The old Princeton Overwaitea building has been demolished. They started the Friday before Mother’s day and they took pains to save the big beams and stack them carefully to the side. Who knows how far those will survive into the future and what new history they will embody.
Overwaitea has been in Princeton since the thirties. The first store was on the corner where the drugstore now is, and it was there all through WWII. The second store was on Vermilion about where the museum is now, and that location lasted until the big new store was built on Bridge Street.
Edith Rice saw the construction of that building and she remembers some of the people who used to serve her there. Maria Sadegur worked in the new store. And Judy Robinson worked in the Vermilion store and was an employee until she retired. But it was seeing those big timbers that really brought back memories.
Edith lived at the Roany Creek Ranch with her husband Eugene Rice where they operated the E.C. Rice Logging and Sawmilling Company. Eugene passed away in 1999, but Edith is still there and the mill, under the same name, is now operated by their son Ernie Rice.
The original mill was built by Eugene in 1952. Edith says “it was more of a tie mill”, meaning for cutting railway ties. In 1965 Eugene rebuilt the mill to a larger version. He did a lot of the work himself, like the panograph, live rollers and carriage, but the log turner was built in Penticton. Custom sawing became his specialty, and that’s what Ernie still does there.
It was in 1968 before the snow when they got an order from the contractor for those huge beams that went into the Overwaitea building. The beams were 32 feet in length, the longest they could cut. Nobody else in the area could handle lumber that size. Edith remembers taking the invoice to the building site and they had already put the timbers in place. “This would have been fir, pine is not strong enough. The inspectors wouldn’t have passed it otherwise.” It is interesting to note that trees big enough to produce timbers that size would have started growing in the century before Canada’s confederation.
The Overwaitea beams came from the Roany Creek Canyon, which is where Eugene was cutting at the time. He would have bid on lumber and got forestry permission. “It was quite a process – lots of paperwork” Edith said, adding “Once we had a rail car of lumber destined for Africa – through some lumber broker. There was sure a lot of paperwork for that.”
Eugene also cut lumber for customers in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver. He always left at night so he’d be there with the order in the morning. One time he was to go down with a load of wood but the order wasn’t quite finished, so he had to phone down to say that he’d be there the next day instead. That was the night of the largest land slide in Canadian history. The famous Hope slide. Had the order been finished, he would have been right about there when the slide occurred, and the history of the Roany Creek Ranch and Sawmill would have turned out quite differently. §