Neighbourhood History Walk: Abbotsford’s Faces of Forestry, 1903-1935

Exploring the Mill Lake Neighbourhood through the eyes of people connected to the Abbotsford Lumber Company
Self-guided activity

Figure 1. Mill Lake Neighbourhood Memory: Lob Singh (left), one of the mill’s Sikh employees; an unidentified Japanese man (middle); and George Ziegler, one of the mill’s German employees sitting on the wagon (right). Circa 1915. The Reach P11927.


Edukit Series: Neighbourhood History Walks

There’s literally history in the streets! Abbotsford’s streets, neighbourhoods, and place names are tied to history, linking community geography to the people and events that shaped the city as we know it today. The Neighbourhood History Walks series provides interesting anecdotes and insights that make a stroll through your community a fascinating history lesson!

This Edukit: Abbotsford’s Faces of Forestry, 1903-1935

  In this edukit, discover the people who depended on the Abbotsford Lumber Company from 1903-1935. The Abbotsford Lumber Company was situated on the north shore of the lake in the City of Abbotsford now known as Mill Lake, also known as Lekw’óqwem (pronounced Le kwa kwem) to the Stό:lō Nation. Its original Halq’eméylem name describes the lake’s tendency to “dry up at times but come back again.”[1] While this lesson focuses on the settlement of Abbotsford by British, South Asian, and Japanese people, it is important to remember the living history of the Halq’eméylem name which is still a part of the lake and its neighbourhood.

While this activity is designed to appeal to the whole family, it fulfils Curricular Competencies for high school students grade 9 – 12.

PLEASE NOTE: For this activity, we recommend partnering an adult with a student from the same household that is already practicing social distancing together. When the City of Abbotsford Parks are open, members of the public are encouraged to follow current health advisories including physical distancing. For a full list of public health practices and other resources please visit the Public Health Website.

[1] “Lekw’óqwem,” in A Stó:lō-Coast Salish Historical Atlas edited by Keith Thor Carlson, Colin Duffield, Albert “Sonny” McHalsie, Leeanna Lynn Rhodes, David M. Schaepe, David A. Smith (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre; Seattle: University of Washington Press; Chilliwack: Stó:lō, 2001), 142.


This activity was designed with Placed-Based Learning in mind and also fulfills Curricular Competencies in BC’s New Curriculum for the following subjects and classes:

  • Social Studies: Social Studies 9, 10; Explorations in Social Studies 11; 20th Century World History 12, Social Justice 12, and Asian Studies 12.

To see relevant connections between this activity and BC’s New Curriculum, see downloadable PDF “Placed-Based Learning and Curricular Competencies Related to Neighbourhood History Walk: Mill Lake & Forestry.”



Through this activity participants will:

  • Acknowledge Abbotsford’s immigrant population early in the 20th century, focusing on significant people who worked for the Abbotsford Lumber Company and came from South Asian, Japanese, British, and European families.
  • Learn how the Abbotsford Lumber Company structured community life, from one woman’s perspective.
  • Identify important “Faces of Forestry” connected to specific locations around the lake that each tell a story about the relationship between the lake and the people connected to the Abbotsford Lumber Company.
    • Joseph Trethewey
    • John “Jock” Mahoney
    • Misako Sasaki and Japanese Wives of Mill Workers
    • Nand Singh Banga and Indian Mill Workers
    • Lob Singh, an unidentified Japanese man, and George Ziegler
    • Margaret Hutchison Weir
  •  Connect with local history by walking the 1.3 km Mill Lake Loop to integrate new knowledge with participants’ lived experience.


The Reach Gallery Museum acknowledges that the City of Abbotsford is located on S’olh Temexw. [pronounced: suh-oll TUMM ook]

S’olh Temexw is the unceded, ancestral shared territory of the Semá:th First Nation and Mathekwi First Nation. These two First Nations are part of the Stό:lō Nation, the People of the River. The Stό:lō people have occupied this territory for more than 10,000 years. We acknowledge their sovereignty in the territory now also known as the Fraser Valley.

For more information, check out:



Forestry | Abbotsford Lumber Company | Trethewey Family (pronounced Tre-THEW-ee) | Ethnicity | Employment opportunities





Figure 2. View of museum exhibition Voices of the Valley.


Voices of the Valley is the permanent museum exhibition at The Reach Gallery Museum that illustrates aspects of Abbotsford’s history through the use of primary source materials to reflect interconnected themes that have impacted community development. The exhibition uses primary source documents to present information about the people, events, opinions, and viewpoints that have shaped our present-day community. It reflects broad themes that have significantly impacted our community since the time of settler colonization. Interconnected themes include: First Nations, Survey and Settlement, Forestry, Brickmaking, Sumas Lake Drainage, Agriculture, Transportation and Economy. These narratives are presented through objects, photographs and oral histories that remind us that multiple factors have influenced growth and change in our community today. This activity expands primarily on the Forestry and Economy sections of the exhibition.


The lake was an important site for many people throughout history. Learning about the history of the lake and the forestry industry that sprung up around its shores teaches meaningful lessons about how Abbotsford has grown and changed because of the people from various backgrounds who worked for the Abbotsford Lumber Company.


Abbotsford Lumber Company

Partners Cook, Craig and Johnson operated a mill in the village of Abbotsford, next to the Canadian Pacific Railway line to assist with shipment of mill products. In 1903, the Trethewey family bought this mill and relocated operations to the area presently called Mill Lake.

