Uncovering Burnaby: The story behind Kapoor Sawmills
This Barnet sawmill holds interesting connections to Burnaby's South Asian community
Photograph of Kapoor Sawmills in 1945. (Burnaby Village Museum,
If you take a walk through Barnet Marine Park, you’re likely to see the remnants of old sawmills in the park. For many, these bring up the memories of The Barnet Lumber Company, which ran from 1925 to 1932.
However, the mill’s history didn’t end there. In fact, it only got more interesting.
In 1938, the Barnet Lumber Company was dismantled by the city after a failure to pay taxes. It was broken up into two new properties, eastern and western.
The McColl-Frontenac Oil Company purchased the western property, and the eastern property was purchased by Kapoor Singh Siddoo, who started Kapoor Sawmills.
Siddoo was born in Kharaudi, India, in 1885, and first immigrated to the US in 1906. He arrived in San Francisco with 20 other men, and “acted as their interpreter, manager and accountant” due to his education, says Heritage Burnaby. He worked alongside them on the Southern Pacific Railway line until he immigrated to Canada in 1912.
After a short try at homesteading in northern Ontario, Siddoo was drawn to BC after a group of South Asian Canadians sent word to him that they needed an accountant and manager for a sawmill.
After over 20 years of working as a lumberman on Vancouver Island, Siddoo decided to start his own mill. In 1935, he opened the Kapoor Lumber Company at Shawnigan Lake, which eventually led him to the previous Barnet Lumber Company.
In 1938, Siddoo purchased 45 acres of the eastern section of Barnet Lumber Company under the name of Modern Sawmills Limited, through a Caucasian agent due to restrictions on non-white persons buying property.
After a few years, the name was switched to Kapoor Sawmills, and ran successfully until tragedy struck on January 14, 1947, when a devastating fire swept through the mill, which caused over $500,000 in damages.
A smaller mill was rebuilt on the grounds, and Kapoor Sawmills continued to run until 1959.
During the entirety of its operations, Kapoor Sawmills was known for employing South Asian, Asian and European workers, and was a place considered to have positive labour relations.
In the same year, Siddoo and his family opened the Kapoor Singh Siddoo Foundation, which owns and operates an out-patient hospital in the Punjab village of Aur in India.
In 1972, the Municipality of Burnaby bought the property, and it became a part of Barnet Marine Park.
Siddoo’s legacy was not only limited to the success of Kapoor Sawmill. Throughout his time in Canada, he was championed as one of the most influential men in Vancouver’s South Asian community.
He “was one of many Sikh activists who successfully argued that South Asian people should receive full citizenship including voting rights,” says Burnaby Village Museum.
Siddoo’s influence on the Punjabi community and his passion for fighting for the rights of South Asians in Canada was further explored in Jewels of the Qila.
In 1964, Siddoo passed away in India at the age of 79.
Now, you can find the remnants of the mills that were constructed in Barnet Marine Park and reflect on the history they hold.