Although mining was the main industry in the area, the strong market for BC lumber meant Nanaimo’s logging industry was also booming. Up until the late 1800s however, most of the work was done by hand. But thanks to the invention of the steam-powered donkey engine, logging became a lot faster and more efficient.
These steam donkeys were high-powered winches used to pull enormous logs out of the woods, to be eventually taken to the river and shipped elsewhere. They got their name for the “donkey” engine that was used to power them, a small secondary engine found on sailing ships. Widely used in logging operations like this one pictured above from 1930, they were also used in the mining and shipping industries found in the area.
While steam donkeys are wildly outdated technology today, a few still remain across the country, remnants of an important period in Nanaimo’s unique modern day beginnings. Conveniently enough, the only rigged and operational steam donkey in Canada can be found in the Alberni Valley at the McLean Mill National Historic Site. In summers, you can visit the site for a demonstration of just how it was done in the old days! (from the Nanaimo Archives)