Bob Heyes, left, and Doug Simmonds always look forward to the MacMillan Bloedel retirement breakfasts. See Page 8.

Chemainus sawmill retirement breakfasts stand the test of time

It’s been 20 years since the first gathering of friends and former co-workers

Guess who’s coming to breakfast?

It’ll be some of the same dedicated former employees of the MacMillan Bloedel Ltd. sawmill in Chemainus plus other recent retirees from the Chemainus sawmill during its days of different ownership getting together for the 20th year.

The M&B retirement breakfasts have remarkably stood the test of time, bringing together co-workers and longtime friends from the mill’s heyday for a gathering that’s become a highlight on the calendar for so many living throughout the region from Duncan and the south end of the Cowichan Valley through Nanaimo.

RELATED: Forestry remains a big part of the Island’s culture

It all originated from an idea that caught on with longtime mill employee Neal Burmeister, whose former wife belonged to a Cowichan Valley tourism association. Members used to work on grants together and then maintained their connection as a group after disbanding.

“When I retired in ‘99, I thought after about a year, when you work in a mill like that it’s surprising when you’re removed from your working friends and a bit of a social atmosphere that takes place,” said Burmeister.

After a year, the first Friday of each month from October to May was arranged for the breakfasts, beginning at the Mount Brenton Golf Club.

Important contact was made initially by Bob Heyes handling the phoning for the Ladysmith and Nanaimo areas, Burmeister in Chemainus and Crofton until he moved to Nanaimo and Doug Simmonds took over and Gary Grouhel for the Duncan area retirees.

“Twenty years up to now, it’s worked pretty darn great,” noted Burmeister.

The breakfasts are at the Horseshoe Bay Pub Cafe now and the next one to mark the milestone anniversary is this Friday, Feb. 7.

Heyes, 84, of Ladysmith started in the planer mill in 1953, transferred to Harmac for 17 years and then came back to work at the new mill, retiring in 1992. He was immediately on board with the breakfast idea.

“I’ve been involved with it since Day One,” he said.

Simmonds is of the younger variety of retired workers at 73. “I continued right through,” he said of his 33 years at the mill from 1973 to 2006.

“They were all pretty good years,” said Simmonds.

The first breakfast was on Feb. 4, 2000.

“Originally, it was just for the people that retired from the Chemainus sawmill,” said Heyes. “After a while, we started to take anybody.”

The breakfasts were also held at various times over the years at the former Gerry’s Diner outside Duncan and Ricky’s Restaurant in Ladysmith.

RELATED: Striking Chemainus Sawmill workers don’t expect an end any time soon

Heyes keeps meticulous statistics of each breakfast. The average numbers attending each year has fluctuated only slightly, with 29 people in 2014 and 2015, 26 in 2016, 25 in 2017, 24 in 2018 and bumping up to 30 last year.

“We find out once in a while who’s retired,” said Simmonds. “We still phone them all and let them know it’s on. You get a nucleus of fellows who go to the majority of them.”

And Phil Dobson, the most popular manager at the mill of all-time, still makes the effort to come over from Vancouver for most of them.

“He was very highly thought-of,” noted Simmonds. “He was just one of the guys. You knew how you fared against the other crews.”

“We ran with the team concept,” added Heyes.

“I couldn’t have had a better 38 years,” he summed up.

As time goes on, the significance of the breakfasts weighs heavily at times.

“We have guys that have terminal cancer that come into the breakfast and two months later, they’re dead,” noted Burmeister. “It tells you how important that once-a-month breakfast is to a lot of people.”

Just Posted

Leila Bui with her parents Tuan (left) and Kairry Nguyen. The family says they are relieved the trial process has come to close Monday morning with Tenessa Nikirk found guilty of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. (Black Press Media file photo)
Sentencing begins for distracted driver in collision that left 11-year-old Island girl in coma

Leila Bui has been in a non-responsive state since she was hit at a Saanich crosswalk in 2017

Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor has expressed concerns about the excessive freighters parked in the Salish Sea for quite some time. (Photo submitted)
MacGregor introduces bill to address freighter anchorages

Concerns about the environment, noise, pollution and safety abundant

VicPD and B.C. Conservation Officer Service teamed up to free two bucks who were entangled in a fishing net and dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them. (VicPD)
VIDEO: Victoria police, B.C. Conservation help two bucks caught in one fishing net

Bucks were also dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them

Campbell River's new hospital, July 2018
Nurse diverts opiates and falsifies records at Campbell River Hospital

Nurse facing disciplinary action for moving opiates out of the hospital

Premier-elect John Horgan, during a visit in Sidney, broadly promised improvements to transit among other issues in the riding of Saanich North and the Islands, even after voters re-elected BC Green Adam Olsen as Member of the Legislative Assembly. (Black Press Media file photo)
Premier-elect John Horgan promises to work with all MLAs and for all ridings

‘There are a whole bunch of views in the community and they need to be heard and I intend to listen.’

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

Can you spot all 12 Days of Christmas displays at the Butchart Gardens? Jen Blyth photo.
The magic of Christmas returns to the Butchart Gardens

Some events cancelled due to COVID-10 but 12 Days of Christmas will brighten the season

B.C. limits events in private homes to household, plus ‘safe six’ amid COVID-19 surge

Henry issued a public health order limiting private gatherings to one household, plus a group of ‘safe six’ only

RCMP have released more details regarding what led up to an arrest caught on video in Williams Lake Sunday, Oct. 26. (Facebook video screenshot)
Review launched after ‘high-risk, multi-jurisdictional’ chase, arrest in Williams Lake

RCMP launching a full review and code of conduct investigation

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Andrew Wilkinson stepping down as B.C. Liberal leader

Will stay on until the next party leader is chosen

Victoria police are looking for high-risk offender Douglas McPherson. (Courtesy of VicPD)
High-risk parolee with history of bank robbery believed to be in Victoria

Police ask for public’s help locating 64-year-old parolee

A modular unit is lifted into place on the supportive housing complex at 580 Dogwood Street on Oct. 22. Photo by Cleo Corbett/City of Campbell River
Campbell River’s newest supportive housing facility rises on Dogwood Street

Pre-fab modular construction means the building can go on the foundation in under five days

Nanaimo RCMP are looking for a suspect who rammed a police car to escape an arrest attempt. (File photo)
Drug trafficking suspect rams police vehicle in Nanaimo and escapes arrest

Suspect still at large after fleeing from police in Harewood on Friday afternoon

Const. Graham Walker of the Saanich Traffic Safety Unit recreates an incident involving a driver who police say attempted to film the scene of a crash while driving up Highway 17. (Saanich Police/Twitter)
Police track down driver caught filming accident scene on Pat Bay Highway

Driver issued $368 ticket, points on their licence

Most Read