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Vision 2012: industry then

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There are obvious things that have changed in the past 100 years of sawmilling in Chemainus.

Then again, some of the past practices are still reflected in how the mill operates today.

Manager Mike Shewchuk of the current Western Forest Products mill pointed out he can only imagine what conditions were like 100 years ago by looking at the pictures in the Chemainus Valley Historical Society's museum.

But Shewchuk has a fair idea being a third generation sawmiller, remembering stories from his childhood, as both his dad and grandfather worked for MacMillan Bloedel in Port Alberni.

"The basic principles of sawmilling here at Chemainus have not changed much over the past century,'' Shewchuk indicated. "The current mill, and its predecessors, have always consumed large, high-grade logs with a focus on recovery of the highest value products as efficiently as possible.''

Today's mill naturally has the luxury of technological advances to attain those objectives, making lumber production safer and more efficient than in the past.

"The one thing we do share with the sawmills of the past is a reliance on our people,'' added Shewchuk. "Technology has certainly helped us to advance to where we are today, but the importance of people and the decisions that they make during the sawmilling process is key to our success.''

He stressed sawmills are definitely much safer places to work today than yesterday.

"We have a keen focus on safety and we provide all of our employees with a thorough safety program that has the necessary resources provided to ensure its success. Safety, in fact, is one of our key performance indicators and is measured as such. I do not believe that this would have been as prominent in the past.''

The first mill in Chemainus dates back to 1861 and many significant events occurred in the industry pertaining to the site as the years went by.

The book Water Over the Wheel by W.H. Olsen depicts some of these events.

The Victoria Lumber and Manufacturing Company was operating the mill 100 years ago and hired H.R. MacMillan as assistant manager of the company in 1916.

MacMillan had already become well known as head of B.C.'s Forest Service at the time but, of course, turned out to be a huge player in the lumber industry in later years. He spent one year in Chemainus before moving on and is but one part of a colourful history of sawmilling in the district.

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