In 1911, Sam Madill arrived from Manitoba to set up a blacksmith shop in the area of Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue in Nanaimo. Back then, Nanaimo was a 19th century Vancouver Island trading post turned coal town. Mines dotted the local landscape and coal would drive the regional economy for several more decades. In Madill’s early years in Nanaimo, coal also provided plenty of economic fuel for his burgeoning blacksmithing enterprise.
Owning a blacksmith shop in the rapidly changing early 1900s meant adaptation was a necessity for survival. Sam Madill did more than survive. He proved himself a man of foresight and ingenuity, transforming his business from a repair shop to an ever-growing, and highly reputable ming and logging equipment manufacturer.
In the 1940s, Sam Madill bought a ship factory near the old Nanaimo Arena to serve as a new manufacturing base for his equipment. He added a welding and machine shop and hired his sons Norman and Chuck to work there.
By the early 1950s, the last of Nanaimo’s coal mines had closed. Logging now drove the economy forward. The Madills witnessed these changes and were already meeting the logging industry’s growing needs for specialized, more efficient equipment. They were literally on the cutting edge of the transition. One notable Madill creation was a mobile spar tree machine in 1955 that made it easier to move logs to the loading area.
A setback came in about 1960 when the Madill plant burned down. The company relocated to Bowen Road and continued to thrive. Over the next five decades of operation, the Madills would manufacture over 4,000 machines to serve the logging industry.
In 2011, an era ended as the Nicholson Manufacturing acquired the company. However, the Madill name lives on at Nicholson’s 110,000 square foot facility, in Sidney, British Columbia. The Sidney plant continues to manufacture the Madill line of loaders and yarders.
Even though the old Nanaimo factory had sat idle for many years by 2018, many locals were saddened by the announcement of its planned demolition. They recalled the contribution Madill factory and family had made to community life for many decades. A new development was on the way– an eclectic mix of automotive dealerships, a seniors’ care facility, and office space. Its name, Madill City Centre, will help ensure the Madill contribution to the city of Nanaimo remains alive.
Those in the lumber industry fondly remember Madill’s earlier Nanaimo-built loaders, yarders, feller bunchers, delimbers, and processors. Many of those machines are still in operation after decades of hard use. Madill’s older equipment, solidly constructed and simply designed, remains in demand by those looking for robust used equipment.