken down because it had endured too much damage over the years. A team of steeplejacks climbed and dismantled it. Kew Gardens decided not to erect yet another long flagpole because of environmental and preservation concerns.

My mother at the Kew Gardens Flagpole 1991

My mother at the Flagpole in 1991

Kew Gardens Flagpole 1959-2007

Kew Gardens Flagpole 1959-2007

 

Chemainus Mural

Last year a new mural, depicted the flagpole on it’s journey through Copper Canyon, was put into place in Chemainus, as reported in the Vancouver Island Daily Free Press.

 

Mural Chemainus 1958 Copper Canyon

Mural Chemainus 1958 Copper Canyon

YouTube Movie Copper Canyon 1958

 

5 Comments

  1. Lois Allen (Ulinder)

    An excellent presentation of the tree that went from Copper Canyon to Kew Gardens in 1958. My late father, John Ulinder, was the Bull Bucker at Copper Canyon at that time. He chose the tree, supervised the falling and took most of the photos that have been included. He submitted the photo that appeared in Life that you have shown plus the trucks on the trestle that appear in the presentation.
    Apparently MacMillan Bloedel donated the Chemainus Division photos to UBC Archives. Some of these photos were my father’s.
    Thank you for keeping this wonderful event alive for future generations.

    • Thanks so much for your information, Lois. I have added your father’s name and information to the post. I have always thought that this event was very interesting. My father Harold Smith (1927-1970) was also involved as one of the loaders.

      Best Wishes and Happy New Year!

      Eileen

  2. My brother in law Jack Wilson was the driver of the second truck. I remember him talking very excitedly about the trip.

    • Thanks for the information, Sharon. It was a precarious journey across the train trestle and through the mountain logging roads!

      Eileen

  3. My Husband was on The Wavecrest which brought the pole to GB. When we went to Kew in the 70s we had to see the pole. Did not realise it was gone.

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