On a quiet Saturday afternoon in November 1923, a massive and violent fire consumed the entire roof of the third Chemainus mill and the structure collapsed. In the spring of 1924, much to the relief of the townspeople, the foundations were laid for a new mill, to be known as one of the largest of its kind in the world. It was not until 1940, however, that a new whistle was installed on the roof of the fourth mill.
The central theme of this expansive triptych is that of the mill and its workers anticipating the end of a shift with the sounding of the handsomely crafted steam-operated whistle. Sombre greens and blues mark the dying light of an evening in summer.
To the left is an image of Bob Swanson, mill engineer and the inventor of the whistle, standing beside the gleaming brass and piping of the device itself. This is superimposed on a sepia-like composition of mill workers who have just completed the rebuilding of the interlocking skidder. Jack Work (with hat), inspector of the E&N Railway, gave the okay for the machine to be returned to the tracks. Swanson was responsible for the refitting, devising air controls and a second boiler for extra power.
To the right is another portrait of mill workers assembling and installing the new mill whistle in 1940, set against a sepia-like reproduction of the mill’s bull saw. During its heyday, the fourth mill was an example of efficiency and productivity, and was renowned for its size and modernity.
The whistle was retired with the mill in the early 1980s, and is now on display in the Chemainus Valley Museum.