Before the arrival of Europeans, the First Nations people used the forests for the construction of their homes, canoes, tools, fuel and clothing. The western red cedar was especially useful because of its long grain and its resistance to rot. Today, the forests remain an important part of the First Nations’ economy and culture.
When James Douglas selected Victoria’s harbour as the location of the new Hudson’s Bay fort in 1843, the lumber for the fort’s initial construction was rough-sawn by hand. Building a sawmill was high on his list of priorities.
He charged Roderick Finlayson with the task of finding a location for the mill. After some exploration, Millstream Creek, which fed Esquimalt Harbour, was selected. In September 1848, the mill was completed, the first in British Columbia. In November of 1848 sufficient flow enabled the first lumber in British Columbia to be cut. Some of the boards were used to surface the floor of the HBC dairy barn in Victoria. With the fort’s requirements met, the mill then sent 4,270 board feet to San Francisco aboard the American brig Colony, her captain having deposited $7,000 in gold dust as security. A considerable number of shipments were sent to San Francisco and also to Hawaii during the next few years.
It turned out Millsteram Creek’s flow was not strong enough to power the mill in all seasons. Finlayson and the millwright Fenton went further upstream to find a water source to divert into Millstream so the mill could be used every day of the year, not just when there was heavy precipitation. It was on that expedition in September of 1848 up Rowe Stream that Finlayson and Fenton discovered what is probably now Thetis Lake. Finlayson considered linking the lake to Millstream to obtain the desired flow, but the distance between them was too great and the lake’s water level too low.
Craigflower Farm Mill
George McKenzie succeeded Fenton as HBC’s millwright. In 1853 the Millstream mill was replaced a saw and flour mill at HBC’s Craigflower Farm that was driven by a seven horsepower steam engine McKenzie had imported from Scotland.
The main branch of the family tree is British Columbia Forest Products Limited. Formed in 1946, it soon became one of the province’s largest integrated forest products companies. It was purchased in 1987 by Fletcher Challenge Limited of New Zealand and merged with BC company Crown Forest Industries. Fletcher Challenge Canada Limited was thereby established with a sharpened focus on pulp and paper.