Frank Flynn visits his former cabin on Hollyburn Ridge in 1996
"Many A Notch In Time"
Frank Flynn’s keen recounting of his years on Hollyburn Ridge during the 1930s and 1940s reveals an intriguing store of ready facts, anecdotes and nostalgic reflection. British born in 1915, Frank immigrated to Eastern Canada with his parents and a brother before moving on to coastal British Columbia where he spent his formative years. Frank’s home was on the city side of Vancouver’s West End, in the vicinity of Burrard and Davie, an address then located in this bourgeoning city’s mostly residential district. Frank grew up within a stone’s throw of the still extant edifice housing St. Paul’s Hospital, one of several modern buildings recently erected in downtown Vancouver. His residence was also close to King George High, where he later attended school as a teenager. With metropolitan Vancouver’s population then numbering perhaps 150,000 residents, with barely “one car per block” as Frank recalls, this west coast port was worlds apart from the cosmopolitan centre it has since become. (PHOTO_01)
As a youngster, Frank watched from his house as the milkman, fishmonger and a supplier of ice blocks guided horse-drawn wagons along city streets and down back lanes delivering their goods. Typically, much of his youth was spent cycling around local side streets, or going to the beach at English Bay, ofttimes with Bernard, his older sibling by six years. Frank describes his father as an impeccable gent usually dressed in formal business attire of the sort a respectable chartered accountant of the time would have been expected to wear. Among other enterprises, Mr. Flynn senior was engaged by the Connaught Ship Yards in the trusted position of Paymaster. With the Panama Canal’s opening in 1914, goods shipped by sea could henceforth reach Europe in record times, thus sparking a commercial resurgence in Vancouver. Having arrived here at a propitious period, men like Flynn senior were beneficiaries of an impending ‘boom’.
Though primarily a homemaker, Mrs. Flynn strongly influenced the boys’ upbringing. Having often hiked in England, once this enthusiastic young woman beheld the bountiful natural wonders of Western Canada; it apparently revived in her a renewed fondness for the outdoor life. According to her younger son, she especially enjoyed camping near the beach at White Rock, an activity Frank also took to heart. For reasons not entirely clear now - perhaps a newspaper advertisement or word of mouth aroused her curiosity - Frank’s mother took him with her on a hike up Hollyburn Ridge in 1927, when he was 12 years old. Adding authenticity to this adventure, he was allowed to bunk overnight at Hollyburn Ski Camp’s newly-opened lodge located adjacent to a small body of water known as First Lake. Accommodations were spartan but comfortable, provided to him and others for the grand sum of fifty cents per night. Drawn by the lure of these sylvan scenes and stirred by a primal human desire for treading feral ground, this memorable experience imparted to Frank a love of roughing it in the woods. (PHOTOs 02 & 03)
During subsequent visits to First Lake, Frank encountered Oscar Pearson and Andrew Irving, individuals with whom he later became acquainted. Along with Rudolph Verne, the original owner, and Olle Anderson, these two expatriate Swedish men founded Hollyburn Ski Camp in January 1927. (PHOTO_05) In those early days, the lodge provided both men and women with separate sleeping quarters for any itinerant locals intending to overnight on The Ridge. All the ladies slept upstairs in a part of the attic adjacent to an area where skiis were stored during the off-season. The men’s sleeping area was located on the main floor’s south end. Frank says it featured a wide ‘shelf’ covered with a layer of evergreen boughs which one assumes was meant to provide additional comfort while scenting funky air with an outdoor aroma. Here, gents spent the night wrapped in blankets or zipped up in sleeping bags. (PHOTO_04) By the mid-1930’s, no public accommodation was available inside the main lodge. Instead, visitors stayed in one of the eighteen rental cabins built by the Swedes. The former dormitory space in the attic was used to store skis. The gents’ dorm was later converted to a snack bar after First Lake’s Hollyburn Ski Camp was acquired by the Burfield family who renamed it Hollyburn Ski Lodge in keeping with its year-round operations. About 1990, Cypress Bowl Recreations Ltd. changed the name to Hollyburn Lodge. (PHOTO_06)
After numerous overnight stays at the ski camp, some older fellows wondered aloud why Frank didn’t build a cabin of his own since he seemed to enjoy knocking about in the woods so much. That did it.
