A historical landmark in Port Alberni will be demolished in the next couple of months. Crews from H.L. Demolition have been painstakingly dismantling the historic dry shed at Somass Mill, which was once a focal point for lumber operations in the Alberni Valley.
The shed, originally 75 feet wide and 700-feet long, was built in 1941 over two rows of train tracks to allow dry loading of lumber directly into boxcars, according to local historian Frank Holm.
Somass Mill was built in 1934 by Bloedel, Stewart and Welch.
By 1957, the warehouse and craneway were extended to 1,200 feet long. There was a canopy on one side that extended over the railroad tracks, allowing loading of boxcars under cover so the lumber didn’t get wet.
“My dad worked as a boxcar loader,” said Jan Jansma, who worked at Somass for nearly 43 years.
“It was the longest free-standing building in the Commonwealth.They could load six or eight boxcars at a time,” he said.
“When they were loading that finished stuff they had to wear special [calf hide-soled] slippers so they didn’t mark the lumber,” he recalled.
The original part of the shed was demolished in 1989 as Somass Mill underwent a redesign and upgrade to an HVAC mill.
Rail shipments of lumber and paper products ceased in the Alberni Valley in 1999, Holm said, when Canadian Pacific Railway sold the trackage. Rail America quit operating the Alberni line for good in December 2001.
The dry shed has been used for storage in the past, but not for a couple of decades, said Makenzie Laine, spokesperson for Western Forest Products, which owns Somass Mill.
Because of the building’s age, a firm specializing in asbestos removal has been hired.
“We are taking every measure to ensure we exceed the regulated safety requirements of WorkSafe BC,” Laine said. Demolition will take another month or less.
The contractor is donating the rail line and railway ties that have been salvaged from the shed to the Industrial Heritage Society.