By Andru McCracken
A few weeks ago, Morris Turmel received a call from the Valemount village office about an outstanding balance found in the Clearwater Credit Union.
“Owen [Torgerson] phones me up and says we have some money here for the Swimming Pool Fund,” said Turmel.
“I said, ‘What’re you talking about?’ He said, ‘Well there’s $500 sitting there, and we just got a notification that the money is reserved for this community swimming pool.’”
Turmel knew all about the account, he had been a union representative way back when Valemount’s biggest mill was called the Canyon Creek Sawmill Company and that’s where the Swimming Pool Fund originated.
Canyon Creek Sawmill Company was owned by David Schine. Schine was a graduate of Yale University and originally from the United States. Before Canyon Creek, he was vice president of this family’s mill in Connecticut, City Lumber Company of Bridgeport.
It was a simpler time.
Turmel remembers resolving union grievances sitting across the table from the mill owner. Negotiations involved drinking a full glass of whiskey poured neat. No ice, no water, no mix.
Turmel wasn’t a fan, but suffered through it.
Turmel said that Schine was the best mill owner the workers knew. Schine came to the mill every couple of months and hosted lavish safety parties and gave gifts.
“He came to the crew one time and said he wanted to give to the community in which ever way he could,” said Turmel.
The mill gave money to a variety of causes under the direction of the union. It included funding for equipment for the local health clinic, for kids in sports, but, according to Turmel, Schine had set aside some money specifically for a swimming pool.
The swimming pool never materialized. Turmel said the village council thought the cost would be too much at the time it was proposed ($5 million at the time), though proponents like Turmel and Mitchell pleaded with the village to allow a referendum on the matter.
In all, Turmel guesses that Schine donated upwards of a half a million dollars to various groups in the community.
But the good times wouldn’t last.
“The mill sold and a new company took over. It was called Clearwater Forest Products and they decided they weren’t gonna have anything to do with this,” said Turmel. “So, we had a fair amount of money in the [swimming pool fund] and myself and Les Mitchell decided to donate the remaining funds to hockey and any organization that wanted it.”
The last donation they made was for the construction of the new arena for $19,000 in the 80s.
“I thought that was the end of it because we took the money out and closed the account…. There’ll be no more money coming in,” he said.
Forty years later he got a call about the remaining funds.
Turmel was pleased to be reminded of Schine and the strange way they settled disputes at the mill.
“We go up into the office with all the grievances and stuff we’d argue back and forth and call each other names sometimes but then after a couple hours he’d say, “Okay that’s enough, everything’s settled. He’d take out a bottle of whiskey, put it on the table and the glass is that high, he’d fill it right to the top. No water. No nothing. I didn’t like whiskey, but I didn’t want to offend the guy. He had his down in about three gulps,” recalled Turmel.
“He was probably the best owner we ever had of that mill.”
Schine passed away in 2013.
The times have changed in Valemount, perhaps not all for the worse. Turmel decided to give the money to Valemount’s Safe Shelter program.
“I truly believe that we need this kind of an organization. I know firsthand when I was a terrible drinker what it was like to abuse my wife when I got too drunk. So I decided this is something that needs to be done,” he said.
Turmel said he didn’t know that spousal abuse was prevalent in Valemount.
“Nobody really likes to talk about it,” he said.
Turmel said if given the chance to remake the decisions about where the money was spent, he’d likely put more towards services like Safe Shelter.