Four years after Frank first set foot on Hollyburn Ridge, then just shy of his sixteenth birthday, he and his pal Harold Ward reasoned it was a good time to establish their own permanent habitation on the mountain. As Frank tells it, his ‘buddy’ was raised on a farm some 45 miles ‘as the crow flies’ up the Fraser River near Mission, but had since moved to a home in the Flynn’s neighbourhood where his grounds-keeper father built a house. Since Harold often sold eggs door to door, he was known to Frank. The two lads subsequently became firm friends based on mutual interests. Until Harold got married in 1938, being on The Ridge remained an important part of his life.
Having approached newly-appointed Hollyburn ranger “Scotty” Finlayson seeking a cabin-building permit, at first this relatively more experienced woodsman expressed doubts whether Frank and Harold were mature enough to take on such a grown-up task. (PHOTO_07) Nonetheless, being strong, reliable go-getters, they convinced him otherwise. Thus, with their yearly $10 permit in hand, off the lads went, eager to claim their cabin site on an out-of-the-way patch midst the timbered heights of Hollyburn. Now, these woodlands may not have been set in some remote mountain hinterland, but they were far enough away from ‘civilization’ to provide plenty of free rein for two young lads bent on adventure. Since the total number of cabins on Hollyburn Mountain had yet to reach an apex, their chosen site was located in a prime spot, being just a short walk down the Main Trail from Hollyburn Ski Camp, then a few minutes jaunt westwards through the woods. Too young and inexperienced to fully comprehend what they were in for, Frank and Harold busily went about the preliminaries of building their log cabin. Neither boy knew it then, but they were among a cohort of cabineers at the forefront of this ridge-top community: an up-and-coming clan of free-spirited folks who eventually populated Hollyburn with some 300 woodland abodes.
Notwithstanding its relative proximity to North Shore neighbourhoods, building a hideaway beyond city outskirts presented certain drawbacks. Unlike today’s easy access, going to and fro between downtown Vancouver and nearby mountains during the early 1930s meant considerable preparation and travelling time. In order to reach the village at Ambleside, located across the salt chuck separating Vancouver from the North Shore (today’s North and West Vancouver), most pedestrians heading for Hollyburn Ridge first had to catch a passenger ferry from Vancouver’s waterfront on Burrard Inlet, then ride through the First Narrows’ swirling riptides roiling past the rocky base of Prospect Point. As fortune would have it, from that prominent headland some eight years later, the Lions Gate Bridge would dramatically reach out to span this narrow entrance to the city’s inner harbour, relegating stout little ferries like the ones Frank and Harold rode to lesser duties. (PHOTO_08) But in the meantime, a seaborne trip routinely took them from Vancouver’s harbour to West Vancouver’s ferry terminal located adjacent to a jetty at the foot of 14th Street. (PHOTO_09) Since preserved, the original terminal building is little-changed from when first built circa 1912. (PHOTO_10) This heritage structure presently functions as an intimate community art gallery.(PHOTO_11)
According to Frank, once off the ferry at Ambleside, the boys hoofed it through a residential area to 22nd Street (PHOTO_12), and then proceeded by what was then a well-used trail, eventually ascending some 3000 feet to reach Hollyburn Ridge. On other occasions, they caught the “Upper Levels Bus”, which likely went up somewhere in the vicinity of 22nd Street and Mathers Avenue, saving a certain amount of time and effort on their part.
Having just “picked a spot” for their cabin, the hard part of their venture began. First on the agenda was clearing out a bunch of very tenacious blueberry bushes occupying the site. Right off the bat, this cabin-building project presented the usual obstacles, inclement weather being the least of them. Hollyburn’s ranger advised Frank and Harold they’d be required to source trees wherever they could find them. As Frank points out, this meant scouring the area for an ample supply of usable evergreens. Whereas many permitees in other areas of the mountain had easy access to ideal stands of timber near their sites due to variable features of the landscape, i.e. drainage, aspect, and so forth, most trees around the site the boys had chosen weren’t suitable for cabin-building, being quite “stubby, with branches right down to the bottom of the trunk”. Additionally, having been instructed by the ranger not to cut down trees with a base measuring more than 12 inches at the butt, this restriction meant going even further afield for an adequate supply. On the other hand, it also implied those trees felled - given their modest girth - would be easier to handle for a couple of growing lads who’d never built a cabin before. Despite being hampered by a time-consuming search, early 1931 saw Frank and Harold felling trees and laboriously hauling logs back to their site. (PHOTO_13) Pretty well all the logs used to build their cabin were “tediously skidded in by hand” using axes and a rope. Given their modest diameter, at least they were manageable. Anything bigger and they would have needed more help, manual or otherwise, as many locals with more ambitious schemes were obliged to rely on. (PHOTO_14)
By May-June of 1931, the boys had two rounds of logs in place. (PHOTO_15) The cabin they’d imagined was now beginning to take shape. All in all, it was back-breaking work, but the hardihood of youth nonetheless prevailed. As their project progressed, the two “Night Owls”, as they dubbed themselves, were quickly learning the ropes. Unlike their city confreres who contented themselves with more conventional pursuits, the endeavour these ambitious young fellows had embarked upon demonstrably set them apart. Committing to this strenuous enterprise meant the stakes were much higher, since the mountain was no place for anyone who wouldn’t persevere.
