To promote the history of the Alberni Valley’s paper mill industry, a Beaver Creek cucumber farmer is offering $9,000 to help move the grinding stones monument to Victoria Quay.
Ivor Rage, owner of Rage’s Farm, which grows cucumbers for grocery stores on the Island, read an article published in the Alberni Valley Times Aug. 1 about the effort to move the monument to a more prominent location.
Currently, the 4.5-metre tower made of old mill grinding stones sits on Catalyst Paper property near the Somass River. Rage worked at Port Alberni’s paper mill -then owned by MacMillan Bloedel -from 1957 to 1967.
“I saw this piece in the paper and I had heard something about it before,” Rage said about the efforts to move the grinding stones monument. “That woke something up in me.”
The old grinding stones were shipped to Port Alberni from as far away as Scotland in 1892 to be used in the Valley’s first paper mill, which opened in 1894. Back
then, paper was made out of different materials than wood, such as ferns, rags and old rope. Operations at the present paper mill started up in 1947. Uptown business owner Charlene Patterson has been organizing efforts to move the monument to public property where it’s more visible.
“It’s a $30,000 project,” Patterson said. So far, she’s collected about $20,000 in donations and grants. The largest donation is from Catalyst Paper, which is gifting the monument itself, worth about $15,000.
Patterson said Victoria Quay is an ideal location for the grinding stones.
“It’s on high land, so the tsunami won’t get it. You can sit on the ledge of the [monument] stones and behind you can see the river curve. And behind that is Catalyst -you can see the steam come out of the Catalyst stacks. So it’s picture perfect.”
Rage realized he’d been waiting for someone to take the initiative on preserving the monument so he could join them and offer to help. He remembers seeing the old stones sitting outside the paper mill’s office building during the days he worked there in the ’50s and ’60s.
“It was a thing you looked at and it became a symbol,” said Rage. “It was a symbol that I somewhat got attached to.”
At the age of 25, Rage moved to Port Alberni in 1957 from Saskatchewan to work at the paper mill. He wanted to build up savings so he could return to the prairies and buy a farm. As life turned out, he stayed in the Alberni Valley, buying the Beaver Creek land in 1961 and leaving the mill to work as a farmer full-time in 1967.
The Norwegian immigrant had worked hard and earned a fair wage for those 10 years at the local mill. Labouring for 16 hours a day, he was earning more than $400 on his bi-weekly pay cheque -an equivalent of about $3,000 today.
“I always enjoyed the work,” he said, adding he got along with his co-workers and the management.
He also learned a number of trades that proved useful when he started his farm. “If it hadn’t been for the paper mill, I wouldn’t be here today. The paper mill gave me the stake I needed to get started farming out here.”
But his story is just one among many, Rage said. He would like to get more mill workers involved, anyone who worked at the paper mill -past and present -with a desire to preserve the memory of this industry that is so closely linked to Port Alberni’s heritage.
Anyone interested in contributing to the project can contact Charlene Patterson at 250-730-1636. Patterson said she will present her plans for moving the monument at the city council meeting today.