On our recent family trip to BC, we were delighted to visit the Port Alberni Heritage Steam Mill, McLean Mill. A National Historic Site, the MacLean mill is the only operating steam sawmill in western Canada. As a local historian, I was delighted to see this particular historic site as it was a reflection of three convergent pasts: the local memories of all those who had lived or worked at the mill in its heyday (until the 1960s); those who resurrected the mill and are working so hard to restore it; and a national recognition of the importance of a past that goes beyond mountains and battlefields. For an overview of McLean Mill, with photographs and further information, see http://www.alberniheritage.com/mclean-mill/welcome-mclean-steam-sawmill.
And for me, seeing the steam sawmill equipment was magical. I could imagine similar equipment working on the banks of the North Saskatchewan at Prince Albert at the turn of the twentieth century, or (even better) near Sturgeon Lake, where the sawmill and nearby camps drew men (and a few women…) for years before the region was surveyed and opened for homesteading.
I would love to see Saskatchewan’s lumber mill past brought to life — from the steam mills to a steam ‘dinky’ engine that brought lumber and logs down a frozen winter ice road from Sturgeon Lake to Prince Albert, to a recreation of a lumber camp in the bush. The photographic and archival records is startling, particularly for those who have succumbed to the Saskatchewan ‘flat-treeless-prairie’ myth. Perhaps money will someday be found for the Western Development Museum to open a fifth branch in Prince Albert to showcase the province’s lumber, mining, freighting, commercial fishing and trapping past. That would, indeed, be a wonderful dream.