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It wasn't easy being a real-life beachcomber

Picking up stray logs from the waters of British Columbia for resale to the lumber industry was a way of life immortalized by a 1970s CBC-TV series. But by 2000 beachcombers were finding it was no longer a viable living.

Log salvage business made for a durable CBC-TV series, but it was no way to make a living in 2000

Robert Clothier as Relic, left, and Bruno Gerussi as Nick Adonidas made beachcombing seem like a viable business in their series that aired on CBC-TV from 1972 to 1990. (CBC Still Photo Collection)

Picking up stray logs from the waters of British Columbia for resale to the lumber industry was a way of life immortalized by the 1970s CBC-TV series The Beachcombers.

But, as the CBC's Terry Milewski reported in March 2000, actual beachcombers were finding it was no longer a viable living.

Those stray logs were "a hazard" for boaters and the environment, said Peter Mansbridge. 

"But lately, the beachcombers say it's just not worth their while to pick them up, and they've gone to court to try to change that." 

'Not making a dime'

The British Columbia residents who salvage logs left behind by the lumber industry say they can't make a living of it in 2000. 2:52

Shirley Weishuhn was handy with an axe, an essential skill for tethering logs to the back of her boat. But skill wasn't enough.

"I'm not making a dime," she said while piloting her boat along a log-strewn shore of the Fraser River. "I love the work, but no, I'm not making any money."  

She was suing the B.C. government because, Milewski said, she was being driven out by "red tape."

Milewski learned about the "crazy economics" of beachcombing by talking to a 29-year veteran, Phil Ogden.

"There's logs all through the river right now that, if I pick them up, I would actually lose money on them," said Ogden.

He said he'd make less than $1 for a log that was floating right next to his boat.

Ogden said all that unclaimed wood could be trouble for others, especially unsuspecting recreational boaters. 

"Joe Public is going to care when he runs his $25- or $50,000 boat right up on top of one of them."

The province was in the beachcombers' sights because, they said, it was overstepping on waterways that should fall under federal jurisdiction. B.C. was requiring that they deal with a monopoly called Gulf Log Salvage.

'Deadheads lying in wait'

Veteran beachcomber Phil Ogden pushes a log away from his boat. He said he'd get less than $1 for it under the current system. (The National/CBC Archives)

The problem was, Gulf Log Salvage — a company "run by the forest industry" — refused to buy logs it couldn't resell.

And so the "worthless" logs piled up on beaches and along the edges of rivers, or became "deadheads lying in wait for boats," said Milewski.

"The forest companies, and the province, take no responsibility at all," said Karen Wristen of the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, an environmental advocacy group.

Wristen pointed out that besides posing a hazard to navigation, the logs clogged up salt marshes and compromised fish habitats.

Doug Cooper of Gulf Log Salvage said the beachcombers might find the work more lucrative if they actually combed the beaches.  

"Like any business, you have a lot of people that spend more time in the coffee shop than they do on their boat out working," he said. 

A CBC crew is seen behind the scenes while filming the CBC-TV series The Beachcombers. (CBC Still Photo Collection)