Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society volunteer David Hooper explains the workings of the blacksmith’s shop at McLean Mill National Historic Site during a tour with loggers and foresters from Sweden on Aug. 31, 2023. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
A group of foresters from Sweden visited McLean Mill National Historic Site at the end of August, the 10th such group to visit the historic sawmill site in more than a decade.
There was a big difference for this visit, said Jan Hedberg, the Swedish forester responsible for bringing the tours to Port Alberni. This was the first year he has been to the mill site where nothing was operating. “The last time we were here was 2019, just before the (coronavirus) pandemic,” he explained. At the time the JJ Logging Crew put on a special performance of the Old-Time Logging Show, although the steam donkey wasn’t operating with steam, he said.
Hedberg has made a dozen trips to the Alberni Valley over the years, some of them on his own and some of them leading tours of visitors—about 350 people in total, staying for multiple days. In past years they have ridden the steam train and were able to see the steam mill in operation. The attraction has always been being able to experience the rich logging history of British Columbia at an authentic historic sawmill.
“We’ve been here for so many years,” Hedberg said.
Of the 40 people on the trip this year, about half of them were retired loggers, Hedberg said. “Most of them are woodland owners and foresters. We have maybe five that are more interested to travel and to see this history; are interested in forests and forestry.”
Two-thirds of Sweden is covered by forests, giving the Scandinavian country the reputation of being the most forested country in the European Union.
“In Sweden, 50 percent of forest land is owned by small family forests. We are 320,000 forest owners in the whole of Sweden,” he said. “I think you are about 600 or something in B.C., so it’s a big difference. You have a lot of Crown land.”
Hedberg himself is a small woodland owner, and also on the board of the 28,000-strong forest owners association in Sweden, he said. “It’s a very strong culture with family forests.”
Hedberg said logging practices differ widely between countries. Sweden is known for its mono-culture tree crops, or the planting of a single species in a given space. He said tour participants did see some similar operations in B.C.’s Interior on their tour this year.
This particular group flew into Calgary and drove via tour bus through Banff, Jasper, Prince George, Vanderhoof, Prince Rupert and took the ferry across to Vancouver Island. Their tour was 16 days in total, and Port Alberni was their second-last stop before flying home from Vancouver.