Vancouver Island history is part of a rich tapestry of stories and events that have unfolded here, creating the communities and landmarks that are so meaningful to those who live here. These features speak to the efforts undertaken during the early years of colonization, resulting in a myriad of museums and sites to visit that exhibit the pioneering spirit that formed our towns and cities. Port Alberni sits in the heart of Vancouver Island, and is home to the McLean Mill National Historic Site, a location that is a treasure that shares exhibits from the period the mill was active, and provides a learning opportunity for those who are interested. Today it is staffed by an enthusiastic group that focuses on maintaining this important link to our past. This group maintains the buildings and exhibits, including a set of steam-powered machines that seem to come from another time entirely. This is a place that isn’t easy to leave for those who love this sort of thing.
MacLean Mill was operational from 1926-1965, quickly becoming an integral part of the community of Port Alberni, providing commerce and employment for many who lived here during those times. Originally a family owned and built business, it exhibits the best of the pioneering spirit that helped to form the towns and cities on Vancouver Island during the period of colonization. You will find many historic buildings on the site, exhibiting features and items that were a daily part of the lives of those who lived here, alongside a collection of truly amazing machines. Many of these machines are still active today as the staff fires them up and displays them proudly. If you love antiques and old machinery half as much as we do prepare to spend a day here, only leaving when the site closes. You will undoubtedly want to return again, as we do.
As you walk up to the entrance to the site, various bits of machinery sit on display. These all speak to the amazing ingenuity that was exhibited during these early times, with these machines being built to solve a specific problem noted at the mill in an effort to streamline operations. These machines are far different than what you see at today’s modern farming equipment stores, often put together with various bits and pieces, some of which were designed and forged right here on the site.
It was a hot day in late summer when we visited McLean Mill. The site itself is very expansive, taking up many acres of land with features and exhibits found in every corner. Logging remains an important part of our local economy, and during these early days it was an extremely important part of commerce in the region. In 1989 McLean Mill was named as a National Historic Site, garnering it special consideration and protection to ensure this part of our history is here for many years to come.
The mill itself is still fully operational today, with demonstrations ongoing throughout the day while the site is open to the public. If you’ve never seen an active mill in operation, or seen a steam-powered machine whirring and spouting steam before, you will stand there amazed as a sense of yesteryear envelopes you. It’s something that is very difficult to describe as the experience in person is one you will not forget.
The amazing people who staff this site are full of wonderful stories. They maintain, manage and continue to build upon what is already there, resulting in new experiences and discoveries every time you visit. We were so wrapped up in the exhibits and displays on the day we visited, we didn’t even get a chance to take the 1929 Baldwin 2-8-2T, the “No.7” which pulls the train to the McLean Mill. We did see it and will feature a few photos of it in upcoming posts, so please do stay tuned for that. Check out the official “A Brief History – Port Alberni Steam Train” for all the details on the site and the train itself.
In the meantime, to wet your whistle if you’ll pardon the bad pun, please check out the brief video we compiled from our visit.
Thanks for visiting us here today as we feature this wonderful site on Vancouver Island. Stay tuned for more posts featuring the McLean Mill, and perhaps we’ll see you out there on the tracks this year. As always, we love to hear from all our visitors, so please do feel free to leave us any comments or thoughts you may have below.