Having readied themselves as best they could for whatever challenges lay ahead, Frank and Harold had unknowingly commenced a unique journey of learning and self-discovery. Back on the mountain, they got right down to the job at hand. As for tools, they started off with “a large, double-bitted axe, a tape and level”. Later, a borrowed 9-foot felling saw made their work a mite easier. Added to that meagre equipage were a sharp “3-inch chisel” and “a boring tool”. This latter implement, an auger, was required for making vertical holes to set 3/4 inch wooden pegs or “pins” in, the traditional means of keeping logs in place and walls aligned. Since not all logs were prepared for use in early spring when tree sap was running freely, peeling bark off became pretty monotonous at times. As it was, stripping scabrous skin from each tree trunk, along with knobby knurs and knots to expose the smooth cambium underneath, tended to leave each labourer besmeared with grime and residual sap.
Most peeling was done with a draw-knife which meant hours of tiresome effort. As for notching the corners, about one foot in from each log end, the lads cut a ‘dovetail’ variant; “a complicated joint” as Frank was quick to recall. Like so many of its kind on the mountain, specific details of their cabin’s configuration remained largely in the builders’ heads, hence this modest structure developed more or less organically. Since the whole project was only theoretically prefigured in their minds, the lads constantly had to harness spur-of-the-moment thoughts as best they could. Hence, the so-called ‘tried and true’ was really an ongoing process, often encompassing false starts and fluky outcomes. Or, as Frank puts it, their project advanced: “by guess and by golly”.
Like most of their peers, Frank, or “Paddy” as he was known up the mountain, valued the friendship of neighbours like Frank James (son of a local ferry boat captain) and another guy named Jack Smith, who invited them to stay at their place during much of the time the boys’ cabin was going up. These older men also lent them some of their other tools when needed. Because most logs Frank and Harold notched in place were noticeably tapered, this circumstance necessitated alternating ends to keep walls level. For month after month, under brooding cloud, blazing sun, dreary rain and pelting snow, the cabin gradually gained dimension. And just as sure as the rounds of logs went higher and higher, inscribed as it were with each builder’s signature, Frank and Harold’s grown-up labours ushered in the onset of manhood.
As for earning money to pay for those occasional out-of-pocket expenses required of cabin-building, an enterprising young Frank found several ways of making ends meet. He hauled bulky sacks of itchy sawdust used as fuel in home furnaces, acquired a paper route and otherwise engaged in odd jobs. He often packed goods up the mountain for money - at 3 cents per pound no less! In time, he constructed wood and canvas pack-boards of his own design, even using some war-surplus aluminum to gain strength and lose a measure of weight. He still remembers straining under loads weighing in at just over 100 lbs. With help from an acquaintance, one of these outsize loads involved a piano destined for some Ski Club cabins. On another occasion, Frank and a fellow cabin owner, Jim Harman, packed a heavy oak table up The Ridge during a torrential rainstorm. In those days, exhausting physical toil was simply taken for granted. Consequently, a hard-working lad needed plenty of grub, and although Frank fancied himself a pretty fair cook while up at his cabin, he admits subsisting on ‘bacon and beans’ for many a meal. Sometimes there was a taste of fresh home-cooking when bread was purchased from a local fireman’s wife who occupied a nearby cabin; welcome fare for youngsters with voracious appetites engaged in heaving logs around.
Even though logs acquired for their cabin weren’t huge, as each wall attained stature, it was all the lads could do to hoist them one by one in place using ropes, (called parbuckling), as a rudimentary ‘mechanical advantage’. Log-raising could be hair-raising when there were only four hands to grapple objects as ungainly as logs. (PHOTO_16) According to Frank, being counterpoised against some stubborn timber required plain old “brute force” to get the job done. Hence, no outcome was more welcome than when each lad heard the clonk of one log upon another or determined some measurement was dead on. (PHOTO_17) However, not every stage went smoothly. In that vein, a story still fixed in Frank’s mind concerns completion of the gable ends. Although unnerving at the time, afterwards, this incident gave the boys a “good laugh”.
