The lakeside community of Youbou sits on the north shore of Cowichan Lake in Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley. “Kaatza” or “The Big Lake”, as Cowichan Lake is known by its native inhabitants, is over 30 km long, and one of the largest bodies of fresh water on Vancouver Island.
Formerly called Cottonwood, the name Youbou is a compound of the names of two officers of the Empire Lumber Company in 1914 – Yount, the general manager, and Bouten, the president of the company.
The Empire Lumber Company secured large blocks of timber around Caycuse and Youbou in the early 1900s, including the current Youbou town site. The E&N Railway was pushed through to Youbou in 1912, and logging commenced the following year. A small mill was built at Cottonwood, as Youbou was originally known. The Cottonwood Mill, also known as the Medina Mill, shipped its first load of sawn lumber in 1918, after delays caused by the First World War. The Canadian National Railway was extended to Cottonwood in 1925.
The Youbou Sawmill closed in January 2001, thereby ending 73 years of continuous production and sawmill history for the communities of Youbou and Lake Cowichan. This closure of the last sawmill on Cowichan Lake severely impacted the economy of the region and the livelihood of families that had been dependent on the mill for generations.
US-owned TimberWest closed the Youbou Mill in favour of exporting the raw logs to sawmills in the US. In a sweetheart backroom deal with the BC Government of the day, Clause 7 of Tree Farm Licence 46, which tied wood from TFL 46 to the TimberWest mill in Youbou, was edited out of the renewed TFL 46 contract in 1997 by ministry bureaucrats under the NDP Forests minister David Zirnhelt. The legal and contractual obligations to the Youbou community and its mill workers simply disappeared with the stroke of a pen.
Today, features of the former mill town and second-largest community on Cowichan Lake, include a public beach at Arbutus Park and extensive recreational opportunities, including swimming, canoeing, kayaking, boating, fishing, and hiking. Other communities around Cowichan Lake include Alder Bay, Caycuse, Honeymoon Bay, Mesachie Lake, and Lake Cowichan.
Location: Youbou is located on the north shore of Cowichan Lake in the Cowichan Valley, 24 miles (38 km) west of Duncan and a 25-minute drive west of the community of Lake Cowichan. Youbou is accessed via Highway 18, a 26-mile (42-km) paved highway connecting the town of Duncan on the east coast of Vancouver Island with the community of Youbou. West of Youbou the road is a gravel logging road that is graded and maintained by logging companies. The condition of the road, which leads to Nitinat Lake, Bamfield and Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park, can vary substantially, as the upkeep is determined by logging activities in the area.