How Did Mill Bay Get Its Name?
The land in this area was thought to be barren and stony. ‘Even the squirrels were starving; as one old timer was heard to say “I saw them with stones in their paws and tears in their eyes!’ (Cowichan My Valley) Not even the most optimistic could envision future developments.
But the area had an abundant resource and that was virgin timber.
It is not known how Henry Sheppard chose the site for a mill in 1859. He may have been cruising by boat and found the stream-fed estuary or he may have made his way up the Goldsteam Trail, then being built, and followed a foot path to tidewater. In any case in the 1860s he leased a tract of land from the government on the north shore of the bay and built the first sawmill on the east coast of Vancouver Island.
He erected a flume over thousand feet up the stream that flowed into the bay to provide a flow of water to drive the wheel which operated the single circular saw on the beach. A bunkhouse and cook shack were built on the point to the east and because a ‘still’ was also located there it was named ‘Whiskey Point’.
Almost without exception setters who had pre-empted land were ready enough to accept employment in the mill and many more homesteads were established.
In 1861 the mill was purchased by Mr. William Sayward, a Yankee entrepreneur from south of the border who had followed the gold rush to Victoria in 1858. Sayward envisioned a veritable fortune because it was the only mill south of Nanaimo and the only lumber available in Victoria at that time was oak from England and redwood from California. After buying the mill he replaced the water wheel with a water turbine which increased the output and production boomed.
Henry Sayward realized his dream and became one of the lumber magnates of the Pacific Coast. The first recorded shipment was 14,000 ft. in January, 1863 on the scow ‘Hannah’, one of the very first exports of Vancouver Island lumber loaded on foreign ships in Victoria.
Only the best trees were cut by fallers using a spring board leaving a stump 6-8 feet high. The men were paid $1 for a twelve hour day. The logs were hauled to the mill on a sleigh called a ‘pig’, by oxen and horses over skid roads. The skids were greased by dipping a two-handed mop into a wooden bucket of rancid whale oil, a job sometimes given to children called ‘greasers’.
However, by 1878 the marketable timber was depleted and the mill dismantled but by then the area was known as Mill Bay.