Having laid and pinned each succeeding log to erect gables, they commenced cutting the staggered log ends on an even angle of 45 degrees to reflect the actual roof pitch. Without thinking it through, they started sawing away. By so doing, some ‘pegs’ securing the gables unintentionally got cut off, meaning the stacked logs became unstable. When it finally dawned on the boys, they hurriedly drove spikes in place, thereby precluding a potential disaster. “We had very good luck,” admits Frank, who says, “the ends could have simply toppled over, and there would have been nothing we could have done about it”.
Raising the ridgepole was “a real killer” says Frank, yet getting it up and in place was just a matter of purposeful exertion. By this point, the lads were primed to protect the cabin’s topside with hand-split shakes. The roof itself consisted of the aforementioned ridgepole connecting each gable end.(PHOTO_18) In addition, horizontal purlins (akin to rafters but parallel to the ridgepole) were variously centred at something like 40, 30 and 25 inches respectively, necessitating the cutting and overlapping of shakes, offset to allow for variance in spread. Shingling the roof meant the last strenuous stage of their project was on the verge of completion.
Given its availability, the tree species chosen for roofing material corresponded to the cabin logs; a balsam fir selected by their neighbour, Gus, who picked out what he considered a suitable specimen for that purpose. Once felled, the lads cut rounds split in four from which shakes were rived. For this job, Frank seems to remember borrowing a ‘shake knife’ and acquiring a ‘froe’: a handmade club. Being tougher and more tightly grained than the much-favoured red cedar - prime examples of which grew some ways down the mountain - splitting balsam using traditional hand tools required appreciably more time and hard pounding. After roofing their cabin with, “three rows of shakes applied in double-roof style”, those shakes left over were utilized to skirt the cabin’s ground-works (crawl space) as a means of fending off rain or snow from the structure’s base logs and underside. (PHOTO_19)
By this time, Frank and his pal had amassed enough knowledge and technique to assure their cabin’s future viability. This meant taking pains to protect each log they’d expended so much effort acquiring. Frank says their abode’s exterior was “well-preserved”, the boys having applied “boiled linseed oil tinted with burnt umber ochre” to exposed surfaces. Similarly, inside walls were “bleached with oxalic acid, and then varnished”. As a stopgap measure, moss was used to chink between the logs. At a later date, these crannies were permanently caulked with oakum. Finally, to ensure each of the building’s four exposed log corners didn’t rot, they “painted the butt ends white”. (PHOTO_20)
When eventually completed, the cabin stood 16 feet high from the porch to the peak; its length and breadth being 12 feet by 16 feet augmented by a 6-foot covered porch. At that juncture, it seemed like as good a time as any for these young fellows to stand back and admire their handiwork; the culmination of two years’ travail. During the time they’d spent labouring on Hollyburn, Frank and Harold discovered cabin-building could be a temperamental taskmaster, yet youthful exuberance enabled them to take disappointment and setbacks in stride, attesting to each lad’s tenacity and spunk. All told, Frank figures the two lads made use of roughly 60 logs to complete their woodland abode. (PHOTOs_21, 22, 23)
Having advanced to a final stage, their hut needed some finishing touches, a few sticks of furniture and other essentials. That meant there was still more grunt-work in the offing before they could truly proclaim their cabin was both resistant to the elements and ready to occupy as a habitable dwelling place. Firstly, a door and windows were needed. As for windows, “that was a joke”, says Frank. After cutting holes for them, the boys went shopping for something suitable to fill the gaps they’d made, only to discover no one had ready-made windows that size. So they ended up going to a casket-maker who obligingly constructed frames to fit the openings the duo had arbitrarily sawn. A neighbourhood man Frank knew who was handy with tools cut panes of glass to fit the window frames. With their subsequent installation, the cabin was finally closed in. To this point, window openings were one of the few locations where bought wood was utilized, but later on, Frank purchased more dimension lumber to close in the porch up to roof level. (PHOTO_25)
Insofar as a stove was concerned, since he was an avid tinkerer, Frank fashioned several out of sheet metal, before paying a token amount for an old one his mother once used at home. Understandably, some form of heating is central to agreeable living in a woodland cabin since warding off the musty damp and wintry weather with a roaring fire makes the whole enterprise worthwhile. (PHOTO_27) To illuminate their living quarters, a couple of Coleman white gas lanterns were hung from ceiling hooks, set on a table and counter-tops, or otherwise directed when needed. (PHOTO_28) Lastly, as an act of practical necessity, a regular Yale lock was installed on the entrance door to secure the mostly-completed premises. At last, in the aftermath of all those discomfiting occasions when things went awry and every exultant moment when all seemed right, Frank and Harold could sit back, enjoy a little self-deprecating humour and share a well-deserved sense of achievement. (PHOTO_24)
As it happened, the lads’ cabin was situated on “a little knoll”. This slight rise turned out to be a handy natural feature, at least on one particular winter night. As Frank tells it, heavy snow had fallen all week. On top of an existing base totalling 12 to 15 feet of accumulated snowfall, several more feet of the white stuff piled up in his absence. Having forged a trail through this mystical scene to where he thought he should be on this particular moonlit night, his cabin was nowhere in sight, temporarily inducing a state of bewilderment and momentary apprehension. As he stood there on what seemed like just another mound of deep snow trying to make sense of the situation, it finally dawned on him that his cabin was directly underfoot, completely covered by several days of frigid precipitation having fallen since he was last on the mountain. Accordingly, Frank found himself burrowing down to the cabin door; not an uncommon circumstance for folks who maintained cabins on Hollyburn Mountain during peak winter snowfall.
