The Chemainus of today was built on trees, big trees. Trees brought the European lumbermen. The lumbermen built the mills, the mills brought the people and the people filled this place called "Chemainus Valley".
But, the First Nations were here before all that. The Stsu'minus people lived along the east coast of Vancouver Island from what is now known as Kulleet Bay to the mouth of the Cowichan River.
Come to Chemainus and see the beautiful and powerful images of Chemainus’ past First Nations: Ce-who-latza, one time Chief of the Lyackson Village on Shingle Point, Valdes Island, constable of the Native Police and a Native pilot for the Royal Navy; former Chemainus Band Chief Clay-sa-luke; a Salish woman and Mary Rice.
“Hear” the words of Mary Rice as she tells Beryl Mildred Cryer of old Chemainus in “Two Houses Half-Buried in the Sand” (2007, Talon Books, Chris Arnett, editor).
Read about the murders in the European settlement of 1863 by members of the Lamachi tribe of Penelakut Island as retold by Chris Arnett in “The Terror of the Coast” (1999, Talon Books).
“Mining, fishing and forestry were the original industries that gave work to many Chinese who worked in "bull gangs" struggling to move huge lumber planks to the ships in the late 1800's, and who arrived to work on the trans Canada Railroad later.”
The industry of the area also brought the Japanese. The look of Chemainus changed as it once hosted two “China Towns” and two “Jap Towns”. Names like "Edward Shige Yoshida", “Sam Yee” and “Hong Hing” became well known. The internment of all west coast Japanese during World War II caused loss of Japanese property and household goods. once again Chemainus evolved. Only in the 1980’s did some form of closure occur for the personal losses of Chemainus’ Japanese.
For more information please visit:
Or read “O-Bon in Chimunesu” by Catherine Lang (1996, Arsenal Pulp Press).
The mills of Chemainus, and the Company Store, defined the town. Not one but five mills would sequentially reside in Chemainus, it’s footprint enlarging and shrinking as needs arose.
The fire of November 17th 1923 resulted in the third mill's destruction and the construction of largest lumber mill in the British Empire by the 1930s.