Wednesday November 2nd 2016

History Behind Mill Lake Park

Historic Photo of the building of a boardwalk at Mill Lake

Mill Lake Park is a beautiful park with stunning views of Mount Baker from the lake’s floating boardwalk, and has a little something for everyone. It holds numerous quiet picnic areas, a fantastic water park and playground for children, plus a two kilometer path around the entire lake. Located fairly central within Abbotsford and approximately 42 hectares in size, Mill Lake Park gives locals the opportunity to surround themselves in nature, without having to leave the city. Non-motorized watercraft are even welcome to cruise the lake every day.

Mill Lake Park – The Jewel of Abbotsford

What makes Mill Lake most special though is it’s rich history – one that has contributed to the economy, health and recreation of the Abbotsford community for over a century. The first sawmill established on the lake was owned by Charles Hill-Tout, and produced 50,000 railway ties for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Yet, it wasn’t until the four Tretheway brothers, Joe, Richard Arthur, Sam and Bill, purchased the mill in 1903 and in 1912 established the Abbotsford Timber and Trading Company, that mill activity on the lake really took off. By the 1920’s, their company was one of the biggest employers in British Columbia, producing 20 million feet of boards and 15 million shingles per year. The lake was central to the mill as it was used to sort logs as they arrived by rail from the surrounding area, before being sent to quickly-growing American markets.
Historic photo of Mill Lake Cleanup1955 –  Part of the Abbotsford Lions’ Mill Lake reclamation project. Photo Credit – The Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford

The mill remained active until 1934 when the Tretheway brothers shut it down due to the Great Depression and a severe depletion of the forests in the area. Fortunately, in the 1940’s, the Abbotsford Lions Club purchased the site and with the help of the District of Matsqui, they removed the old mill equipment and brought in sand for beaches and grass for the play areas, launching the development of Mill Lake Park into what it is today.

Did you know?…

Historic photo of employee's house on mill lake1940 -Mill employee, John Mahoney’s, house on south side of lake now John Mahoney Park. Lake (back) side. Photo Credit – The Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford

1) Mill Lake was first named Bais Lake, after a pioneer farmer, then later became known as Abbotsford Lake due to its proximity to the Village of Abbotsford. Soon after, it adopted its current name due to the prominence of logging in the area.

Historic photo of women making lunch on Mill Lake1960 – Three women preparing for a picnic lunch beside Mill Lake. Shows limited development on the lakeshore in the background. Photo Credit – The Reach Museum Gallery Abbotsford

2) The Japanese lilies that float on the lake are vestiges of the mill’s history, brought to Abbotsford by homesick wives of Japanese mill workers.

Heritage photo of trestle across Mill Lake1925 – View down Abbotsford Lumber & Mining & Development Co. trestle across Mill Lake, with a large group at far end. Photo Credit – The Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford

3) A small trestle crossing the lake at the west end was for a narrow gauge train to haul the logs to the mill, and the remains of the pilings of the trestle can still be seen today.

Historic photo of Abbotsford Lumber Company Mill on Mill Lake 1920 – Abbotsford Lumber Company Mill on Mill Lake from southwest. Many logs on lake. Photo Credit – The Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford

4) Facilities around the lake included housing, lumber and shingle mills, drying kilns, shipping yards, a Japanese bath house and a general store.

5) The Abbotsford Timber and Trading Company donated building materials for Abbotsford’s first Sikh Temple in Canada. The lumber was carried by Sikh men, by hand, from the lake to the building site on South Fraser Way.

6) The Lake is full of trout and the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C. has designated the lake as a part of the “Fishing in the City” program.

7) Western Painted Turtles, an endangered species of turtle, are native to B.C. and can be found at Mill Lake.

8) The lake is home to a pair of resident Bald Eagles, who nest in a large tree in the northwest part of the park and can often be observed in the cottonwood trees along the shore of the lake.

Next time you’re looking for peace and tranquility within the city, be sure to head to Mill Lake Park. Visit Tretheway and Karitan Houses to peruse the galleries for local artists, or stop in at the Museum Office in the Carriage House (a reproduction of the original building the Tretheways used to house their vehicles and pony). It is here where you can find an interpretation of Mill Lake, as well as a brief history of the mill and its connection to the oldest extant Sikh Temple in Canada.

After your visit to Mill Lake, make sure you extend your outing with a stop at a local Abbotsford business for a coffee and some fall treats!

Visit the Home Store on Saturday October 29th to celebrate the release of the Residences’ Building II.

Explore the residences in 360