Westbank Museum unveils miniature mill

John Hebert, head saw filer at Gorman Bros. Lumber Ltd. in West Kelowna, demonstrates how the world
John Hebert, head saw filer at Gorman Bros. Lumber Ltd. in West Kelowna, demonstrates how the world's smallest operating sawmill works. The miniature mill is now on display at the Westbank Museum.
— image credit: Wade Paterson/Capital News

The world's smallest known operating sawmill is now on display at the Westbank Museum.

Members of the BC Saw Filers Association were on hand for the unveiling of the artifact at its new home Wednesday.

The entire mill was designed and built in the early 1960s by head saw filer Phil Quelch. It represents over 10,000 hours of work in a span of 11 years.

Bruce Doroshuk, president of the BC Saw Filers Association, said that the Westbank Museum is a great temporary home for such a historic artifact.

"This is a great part of our heritage. The logging industry and the forestry industry have been the backbone of our economy, especially in the Okanagan Valley," said Doroshuk.

"To have this on display at the Westbank Museum, we take great pride. I'm sure Phil would be proud that we're showing it to the general public so they can be educated, not only about the history, but how mills actually run."

The artifact is modeled on the jack-ladder type mill that once lined the coast of Vancouver Island, the Fraser River and the interior waterways of B.C.

Despite being a miniature model, the mill is 16 feet long; it is scaled at approximately one inch to one foot of an actual mill.

"This mini mill shows the inventiveness of Phil Quelch," said Doroshuk.

"He has a mix master motor, a can opener motor, sewing machine motors and a barbecue rotisserie motor that's used to activate and run some of the pieces of equipment."

John Hebert, head saw filer at Gorman Bros. Lumber Ltd., said that the sawmill has been stored at Gorman's mill for the last four years; however, before that it was used at BCIT for training purposes.

"We used it for educational reasons like showing our trades (students) how to line up some pieces of equipment," said Hebert.

"That was one of the things that I think Phil Quelch originally built this sawmill for: Educational reasons."

According to Dr. James Hull, an associate professor of history at UBCO, much of Canada's industrial heritage has vanished; therefore, this type of item makes for a unique exhibit.

"It offers the public a wonderful opportunity to see just what these mills were and how they worked. It puts us in touch with our past in a vivid way," said Hull.

In order to preserve the condition of the mill, live demonstrations will be rare; however, the museum is scheduling two public showings of the artifact in action Canada Day from 12 to 12:30 p.m. and from 2 to 2:30 p.m.

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