Crowds of people watch a demonstration at McLean Mill’s steam sawmill in April 2007. AV NEWS FILE PHOTO

Alberni’s McLean Mill Society looking for a new direction

Society held a public input meeting at historic site

The McLean Mill Society is looking for a new direction.

The society (MMS), formed in 2016 to take over operation of the McLean Mill National Historic Site, underwent a change of board members in July of this year, with Bill Collette stepping down as president.

On Tuesday, Sept. 18, current board members—including acting president Sheena Falconer—held a public input meeting at McLean Mill to determine what taxpayers want from the site.

Society members heard from almost 40 members of the public during the meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 18. In a “world cafe” style setting, interested participants discussed the future of the mill. Some suggested it is a “drain” on the community and should be shut down, while others said they want to see it succeed.

Falconer said on Tuesday that she wants to hear both “the good and the bad.” The MMS will take this public input for their planning for the upcoming year.

“We want to collect all the different points of views and understand what people want from this site,” said Falconer.

The mill was “right on budget” last year, said Falconer, and the MMS expects to stay on budget for this year. They are “just shy” of $90,000 in the bank, but this will most likely be spent by the end of the year.

A large chunk of the annual budget goes towards rail operations, so the future of steam is up in the air. The steam mill has not been operating since 2016. The 1929 Baldwin Steam Locomotive (“No. 7”) was grounded after only a few trips this summer, due to a significant failure with the boiler tubes.

READ: McLean Mill’s steam engine done for the season

“Steam is a big draw,” said Falconer. “But steam is expensive.”

At a previous public input session, which drew about 20 people, Falconer said the overwhelming majority wanted to make sure that the mill’s historic site designation is honoured. Campsites and events like weddings and coporate retreats draw revenue to the mill, but they don’t exactly reflect the “history” of the site.

READ: McLean Mill society hosts weddings, events

Others echoed this sentiment on Tuesday, and suggested bringing people out to the mill with a revival of the popular Tin Pants Theatre troupe or Logger Sports. Others wanted to see “living history,” with live actors performing demonstrations in the blacksmith’s shop or serving authentic food in the cookhouse.

“People like that personal contact more than anything,” said Alberni Valley Museum manager Jamie Morton.

Ellie Hadley, who works in in marketing and communications at McLean Mill, said she doesn’t understand why it has to be one or the other. The mill was a huge draw for tourists from overseas this summer, she said, but new events like “Theme Thursdays” also helped to draw local visitors to the site.

“We were getting full houses by the end of the summer,” she said.

Falconer said the input that was provided at this meeting will be collected and reported back to the community, while the MMS will use the public’s comments to guide their planning for the next year.

“This many people took the time to come out and talk about [the mill]. It shows that people do care about this site,” said Falconer.

“There are so many stories in this little piece of land.”

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