Ride an old-fashioned steam train into the early 20th century. Watch the only steam-operated sawmill in Canada cut raw logs into lumber. See an astonishing array of First Nations art displayed in a unique visible storage system. Enter an old lighthouse and hear tales of heroism on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island. Learn the stories and songs of the Hupacasath people as you glide through ancient waterways in a replica canoe. These are some of the experiences that await you as you explore the rich cultural heritage of the beautiful Alberni Valley.
The Alberni Heritage Network advertises a package of “four cool attractions in one big day,” and they do mean “big.” If you’re really into history and art, or if you prefer to move at holiday pace, allow more time for The McLean Mill National Historic Site, the Alberni Pacific Railway, the Alberni Valley Museum and the Maritime Discovery Centre.
The Alberni Valley Museum, considered one of the finest community museums in British Columbia, is a good introduction to Alberni Valley history and culture, with its unique visual display method that shows an amazing number of artifacts and historic photographs from the First Nations and European cultures that have settled and share the area. A temporary exhibits area features everything from local contemporary photography to Ancient Egypt.
The Maritime Discovery Centre at the Harbour Quay is housed in an old coastal lighthouse right on the waterfront. Exhibits there tell the tales of maritime trade, industry and adventure. Organized learning activities make this a great place for kids of all ages.
A few steps away from the Harbour Quay is the 1912 CPR Train Station, where you board The Alberni Pacific Railway train pulled by a restored 1929 Baldwin ex-logging locomotive to the McLean Mill National Historic Site. The ride through the lush rainforests and over tall trestles takes about 35 minutes each way. Beware the Beaufort Gang that sometimes robs the train, particularly on the posted dates when big payroll shipments are sent to the mill! The train also stops at the Chase and Warren Winery for a tour and tasting.
The McLean Mill National Historic Site operates the only remaining steam-operated sawmill in Canada. From a viewing platform, you can watch raw logs being trimmed and cut into lumber for sale – interpretive signs on the platform explain the process. Your tour guides through the more than 30 restored buildings of the site are talented performers of The Tin Pants Theatre Troupe, costumed and in character, who tell you their stories as the tour proceeds, culminating with a musical revue about life at the Mill. There are children’s activities, a restaurant, and a gift shop.