RBCM Archives

Fonds PR-2306 - Chemainus Sawmill fonds

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Chemainus Sawmill fonds

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  • textual record
  • cartographic material
  • technical drawing

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on the contents of the fonds.

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  • 1879-1989; predominantly 1920-1970 (Creation)
    Chemainus Sawmill

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Physical description

ca. 12.5 m of textual records and ca. 6000 technical drawings and cartographic material

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Chemainus Sawmill

Administrative history

The Chemainus sawmill, originally built in 1862 at Chemainus Bay (formerly Horseshoe Bay) on Vancouver Island, is one of the original six pre-1866 sawmill sites in British Columbia. In 1864 the mill was purchased by prominent settler Thomas George Askew and subsequently changed hands multiple times before ending up in the possession of Wisconsin lumberman John A. Humbird and his managers W. J. Macaulay and E. J. Palmer. The three formed the new Victoria Lumber and Manufacturing Company (VLM), incorporated in 1889. Investment capital was secured from American timber magnate Frederick Weyerhaeuser, with whom the Humbird family had close ties and extensive dealings in the United States. Original shareholders in the company included W. J. Macaulay (Victoria), John E. Glover, William H. Phipps and John A. Humbird. Victoria Lumber and Manufacturing was positioned to profit from the ample private timber reserves on Vancouver Island's railway belt, that the Dunsmuir-controlled Esquimalt and Nanaimo Company had begun selling in parcels. While the mill was expanded and refitted by Humbird and Palmer, the venture did not prove as lucrative as expected. After over two decades of low production and a depressions in timber prices, the mill burned down in 1923. John A. Humbird's grandson, also named John A. Humbird, oversaw the rebuilding of the Chemainus mill in 1924, modelled on Weyerhaeuser-style mills in Washington state. Weyerhaeuser provided most of the schematics for the reconstruction of the mill. The Humbird family maintained close and extensive financial dealings with the Weyerhaeusers even though the Weyerhaeusers had no meaningful investment in the Chemainus venture after 1914. The community of Chemainus was an extension of the sawmill. As Victoria Lumber and Manufacturing owned much of the land and the homes and generated much of the power for the company town, the mill was essentially an urban enterprise. Located close enough to townsites and roads so as to not require work camps, VLM cultivated a stable workforce and flourishing settlement whose fortunes were tied directly to its own. By mid-1930s, policy had begun to shift and the company began to sell off their real estate to prospective local homeowners. In 1944, the Victoria Lumber and Manufacturing Company was purchased by E. P. Taylor, who began refitting the sawmill. However, this purchase concealed the intentions of H. R. MacMillan, an ex-VLM employee that the Humbird family refused to entertain offers due to lingering hostilities between them. The scheme was finalized in 1946 when MacMillan, via the Victoria Lumber Company Limited (VLC), took control of the operation. By 1950, VLC was fully incorporated into the H. R. MacMillan Export Company as the Chemainus Lumber Division. The Victoria Lumber Company continued to build up the town of Chemainus by developing the mill's old lumber yards into subdivisions for employees, particularly for returning war veterans. By 1947 houses were not only being built on-site, but were also imported from the Bremerton naval yards in Washington State. The mill continued to operate as a successful enterprise into latter part of the 20th century when timber market instability again threw its future into doubt. In 1999 the mill passed back into Weyerhaeuser hands after Weyerhaeuser acquired the then-ailing MacMillan-Bloedel Limited, saving the sawmill yet again.

Custodial history

Records were retained on site at MacMillan Bloedel operations in Chemainus, British Columbia until 1993 when they were acquired by the Royal British Columbia Museum. In 2012 and 2013 the records were transferred to the BC Archives.

Scope and content

Fonds pertains mainly to construction and operation of the Chemainus sawmill under the management of Victoria Lumber and Manufacturing Company until 1946, Victoria Lumber Company, 1946 to1950, and subsequently by MacMillan Bloedel Limited, Chemainus Division. It includes a small quantity of records pertaining to other MacMillan Bloedel operations on Vancouver Island. The fonds documents the rebuilding of the Chemainus sawmill in 1924-1925, particularly the interactions between suppliers and the mill builders, equipment design and placement and site and townsite planning. Further, the fonds documents Chemainus sawmill history before 1924 and the technical, mill site and town changes that occurred after reconstruction. The fonds consists of four series: Sawmill reconstruction and operation: administrative, construction and operational records of the Victoria Lumber and Manufacturing Company, Victoria Lumber Company Limited and MacMillan Bloedel Limited, Chemainus Division pertaining to the Chemainus sawmill reconstruction and operation, 1920 to 1989; Legal agreements and insurance policies, 1879-1947: legal agreements generated through the establishment and management of the Chemainus sawmill between 1879 and 1947; Financial records, 1913-1973: dated files of transactions in the form of invoices, credit vouchers and journal records, as well as ledgers, generated by the companies in possession of the Chemainus sawmill between 1906 and 1973; and Plans and drawings, 1920-198-: approximately 6000 technical drawings and cartographic material.

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Alphabetical-chronological arrangements of office files were reconstructed for Series 1. A numerical arrangement was reconstructed for Series 2. Chronological arrangement was retained for Series 3.

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No futher accruals expected.

General note

Records retained in entirety under advisement .

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Accession number(s): 2012.251.1; 2012.251.2

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