An 86-year-old man is still making wood shingles on Canada’s Sunshine Coast

A long term wood shingle-maker tells his story

There’s not an ounce of quit in Bob Sidwell. Shingle crafting has been part of the 86-year-old’s life for more than seven decades and, as far as he’s concerned, there’s no horizon in view.

“I figure you can die in the rocker or you can die in the saddle,” Sidwell said. “I made my decision, and I go to bed looking forward to getting up the next day.”

Sidwell, owner of Driftwood Cedar Products near Lang Bay on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, wakes each morning and joins his grandson, Blake, in the backyard mill to churn out a few bundles of shingles. Underneath Sidwell’s gruff voice is a note of deep satisfaction in the life he’s built two ferry rides (four hours) away from the bustling city of Vancouver.

Where it all began

His interest in shingle-making started at 14 years old, growing up in the shadow of two older brothers who were packing shingles at a local mill in Ruskin, B.C.

“We nailed bands of iron around each bundle, and there was no scrap left over,” Sidwell said. He tumbled down the stairs carrying his first load to the shipping deck. Within a few years, he’d learned enough of the trade to become the packer on a traveling three-man team that hired themselves out to mills.

A sawyer handled the initial cutting of the timber, the blockman cut and trimmed shingles, and Sidwell gathered and packed bundles in iron banding. The work was familiar, but the roving lumberjack lifestyle was irresistible.

“I would meet people from all over in the camps, the conversations were always interesting and there were great competitions between the people there. I loved being part of that,” Sidwell beamed. “A lot of people don’t think of lumberjack work as a social job, but they’d be surprised.”

In 1960, he married his wife, Margaret, and supported a growing family with steady work at a local mill where travel was less demanding. Much later, he opened a mill with a longtime friend on the banks of the Fraser River near Maple Ridge, B.C., Stone Age Cedar.

“There were nights when Margaret and I were out on the banks of the river at midnight. She held a flashlight while I pulled logs — because that was when low tide hit,” Sidwell said.

Prosperous times

Before selling his stake in the business to move near Powell River in 1976, Stone Age had grown to almost two dozen employees.

Sidwell tried commercial fishing, another longtime tradition in his family, but soon sold his equipment and bought a shingle machine he and his son, Blake’s father, built into Driftwood Cedar Products. It was the first mill in Lang Bay, and Sidwell had his pick of beautiful timber to choose from.

Blake’s dad passed away after a long-term battle with multiple sclerosis, but Blake takes after his granddad. “He’s an excellent packer,” Sidwell said.

Production is far more limited than it once was. Sidwell sells the bundles he produces locally and some larger quantities through Pacific Coast Cedar Products in Maple Ridge.

Asked what keeps him going, aside from quality time with a grandson, Sidwell said he still gets a kick out of looking at a log and figuring out how to get the most finished shingles out of it.

“It’s all math and it takes full concentration, but that’s the challenge. What I enjoy is the people. Talking with the people who buy the shingles about their projects and talking with Kathy Klassen [a second-generation owner of Pacific Coast Cedar] when I have a load to take down to Maple Ridge. That’s when it feels like the lumber camps of the old days.”

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