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YOUR HISTORY: Coquitlam's history can be found in a caboose and a sign

Acaboose can be a beautiful thing and proof awaits in Heritage Square at the corner of Brunette Avenue and King Edward in Coquitlam.

Acaboose can be a beautiful thing and proof awaits in Heritage Square at the corner of Brunette Avenue and King Edward in Coquitlam. There, in front of Mackin House Museum, the wraps have been removed and our caboose is showing off its most recent restoration work and its bright new paint job.

The exterior has been professionally refurbished to its original splendour and the faded paints and identifiers are looking fresh again. Its picture perfect but that's not all.

Its nearby mate, the Canadian Western Lumber Company arch sign, has also had a makeover to once more display its youthful appearance to visitors. These are two important industrial artifacts in the square and make great photo settings, although their historical significance is worth considering.

The caboose dates from the 1970s - not that old in historical terms. CP Rail donated it when cabooses were deemed no longer necessary but it is a tangible reminder of the important role that the railroad played in settling the West and developing our community.

It was 1909 when the first trainload of workers arrived to take up waiting jobs in the Fraser Mills, which was owned by the Canadian Western Lumber Company. The caboose is a picturesque beauty and serves as a magnet for visitors to the square.

The Canadian Western Lumber sign has substantial local heritage importance and is closely linked to the history of the mills in Coquitlam. As far back as 1889, there was a mill on the Fraser River. It boasted a capability to produce 200,000 board feet of lumber per 10-hour shift. Millside was the name of the company town. Economic times were hard and, for a number of reasons, this mill closed in 1893 for a decade.

The mill re-opened in 1903 under a new owner, Canadian Western, and the town was renamed Fraser Mills. Tradition in those days was for a company to build a gated arch over its main roadway; the company did so in 1911, placing an "F" (for Fraser Mills) on either side.

The gate closed off the company town and mill workers and residents travelling on foot had to enter through turnstiles located on either side of the gate.

By 1913, the sawmill employed 800 men and the company town had a butcher shop, bakery, 300-bed hotel, barbershop and a bunkhouse. The replica company sign at Heritage Square is accurately located at the top of the hill, where the entrance to the former mill town had been. A turnstile is visible in one of the Museum's very old pictures. How incredulous those workers would be to know the road to work would one day be past a Canadian Tire Store or an Ikea and would cross a major highway. Mackin House Museum has some fascinating pictures of the old company town. It is mesmerizing to stand under the sign today looking down the hill and imagine what the sight would have been a hundred years ago.

The sign at Heritage Square is not an exact 1911 replica - the shape and positioning are identical but the original had more text including the designation "private throughway." Our records show that the sign changed over the years and became a little more ornate until it was removed entirely in 1923.

When King Edward was re-routed in the 1990s from the front of Mackin House to the back (creating Heritage Square), the relationship of the house and sign to the original company road became more obscure.

Heritage Square is a Coquitlam landmark of historical and cultural significance. Mackin House Museum shares the square with Place des Arts and the Canadian Railroad Historical Association. We work collaboratively to preserve, protect and promote history, arts, and culture in our community. This spring, garden enhancements will be a front and centre focus. Come for a visit - and bring your camera.

Your History is a column in which, once a month, representatives of the Tri-Cities' three heritage groups writes about local history. Jill Cook is executive director of the Coquitlam Heritage Society.