Monday, October 11, 2010

A Walk Back In Time

Today being crisp and sunny, and full of lovely leaf-smells, I decided to stop in at Mcleans Mill on my way to town, along the back road circular route that I prefer. This is a turn-of-the-century family-owned steam-powered sawmill, which was built in 1925 and operated by the Mclean family until 1965. As I walked in, this old water trough for horses caught my eye.


A pretty leaf-scattered trail invited me in.

I included this photo to show you the culturally modified tree in the middle - First Nations people have removed some bark for use in their basketry or ceremonial headdresses. Trees that have been culturally modified are not allowed to be cut down.

Here is the cluster of tiny original buildings that people lived in when they lived and worked on site here, from 1925 until 1965. In those days, there was no road from Town - which is all of twelve kilometers away! (I zip into town and back in mere minutes.) But when this mill was built, lumber and supplies came in and out only by rail. The railway track is still here - and now this mill is a destination spot for tourists who catch the train down at the Quay on the harbour, and travel through the forest to spend a few hours seeing how wood was milled in the old days - virtually by hand.

The rear shot of the mill. During the summer months, the city staffs the mill with entertainers and with men who operate the mill itself. You can stand on a platform on the other side of this building and watch a huge log being loaded up the ramp and into the mill proper, and watch as men take it from tree to board lumber, which is shuttled out the other end. It is endlessly fascinating.

This little place looks near collapse. I love walking here when it isn't tourist season, when I am the only person around. I imagine life as it was lived not that long ago - it was simpler, it was far more modest, life was stripped down to the essentials. There was lots of  work for people, before machines began to do most of it, and profit became the only criteria.

I love the friendly tree trunks beside this little house. I especially love that, on a logging site, some of these tall fellows were left standing, for beauty and enjoyment. Unlike today, when to build a building, people raze entire sites,  leaving them bare and lifeless. To me, the trees on a property are more important than the dwellings. I hate when they are cut down. They help us breathe....and aspire!


Another dwelling. As I was checking into the history, it said the workers constructed these places for themselves to live in. At its peak, there were 35 buildings on the site, constructed by the Mclean family and the workers. There was even a small school for the children living at the mill. There was a blacksmith shop, for the horses, which likely did a lot of the brute dragging of trees in the early days. And if they needed a tool or if something broke, because they were in those days isolated, they had to forge the tool or item themselves as best they could.


The mill from the side and rear.

Some of the buildings have been repaired and shored up but the structures and equipment are mostly the originals.

I love this vista as I'm walking through the mill. It's like a walk back in time to a simpler day, a simpler way of life. With not another soul around, I own this little place and my mind explores what it must have felt like then, to live and work here. People loved and laughed here, people were hurt and suffered. People worked hard, lived their lives by the sweat of their brows and the labor of their hands and bodies. They slept at night to the sound of the wind in the trees. And, this being an island of rain forests, to the sound of the winter rains lashing the rooftops and walls  of their little cabins.

This is aptly named the Log Pond. It is where my dogs loved to plunge in for a swim, when they were well enough to walk with me here.  I was lonely, this time, without a dog along.

When the mill is running, a log is guided up this ramp and into the mill proper, and then put through the succession of hand and steam - operated machines that turn it into planked boards.

A real find! An arial shot of the mill as it was back in The Day! Likely more towards the end of its time in operation. The mill ran until 1965.
In 1925, R.B.Mclean was given timber rights to the surrounding four hundred acres, at the foot of the Beaufort Range mountains.  The railway track runs right alongside the mill, and connected with the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway down-Island. This was a vital link, as it was the only way then to get supplies in and lumber out to market. I can imagine the excitement on days when the train arrived, with wives waiting for items they had ordered and had urgent need for.

Kitsuksis Creek runs through this property and is an important migratory route for the Coho salmon, which travel this ladder during their annual journey. I love the sound of the water rushing along this channel.

