Now that the warmer days have arrived and the Sea to Sky Highway gets busier with those heading to Squamish and beyond for some summer fun, many must
gaze across Howe Sound to Anvil Island. It certainly does capture your attention as you drive north. As islands go, it's steep and impressive. Although
the third biggest island in Howe Sound, it's not serviced by BC Ferries and only a few people live there - making it a somewhat enigmatic island. But
I wonder how many realize that the island was home to a brick works in the early twentieth century.
The Report of the Minister of Mines for 1909 states that:
"It is only within recent years that there has been any general demand in British Columbia for brick and other clay products for building purposes, as in the younger days of the coast cities wood was used for most buildings, since it permitted of more rapid and economical construction, and, owing to the mildness of the climate, was amply sufficient. Of recent years, however, the growth of the cities with their more condensed population, and the necessity, within "fire limits", for at least partially fire-proof construction, has made a large demand for clay products for building purposes. The demand has probably been further increased by a feeling among the population of less temporary settlement, which calls for a more permanent class of building."
Lucky for them then that southwestern BC was rich in sites with clay deposits. Although some sites had high grade clays from the Cretaceous period that could be used for pottery or fire-brick, most were of a lower grade, deposited during the last glacial period. At the height of this period, around 15,000 years ago, an ice sheet covered all of British Columbia. It extended into the Georgia Straight. As it receded, it left behind pockets of glacial debris - from large boulders, to gravel, sand and clay. In places, the deposits were mixed together, but elsewhere, perhaps at the bottom of glacial lakes, the clays were isolated, forming the clay deposits that the industrialists of the day must have been so thrilled to find. These clays were not suitable for pottery but were just right for brick-making.
Clay works sprang up around Vancouver Island, the Fraser River and on other sites such as Gabriola and Anvil Islands. The Columbia Clay Company Ltd was operating from the southern tip of Anvil Island (at Irby Point) in 1897 and was reported to be the largest in the province by 1905. It was a sizeable deposit. In 1906 the Minister of Mines Report records that the ninety acres deposit is 100 feet thick. The operation sounds simple, yet effective.
"For a glacial clay it is very uniform in texture, being practically free from stones. A floor has been run into the bank, slightly above the level of the mixer and brick machine, so that the clay is shovelled into small cars and run by gravity a short distance to the hopper; the brick machine is of the "soft mud" type. The bricks are burned in a continuous kiln, the draught being maintained by a fan and exhausted through a dryer, in which the bricks are dried before being burnt. The kiln is only a few feet from the water, the brick being loaded direct from the kin by small cars on to scows, which are towed to market. The plant has a capcity of 30,000 per day."
The Columbia Clay Company operated until 1912, however a second works, run by the Anvil Island Brick Company, opened in 1910. They operated until 1917. After that, it is known that in 1922, the Ceramics Industries Limited made bricks on Granville Island from Anvil Island clay.
Anvil Island bricks can be easily identified. They are imprinted either with the shape of an anvil, the letters A I B C or the words Anvil Island. They are still to be found in use, so you could well see one somewhere, including here at the Museum in our landscaping.