Logging industry loses pioneer

Sivert Mjoen, left, and Chester Scott pose with a early logging photo of Olaf Fedje. Former employees of Fedje in the 1960s, the two were among the nearly 100 people who celebrated his life at a memorial Thursday. Fedje died July 3 at 94. - Chris Hamlyn/The News Bulletin
Sivert Mjoen, left, and Chester Scott pose with a early logging photo of Olaf Fedje. Former employees of Fedje in the 1960s, the two were among the nearly 100 people who celebrated his life at a memorial Thursday. Fedje died July 3 at 94.
— image credit: Chris Hamlyn/The News Bulletin

It’s a safe bet that when Olaf Fedje left the little town of Frontier, Sask. in the 1930s looking for work, he had never seen trees like they have in B.C.

Those trees would play a huge role in the 19-year-old's life for the next 75 years, and he would have an equally important role in the growth of the forest industry in the province.

Fedje died July 3 at 94, surrounded by the family so important to him. A memorial was held Thursday on his property on Jenkins Road, drawing close to 100 people celebrating his life.

Hard times in the Depression forced Fedje, his father and two brothers to head west and to logging – the one industry where workers were in demand.

He became a pioneer in the industry with the introduction of chainsaw.

Early saws were 63-kilogram beasts, requiring two men to haul them through the forest and hold them while another supervised the cutting.

Fedje, soon an experienced faller, was one the first loggers in the province to operate a one-man saw and was later hired by forest company Bloedel, Stewart & Welch to teach the finer points to other loggers.

“I guess he was fairly good at it and the contractors wanted him to teach the fallers so they could raise production,” said Selena Pellizzari, one of Fedje’s six grandchildren.

Fedje then got into the contracting side of the business, forming Fedje & Gunderson Falling Contractors in 1948, with Cliff Gunderson. It soon became the largest  falling contractor on the West Coast.

Sivert Mjoen, 85, worked for Fedje for 30 years off and on starting in the 1960s.

He remembers a good man who knew his business and the men looking for work.

“When contractors would come looking for fallers, if Olaf wasn’t in his office they walked out,” he said. “They only wanted to talk to him when hiring, he knew the good fallers.”

Fedje also gained a reputation for caring about the loggers.

“I later worked for MacMillan Bloedel and was the last on the seniority list and got laid off quite often,” said Mjoen. “I came home in the evening and Olaf phoned knowing I just got laid off and he had a job for me the next morning. He was always looking after people.”

Chester Scott, 81, said Fedje was a good boss and an even better talker.

“I was looking after fallers in the camp in Gold River and got fed up and told Olaf I was going to quit,” he said. “He would pat me on the back, tell me what a good guy I was and I’d go back to camp happy.”

Demanding a lot from those he hired, Fedje was also concerned about their well-being in a time when safety was not always a priority.

“It really hurt him when one of the fallers would get killed,” said Scott. “We all knew it was a dangerous job, but Olaf always took it hard.”

But life was not all work in the woods.

Attending a late 1930s social in the Fraser Valley, Fedje met Beatrice Stech and the couple were married in 1940.

They moved to Port Alberni in 1943 and Nanaimo in 1946, living in Harewood to raise two daughters.

Fedje got into sales and service with Island Chain Saws and then established Nanaimo’s Woodlands Supplies in the 1960s which still operates today as Westwood Power and Marine. He also partnered with Scott and three others to form Island Ropes and Equipment in Nanaimo.

Nephew Wayne McDougall said Fedje was not only a family man, but took care of his friends as well.

“He helped out a lot of people up and down the Island. It wasn’t just family … friends were important to him,” he said. “He set up people in business and helped bail some out.”

Pellizzari said Fedje was a fantastic person.

“He was wise, he was patient, we was an advisor, he would push us when we needed it but also stand back at let us go on our own,” she said. “He always had our back and a I think a lot of his employees would say the same. He was always behind the people who worked for him and the same held true for family life. People in general were important to him.”

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