This is kind of interesting. There is an explanation alongside this structure that says this is the A-frame or Dump Machine for unloading logs. It is right across from the Log Pond, and the big reclining log on the left side of the road is called the Brow Long. This big structure was used for unloading logs from the rail cars in the early days. From 1950 on, once the road was built, it unloaded lumber from trucks. There were two straps attached to the Brow Log, which passed under the load of logs and attached onto a cable on the A-frame. When the winch tightened the cable, the logs would be pulled up and over, and dumped into the log pond. This was operated by a six cylinder Chrysler motor. This was more information than I needed, but I thought someone might find it interesting!:)

The Log Pond in the sun. I love its grassy banks.

Some of the left-over old vehicles left behind on site.

A somewhat newer one! The mill was donated to the city by the Mclean family in 1984. The site has been restored by the City of Port Alberni, in conjunction with Parks Canada and the BC Government, preserved as a National Historic Site. It is ironic to think that the entertainers who are hired each summer to entertain the tourists very likely get paid more in an hour than the mill workes, risking their lives to log the old-fashioned way, probably made in a day. Yikes!

I love these old trucks which look as if they are comfortably settling right into the ground.
Bygone days upon the land......

More teetery old buildings, and a digger.

Last time I walked here, the path was lined with trees, which have mysteriously disappeared. Argh.

Sleepy lagoon.


A touch of color by the creek on my way back.

This is Robert B.Mclean back in The Day with his pretty wife. She is dressed up, considering she is living in the bush. Their lovely new house, built by R.B. and his three sons, is right behind them. His sons grew up to each run a different faction of the business.  I can't figure out which of the houses still standing is this one. I wondered if it might be the one pictured just above. Or perhaps this is one of the ones that didn't survive. It is interesting that they must have been well-off, given they owned the entire operation. Yet peoples' needs were more modest back then, and they were content to build a simple serviceable house. It was not a time of excess. I marvelled that today's day-laborers would be outraged at being asked to live in the kind of bunkhouses workers were glad to get back then. The most poorly paid hourly wage worker these days expects a far higher standard of living than was taken for granted in those not-so-long-ago days. Now excess and debt, anathema to my grandparents' generation (in their wisdom) is  the norm.

Of course any fur being is of more excitement to me than any human-constructed operation, so I had to snap these fellows, who were calmly enjoying all of the fresh new grass that the recent rains revived, after a long parched crisp brown-grass hungry summer.

This is one of the bunkhouses that housed the single men. Everyone gathered for meals and socializing at the common cookhouse. Once the road was built, in 1950, workers began "commuting" (twelve kilometers!) from town and only a few remained on site. Logs and supplies could then be moved by trucks, not only by rail. It must have made a huge difference. But the mill only operated for fifteen more years, till 1965.
Note more bunnies - they were everywhere.

Along the path out and away, after a nice little stroll into the not-so-distant past, and a simpler, truer way of life now sadly gone. This path is part of the 25-kilometer Log Train Trail that winds through the city and all the way out to the end of Beaver Creek Road. This trail has been maintained by volunteers, notably by Frank Stini, now in his 80's, who devoted years of his life to keeping the trail in good repair for the enjoyment of hikers, horseback riders, and dogs. It is a fantastic thing to be able to run your dogs off-leash along forest trails, with no traffic to worry about. You can access the trail at so many different spots, and rarely ever see another soul. It is the best thing about Port Alberni and has made it possible to be happy here away from the wilderness I so long for.

This is all second growth timber, as all of what once was here - old growth of amazing proportions - has been logged and "disappeared". But it is still pretty, and thankfully there ARE growing trees still, all along the trail.


  1. I love this line, "With not another soul around, I own this little place and my mind explores.." This is how I feel about the town wharf, back home. When no one is around, usually at night or during a snow storm, the place was mine. I would walk to it and investigate my soul and the treasures of the sea. Great post~ It is wonderful this was left as a tribute~

  2. what a wonderful peek into another time, another place!

    am curious about "culturally modified"... what does that mean?

    ... and you really have gorgeous trees... in the mossy dresses, they look more beautiful than anything in the world...

  3. Thats incredibly beautiful Sherry! (sigh)


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Thank you so much. I will be over to see you soon!