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Bamberton book an important record of Island history

Bamberton: From Dust to Bust and Back By Maureen Alexander and Andrew S. Brown Bamberton Historical Society, 107 pp., $23. His name was Henry Kelway Gwyer Bamber.

Bamberton: From Dust to Bust and Back

By Maureen Alexander and Andrew S. Brown

Bamberton Historical Society, 107 pp., $23.

His name was Henry Kelway Gwyer Bamber. He was the managing director of the Associated Portland Cement Company of London, England, and he was sent to Vancouver Island a century ago to help the company find a way to compete with a new cement plant founded by Robert Butchart.

Until Butchart started his plant, Associated Portland had had the cement market to itself, even though the product had to be shipped halfway around the world. Local competition would simply not do.

Bamber felt the limestone veins on Saanich Inlet, directly across from Butchart's works, could support a new cement plant.

His company bought steep, forested slopes below the new Malahat Drive. There was no road access, so everything needed for the new plant and buildings had to come by water. Creating the new plant was a huge undertaking, but by the summer of 1913, the new cement plant at Bamberton was ready to go into production.

Its first life was quite short. With the start of the First World War, the building boom ended and demand for cement dropped. The Bamberton plant was closed in 1916, and did not resume operations until 1921, after Butchart took it over.

The plant survived through good times and bad, as well as ownership changes, until December 1980. Millions of dollars in improvements were needed, demand for cement had fallen, and the unionized employees went on strike for higher wages.

And ever since then, we have been waiting to see what will come of the Bamberton site.

Progress has been maddeningly slow, with many ideas being raised and discarded. We could have had everything from an automotive plant to model town to a hotel marina, but the site is a treasure and development costs are high.

There has been progress in recent years, and Bamberton is moving closer to being used for light industrial, commercial and adventure-tourism purposes. Bamberton surely will, one of these days, come back, just as the subtitle of this book promises.

Maureen Alexander and Andrew S. Brown tell the story of the townsite and the plant, from the earliest days to the most recent events. They tell of the ups and downs of the cement industry, of the people who owned and ran the cement plant, and of some of the people who worked there.

Bamberton: From Dust to Bust and Back is the first book to deal with the history of the community, and it's long overdue. It's a fascinating topic.

The book is richly illustrated with old photographs, maps and excerpts from newspaper clippings. It is not without its frustrations, however.

The idea to give all of the photographs a maroon tint probably seemed like a good one at the time, but it's distracting. A photo of the hillside below the Malahat with all of the trees in shades of red? What's the point of that?

Also, many of the photographs are not adequately identified, and clippings from the Victoria Times and Daily Colonist are too often lacking dates and credit lines. Those are important, not just for attribution, but to keep the flow of the narrative consistent.

That said, the book is still a valuable addition to the wealth of material on the history of southern Vancouver Island. As Bam-berton evolves yet again, it will become more known to locals and visitors alike. It won't be one of our hidden gems for much longer.

A book like this, which explains how Bamberton came to be, and came to reach today's development-in-waiting status, will surely help guide decisions about the future.

Dave Obee is the editor-in-chief of the Times Colonist, and author of The Library Book: A History of Service to British Columbia.

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