On the Alberni Steam Train my son leaned over with a grin and whispered, “Mom, do you hear that? It’s the sound of the ‘I think I can’ train. It’s real.”
My son leaned over with a grin and whispered, “Mom, do you hear that? It’s the sound of the ‘I think I can’ train. It’s real.”
He was in awe.
My ears tuned in to the clickety clack of the rails beneath us and I realized he was right. The train was talking to us. We were aboard the Port Alberni Steam Train heading up the valley to the McLean Mill National Historic Site.
Steam trains are really a world unto themselves. They have big steps, bench seats, open air windows, “all aboard”, and then the unmistakable sound of steam. It’s like nothing else. And sharing these moments with the grandparents, make the experience even better.
The kids held their tickets like they were headed to the North Pole on the Polar Express and excitedly waited for the conductor to walk through the cars and punch the tickets.
Oh who am I kidding? I was excited for the conductor.
After seeing bits of Port Alberni, the steam train slowly climbs up the valley to the old McLean Mill.
Our tickets for the Port Alberni steam train included a tour and demonstration of the sawmill. The only fully operating steam sawmill in all of Canada!
The McLean Mill operated for nearly 40 years from 1926-1965. The sawmill portion has been restored to complete working order.
Our 35 minute Port Alberni steam train ride took us to the welcome centre of the McLean Mill National Historic Site.
This is a great starting spot. Just grab a quick bite to eat at the Mill Cafe before joining the tour.
I have to warn you, though, that if you happen to pop in and grab a cup of coffee and then head to the washroom, you may miss the announcement about the guided tour. If that happens, you may think you need to rush off to the mill to see the demonstration that you think is starting any minute and thus sending your family into confusion and panic.
You may then actually run off and the stand at the mill demonstration spot wondering where everyone else is and why it’s starting late.
Instead, had you listened to the announcement, you would be enjoying a guided tour through the grounds and buildings and be able to learn all the interesting facts about this really cool place.
Yes, that is exactly what happened to Jay.
But that’s why you can be thankful you are reading this post. We will make all the mistakes for you so you can learn from us and in this case, not follow in our footsteps.
In the midst of our own family confusion, I was able to join the tour already in progress.
The kids happily toured from building to building with Nana and Papa finding stamps to mark their progress. It’s a fun way to make the mill come alive for the kids and for them to enjoy the tour.
In the end, the kid’s stamp tour was their hands-down favourite part of the McLean Mill.
As we walked the grounds, I felt a bit like time stood still. The restoration process is still happening, so several of the buildings and shelters stand exactly as they were left over 50 years ago. There are old trucks and tractors and even original wallpaper and sinks.
We walked with the tour over to the mill and behind the protective metal cage saw the steam engine of the mill. This beast of an engine causes gigantic belts to twist and turn around all kinds of mechanisms (can you tell I don’t know much about machinery?) to essentially operate a ginormous saw blade.
Logs travel up a ramp, get loaded onto a track and are cut with amazing precision.
I have always wondered how boards of all shapes and sizes are made from a single log and here at the McLean Mill National Historic Site my wonderings were all answered. In fact, the McLean Mill is the only working steam sawmill in all of Canada!
It was quite interesting and I wasn’t the only one amazed. My son stood with me, watching, asking questions and enjoying it all.
All the lumber cut here can be purchased, or better yet, you can pre-order your own cuts and get lumber from this historic mill.
After a few very quick hours at the Historic Steam Sawmill we made our way back to the Port Alberni steam train.
The clickety clack and steam “toot toot” joined us all the way back down the valley. It was a beautiful day with my family, riding a train for the first time together, learning some history and making memories.
It was a day for the books.
Port Alberni Steam Train & Historic Steam Saw Mill
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm. 1st departure is at 10am / 2nd departure is at 2:00pm
Frequently Asked Question: Can I bring my dog? Food & Drink?
Cost: Adult – $34.95 | Senior/Youth (13-18) – $26.50 | Child (5-12) – $22.00 | Baby (0-4) – Free | Family (2 Adults & 3 Child/Youth) – $89.95
Google Map Directions to the Port Alberni Steam Train
While our experience with Port Alberni Steam Train was complimentary, you can rest assured that my thoughts, opinions, and findings are my own as always. (Featured Image Photo Credit: Brian Argyle)