Historic Sawmill Site Becomes New Neighbourhood

Posted by Daniel on May 17, 2011 - 4 comments

I was intrigued to read in the Vancouver Sun this morning about a new residential district along the north shore of the Fraser River at the border of Vancouver and Burnaby. Called River District, it will eventually occupy 130 acres with thousands of residences, parks, schools, etc.

What attracted my attention was the fact that the former occupant of the site was one of the city's historic sawmills, the Canadian White Pine Mill, once part of H.R. MacMillan's lumber empire.

The first mill on the site at the southern foot of Boundary Road dates back to 1910. Owned by Seattle lumberman Julius Bloedel, it was called the Dominion Mill and it operated until the Depression. MacMillan opened his Canadian White Pine facility next door in 1926. A former chief forester for the province, MacMillan had spent the war organizing spruce production for airplane manufacture. After the war he went into the lumber business, forming an export company to sell BC wood abroad. The White Pine mill was the first belonging to what would become MacMillan Bloedel, BC's largest corporation.

In 1935, not long after the Dominion Mill ceased production, MacMillan bought and merged it with his CWP operation. Interestingly, one of the salespeople who worked at the mill in the Thirties was Bert Hoffmeister, one of Canada's most decorated soldiers during World War II and after that president and chairman of MacMillan Bloedel.

For 75 years the Canadian White Pine Mill employed hundreds of workers at the site on the Fraser. Post-war, lumber from the mill went into building thousands of homes in south Vancouver for returning soldiers and their families.

H.R. MacMillan died in 1975. In the mid-1990s the company experienced a serious downturn and in 1999 it was purchased by Washington timber giant Weyerhaeuser, marking the end of an era in the BC forest industry. Two years later Weyerhaeuser shut the Canadian White Pine operation, selling most of the equipment to a mill in New Zealand. Then in 2003 developers bought the site and began the process that will result in the new River District neighbourhood.