Exploring The Kilby Historic Site

Stepping back in time in Harrison Mills

By Michaela Ludwig

If you’re going to spend an afternoon touring the Kilby Historic Site, you’ll be taking a step back in time and getting a glance at what life was like in Harrison Mills in the early 1900s. The museum details the lives of the Kilby family – Thomas and Eliza and their son, Acton, and his wife, Jessie.


The main structure is the Kilby General Store. The store served as the centre of the community, where residents of Harrison Mills could shop, get their mail, catch the train and share gossip.


According to the Kilby Historic Site Visitor Guide, “The rail lines in front of the general store are part of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s cross-Canada system, completed in the 1880s. While lumber mills had operated in the area since 1870, the new railway drew industry toward it. A lumber mill was built just across the tracks in 1892, then rebuilt in 1900. It was this mill, owned by the Harrison River Mills Lumber and Trading Company, that attracted the Kilby family to the area. Already experienced boarding-house keepers, they were hired to run the company boarding house in 1903. When the mill burned down a few months later, the Rat Portage Lumber Company purchased it and the boarding house and began a project of development which launched Harrison Mills into its heyday. The Rat Portage Mill Co. built much of the community and provided many jobs.”



Additionally, “The railway provided the transportation of people and goods alike to this once-remote corner of the world. The train station at Harrison River (later renamed Harrison Mills) mainly served locals and residents of nearby Chiliwack who would take a ferry across the river and here board a train westward to Vancouver or eastward to the rest of Canada.”


When another fire destroyed the Rat Portage boarding house, the Kilby family jumped on the opportunity to start their own business and the general store was officially opened on Aug. 14, 1906, by Thomas and Eliza Kilby. From medicine to farm equipment and every other household good in between, you could find it at the T. Kilby Hotel & General Store. Thomas and Eliza’s son, Acton, and his wife, Jessie, continued running the store from 1922 to 1977, with Jessie as the main proprietor while Acton’s work in the dairy industry had him travelling often to Vancouver.

The post office within the general store served the community from 1906, when Thomas became postmaster, until 1968 when Acton retired from the position. Thomas also used the office for his duties as a justice of the peace, and Acton used the office while he worked as a notary public.

The general store building also housed living quarters for the Kilby family, as well as the Manchester Hotel, which Eliza opened in 1908. Today, you’ll find items throughout the store that harken back to the building’s origins, as well as information posters that detail what life was like in the Harrison Mills area during the time, from industry and schooling to First Nations in the area.


The Kilby Historic Site also includes a barn, oil shed, store room, orchard shed, milk house, stable, chicken coop and piggery, a cottage, a log cabin, implement shed, bull ped and a tin shed, as well as an orchard playground, a tea garden, picnic tables, a small café and restrooms. When paying your entry fee in the café, you can also get a small bucket of bread to feed to the goat, sheep and other animals that live on the farm.

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