This trappers cabin was part of the camp. (Timber Country)

Valley Voices From The Past: Logging at Bear Creek correctional facility

Timber Country is written by local author Glen Small and provides a historical telling of the logging camps in the North Thompson Valley. His father, Reg Small, came to Clearwater in 1932 and was instrumental in encouraging investment in the area. The following is an excerpt from the second edition (third printing) about the Bear Creek Corrections Camp.

The Bear Creek

Corrections Camp

In 1957 the Provincial Government and the Department of Corrections decided to build a minimum-security prison in the upper Clearwater area.

The buildings to be used were prefabricated in Kamloops and then hauled to Clearwater, 14 miles up the Park Road, to the jail site next to Fage Creek. The inmates were housed in tents while the buildings were assembled; initially five bunkhouses were erected to house twelve men each.

Added to that was a large cook house, wash and shower house, shop, office and administration buildings. All these were filled with about 60 inmates, instructed by a 14-guard staff. This was known as Bear Creek Corrections Camp.

By 1960, the camp began its forestry side: they built a little sawmill. The whole idea was to have an intersting facility to train inmates to work and to gain practical experience to better ready them to find employment after their release.

The sawmill made fence posts, timbers and planks for bridges and rough lumber to be used by forestry and government projects. No projects were to be sold to the general public. The jail had their timber supply right beside them; they also had their own cat and skidder, so they did all of their own logging and sawing.

They never tried for much production. The whole idea was to teach a safe and proper way to do basic logging and to show those interested how to perform jobs within the mill. They taught the trades of welder, saw filer, mechanic and millwright. All these trades would improve a man’s experience to attain employment on the outside.

The Bear Creek Corrections Camp supplied at a cost to the Clearwater Sno-Drifters Snowmobile Club the pre-cut buildings for snowmobile chalets. Three of them were built and even partially erected by inmates. The inmates had a great opportunity to work in many aspects of the forest industry. They worked hard and I bet they slept well too.

The inmates were a real asset to the community as they attended to other jobs as well, like clearing snow from the senior citizens housing, maintenance of parks, cutting trails, building fencing and countless other jobs.

Some of the inmates got involved in making totem poles, which became a very interesting and rewarding endeavour.

In about 1978 the Bear Creek Camp was relocated and rebuilt up by their mill, a mile or so away, leaving their old site empty near the main road. It became a convenient place for people to camp overnight when travelling up to the park.

In 2002, Jim Morgan, the senior corrections officer advised that the facility would close down on March 10. The inmates will be transferred to Kamloops or other institutions. The wise government decided to save money by closing it down, but in the end will spend far more to build new prisons to look after these minimum-security inmates than it would have if they had kept the Bear Creek facility operating.

Timber Country: History and Pictures of Logging Camps in the North Thompson Valley was written by Clearwater local Glen Small. The third printing of the book is available for purchase at Buy-Low Foods, while quantities last, along with a variety of other local authored books.