Laura McLean, the last surviving McLean in the Alberni Valley, has passed away at the age of 92.
Laura is remembered as the woman who gave the McLean Mill to the city of Port Alberni on behalf of the McLean family. But Laura is also remembered by her family and friends as a community-oriented woman who loved the Alberni Valley.
“She was a real devoted Alberni Valley supporter,” said her youngest daughter, Cindy Havdale. “She felt very strongly that people should be supporting the community.”
Laura was one of the key people running the Attic Thrift Shop for the West Coast General Hospital Auxiliary for many years, and volunteered for a number of other organizations in town.
“She was a community-spirited lady,” added her son, Brent McLean. “She bought everything in Port Alberni. She did her charitable work, but quietly.”
Laura was born in Canoe, B.C. on September 29, 1925, and moved with her parents and sister to Port Alberni when she was a teenager.
The McLean Mill was established in 1925 by Robert Bartlett McLean, his wife Cora, and their three sons. It was a family-run operation.
When Laura married her high school sweetheart, Howard McLean—Robert’s grandson—she also had the experience of living and working at the mill site. Howard took over operation of the mill from his father Arnold until it ceased production in 1965. Howard also served as the mayor of Port Alberni after its amalgamation, from 1974 to 1977.
Laura donated McLean Mill to the city shortly after her husband’s death in 1983 because she—and her late husband—wanted to see the mill’s history preserved.
Brent further explained, “My dad died suddenly. He had already started discussions with the museum to make available the history of the mill. He wanted to give the museum access to what’s there.”
Laura was the shareholder of the company after Howard’s death, so it was passed on in her name.
Laura lived the rest of her life in Port Alberni, volunteering for various organizations and donating her time to the Attic Thrift Shop.
She passed away in her sleep in her own home on Dec. 31, 2017.
The McLean Mill was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1989, and opened to tourists in 2000. In 2011, the mill received a Parks Canada grant of $48,000 to preserve it as the last commercial steam-operated sawmill in Canada.
Although the sawmill is currently not operating due to ongoing maintenance, the mill site still offers interpretive tours of the sawmill and the JJ Logging Show in the summertime.
“There are a lot of people that have devoted volunteer time and work, all to bring tourism into the town,” said Havdale. “That was part of her objective.”
Laura’s mother-in-law, Muriel, passed away in 2008 at the age of 107, leaving Laura the last of the McLean family in the Alberni Valley.
Laura’s three children live in the Vancouver area, although they do visit the Alberni Valley often.
“We all have a real affinity to Port Alberni,” said Brent.
In lieu of flowers, her family has said that a donation to the McLean Mill would be appreciated.