Meet the Lady of Sloughmill

MARSH LAKE Mickey Lammers opens a VIA Rail brochure and traces the route of a recent trip she took from Vancouver to Toronto.

MARSH LAKE

Mickey Lammers opens a VIA Rail brochure and traces the route of a recent trip she took from Vancouver to Toronto.

Then she starts talking about a construction project in the McRae industrial area she is overseeing with her son, Bill.

Also, there’s the trip she will make this summer to Vancouver to visit her son, Hans, a commercial airline pilot.

“Hans will be 60 soon and he’ll have to retire. I never thought I’d have a son who is retired,” she says with a laugh.

Now in her 80s, Lammers never thought about retirement when she was her son’s age.

With her partner, Gunnar Nilsson, Lammers was working hard at the sawmill the couple owned near Marsh Lake.

Nilsson and Lammers started the business in 1970. For nearly 30 years, Sloughmill, also known as “Gunnar’s sawmill,” supplied lumber and building logs in the Whitehorse area.

For Lammers, the sawmill venture was the latest in a series of new beginnings.

Maria (Mickey) Stoel was born in Arnhem, Holland, in 1923. During the Depression, the family moved to Indonesia where her father found work with Shell Oil as a finishing carpenter.

From ages six to 11, Lammers attended school in Sumatra then returned to Holland to finish her education.

Her parents remained in Indonesia where they were imprisoned during the Japanese occupation.

Lammers was working as a nurse in Arnhem when she got good news from the Red Cross: Her parents were alive and would soon return to Holland. 

In 1948, Lammers came to Canada with her husband John, and Hans, who had been born the previous year. Her second son, Bill, was born in Ontario.

In 1953, the Lammers family decided on a whim to go to the Yukon. They pulled a trailer behind their Ford pickup, arriving in Whitehorse in early May 1953.

John worked at several jobs before signing on with Canadian National Telegraphs in 1955.

During this period, Lammers developed an interest in the wild flowers that grew along the Alaska Highway.

When she saw an interesting flower, she stopped and drew a picture of it.

Her drawings appeared in her book, Wild flowers of the Yukon (1979).

In 1960 the couple paid $150 for a lot in Crestview, a new Whitehorse subdivision. Only a handful of people lived there at the time.

One of those people was Gunnar Nilsson, a Swede who had immigrated to Canada in 1953.

Nilsson had worked on the family farm in Sweden. He learned to build bridges in the Swedish army.

By 1963, Nilsson and his partner, Hector Lang, were constructing bridges at dozens of sites around the Yukon.

After their oldest son graduated from high school, Mickey and John Lammers built a tourist camp on the Yukon River. Later known as Stepping Stone, it was located on a bluff overlooking the Pelly River not far from where it joins the Yukon River.

Lammers spent long periods of time alone at the camp as business trips took her husband away from home.

Eventually he moved to Saltspring Island, where he continues to live.

In the winter of 1969/70, Lammers’ new partner, Gunnar Nilsson, located a piece of timbered land about five kilometres south of the Alaska Highway near the Yukon River Bridge.

Located at the edge of a slough, where Marsh Lake narrows and becomes the Yukon River, the area supports rich stands of spruce and balsam poplar. Alder and willow also grew in the rich, moist ground.

“Gunnar had done some sawing while he was building bridges on the Canol Road. He knew he liked it and thought he would like to operate a sawmill,” Lammers says.

That first year Nilsson, Hector Lang and Bill Lammers, cut their first logs and began clearing land for a mill site.

“In those days, you just put a saw there and started to work,” Lammers says. “We didn’t have the land but we had a timber permit.

“When we went to YTG to try to purchase the property they didn’t know where it was. The land had never been surveyed.

“Gunnar had his Cat at the site and, one day, we arrived and saw that it had been moved. Someone had used it. That’s when we decided to live here, in 1973.”

They built a small cabin, but soon discovered that they needed more room. Nilsson cut the cabin in half and extended it by building a new middle section.

Later, he moved the cabin to make way for a house, which the couple moved into in 1985.

With the purchase of a new saw in 1980, the owners of Sloughmill became the only local producers of dimensional lumber.

The operation became even more sophisticated when they purchased planers and began producing several different styles of siding and patterned tongue and groove boards for interior walls.

“There were two other sawmills operating at Marsh Lake then, but those mills did not produce finished lumber; we were the only ones,” Lammers recalls.

As the country residential subdivisions around Whitehorse grew, the demand for local lumber and building logs grew as well.

Lammers worked alongside the men in the sawmill, but she also had her own work to do. One of her least favourite jobs was stacking surveying stakes on pallets for delivery to customers.

“It was women’s work, low and very tedious, but someone had to do it,” she says.

By the early 1990s, the two-hectare mill site had grown too busy for its owners.

The mill employed up to five people and Nilsson found he was spending too much time supervising employees. He preferred to do much of the work himself.

Tired of all the interruptions and commotion, the couple moved the planers to property Lammers owned in the McCrae Industrial area, where Bill Lammers took over that part of the business.

Nilsson stopped doing his own logging — another change.

Instead, the Sloughmill owners purchased squared timbers from other sawmills and sawed boards from these.

When they weren’t producing lumber, they worked on their homestead.

They built a rental cabin near the property entrance, painted the house and garden fence, and stored vegetables from their garden under the floor of a heated chicken house.

In 1999, Nilsson’s health began to deteriorate and the owners of Sloughmill closed the business that December.

Nilsson continued doing light chores and tinkered with equipment, something he had always loved to do.

He died in January 2001, one week before his 80th birthday.

Today, Sloughmill looks different than it did in its heyday.

The huge piles of sawdust are gone. Lammers has sold the equipment, and there is no lumber stacked in the yard.

But this is still the home she prefers.

Her health is good and she is able to do most things herself.

She carries wood for the stove into the house and starts the generators when she needs electricity.

It is not an easy life for an 83-year old, but the lady of Sloughmill intends to enjoy her country home for as long as she is able.

“Our life here never was easy, Lammers says with a smile. “But at least we were doing something.”

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