The Tretheweys’ Abbotsford Lumber Company was located on the north shore of the lake from 1903 to 1935. The Abbotsford Lumber Company employed men to log the vast forests that covered much of the District of Matsqui*, who then hauled the logs to the lake where they were milled into lumber and shingles. These products were marketed across Canada.


*The Tretheweys owned timber rights to most of the District of Matsqui, the western section of what is now the City of Abbotsford.




Figure 3. Did you know that Abbotsford Lumber Company changed its name several times? From 1903 to 1909, the company was known as the Abbotsford Lumber Company. From 1909 to 1919, it was known as the Abbotsford Timber & Trading Company. From 1919 to 1929 it was known as the Abbotsford Lumber, Mining & Development Company. From 1929 to 1935, it returned to its original name: the Abbotsford Lumber Company. This image, taken in 1930 shows a locomotive pushing a railcar loaded with logs across Essendene Avenue at Railway Street in the village of Abbotsford. If you look closely, you can read the initials of one of the company names written on the locomotive, “A. L, M & D CO” which stand for Abbotsford Lumber, Mining & Development Company.” The Reach P5620.

Figure 4. Image shows two men working on a donkey engine near Dennison store at Harnam Singh’s sawmill on Taylor Road. While the Abbotsford Lumber Company was the largest sawmill and employer in the community at the time, and employed many Sikh workers, there were other small sawmill businesses. Most of these smaller mills had a local market: providing firewood for brick plant kilns, and small, private contracts to supply lumber or shingles locally. Small mills transported their goods using a horse and wagon rather than the railway. Photo taken in 1914. The Reach P11731.

Employment Opportunities for All

The need for employment in Abbotsford in the early 1900s and the value of finished lumber in the 1920s made Abbotsford a place of opportunity for workers of many different ethnicities. Ethnicity refers to a person or a group of people belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. Employment in Abbotsford became a great equalizer between people of different ethnicities.

The growing company attracted settlement because cleared land was offered for sale employment opportunities were abundant for loggers and as mill labourers. At the peak of its operations, the mill was the third largest forestry employer in British Columbia, and the largest employer in the local community, making the mill important to Abbotsford’s early economy.

As the mill prospered, stores, banks, and other businesses prospered. In its July 22, 1959 issue, the Abbotsford, Sumas & Matsqui News published an article about the Trethewey family businesses. The article describes the mill:

It was more than a lumber mill. It [Abbotsford Lumber Company] was the employing the bulk of the town’s working population, on whom the stores and services were dependent. The huge, sprawling buildings of the lumber mill, rows of offices, stores and other subsidiary buildings extended around the side of the lake with company houses and large boarding houses.

In 1927 the Abbotsford Lumber Company was working at peak production, producing 20 million feet of lumber and 15 to 20 million shingles annually.

Closing the Mill

Only a few years after its peak production, in the mid-1930s, local forests were becoming depleted and the economic downturn was having an impact on company revenue. The Tretheweys decided to close the mill in 1935 and began to focus on selling building materials rather than making them. Company buildings were sold intact or dismantled for the high-quality lumber they were built from. One of the earliest surviving examples of the Abbotsford Lumber Company lumber is seen in the Gur Sikh Temple on South Fraser Way, a few blocks north of Mill Lake Park.

Now that you’ve learned a bit about the significance of the Abbotsford Lumber Company as an employer to early Abbotsford residents, you’re ready to learn more about the people who lived near the lake and/or worked for the Abbotsford Lumber Company.


Before the walk (10 min)

Download the PDF “Self-guided tour for the edukit Neighbourhood History Walk: Abbotsford’s Faces of Forestry, 1903-1935.” Print out a copy for yourself or view the walking tour from the PDF on your phone. We suggest reading it before starting your walk.

On the walk (approximately 60 min)

Visit Mill Lake while practicing social distancing from others. Adults and students taking part in this activity together should be in the same household or group that is social distancing together. If you are driving to Mill Lake for this walk, we suggest parking along Ware Road near Trethewey House Heritage Site on 2313 Ware Street. The tour starts and ends on the east side of the lake and moves counterclockwise around the lake. There are six stops along this historical walking tour: 1) Trethewey House, 2) eastern playground, 3) Mill Lake Boardwalk, 4) intersection of Mill Lake walking path and Bourquin Crescent, 5) wharf, and 6) western side of lake near the former trestle bridge crossing.


If you aren’t able to actually visit Mill Lake Park to participate in a self-guided walking tour right now, use Google Maps to discover the locations. View Mill Lake and the surrounding area virtually as a way of preparing for when you can actually visit in-person. Click on this link to view Mill Lake and Park map.



  1. Imagine you are employed by the Abbotsford Lumber Company in the early 1900s. Would you have worked as a logger, cutting down and transporting massive trees in the forest? Or, would you have made a living as a mill worker, turning logs into lumber and transporting it to the railway station in Abbotsford? Why would this be your choice?
  2. Imagine you are a woman moving to Abbotsford for the first time to join your husband who works for the Abbotsford Lumber Company. What are your expectations of Abbotsford? What are your fears?


Expand your knowledge of local history by visiting two local museums! Book a tour to view the inside of Trethewey House Heritage Site and its 1920s-era artifacts from around Abbotsford. Next, visit the Sikh Heritage Museum in the downstairs level of the Gur Sikh Temple to learn more about the first Sikh pioneers to British Columbia.




If you use this free resource with your students at school / at home, we’d love to hear from you! Send an email to Diana Hiebert (Curator of Learning and Community Engagement at The Reach) at, with your comments including the number and age range of participants. This statistical information is important to us as a not-for-profit organization and will allow us to continue offering this kind of content.