Once winter weather retreated, there was more outside work to be done. Duly obeying the laws of nature and municipal imperatives, the boys built an outhouse nearby. It was a typical ‘one-holer’ close to the cabin, intentionally chosen for its secluded location. Sure enough, as time went on, this little-used track going past their place turned into what seemed like a main thoroughfare. Thus, the number of folks traipsing back and forth to and from other cabin sites in that neck of the woods increased. As Frank tells it, their outhouse eventually became an object of interest for wintertime passers-by who fancied it a target for aiming snowballs, a prank especially disconcerting for anyone ensconced on ‘the throne’ quietly contemplating life at the moment of impact.
After some two years of toil, by mid-1933, cabin construction was essentially complete. Thus, that special moment finally came when Frank or Harold could “turn the key in the door”, and walk into their own cabin. At this point, the lads were enjoying more free time to putter about the cabin which now boasted a few additional trappings. Since Frank liked listening to ‘big band’ music, a battery-powered AM receiver was considered a must. (PHOTO_29) Also packed up the mountain were a hand-cranked phonograph and a bunch of records, which meant the popular music Frank preferred was always close at hand. (PHOTO_30)
Having transformed their retreat into an inviting habitation, Frank says he acquired a regular following, so to speak. For those locals trudging by on adjacent pathways, such as the one that came to be known as Sinclair Way (a ski trail), his cabin became a convenient stopping off point. He remembers keeping warm beverages on hand for folks filing by who dropped in to rest and chat while grabbing a cup of java or tea. If it happened to be in the evening, guests might be treated to music comprising that week’s ‘top ten’ hits as picked up on Frank’s radio. Among the folks who ‘just popped in’, there were likely a few persons of the female persuasion. And in that regard, it has been reported that Frank wasn’t shy about spending part of his time cultivating the attentions of certain young ladies who frequented Hollyburn.
Traditionally, skiing by day and socializing in cabins by night was the wintertime norm on Hollyburn. But as hibernal days verged into springtime and snow turned slushy, attentions once again focussed on more work-like activities. Almost everyone who built cabins here can be thankful for the fact that it is, in terms of snow-melt and run-off, truly an aqueous plateau. Thus, it constitutes a veritable font of tiny rivulets and springs all trickling on or under the ground into various streams and creeks rushing down towards the nearby ocean. It was for this reason that Frank happened to notice one day the glint of water bubbling up from a patch of mossy ground roughly 30 feet away from their cabin.
Grasping the import, Frank took a cup and quickly filled it from this “weep” in the ground. After topping up a bucket with cold, clear mountain water, he began digging in earnest. It wasn’t long before he’d excavated a pit measuring two feet by four feet and several feet deep. This copious source thus became a reliable water supply for the “Night Owls” cabin. To ensure an efficient system, Frank laid some pipe, hooked up a small, battery-powered pump, and then installed a holding tank over the cabin sink so water could fill it, thereby letting gravity do the rest. Upon closing up the cabin, this tank could thus be easily drained so there was no residual water to turn stagnant or freeze when their place was unoccupied. To maintain the trail past this year-round water source, Frank laid a bunch of saplings down in the marshy ground thereby creating a firm corduroy surface to walk on.
For Frank and Harold, there was always something to do. Over three years, this duo had raised logs, cut and packed wood, piped water to the cabin and installed a few creature comforts of home. With confidence acquired from building their own cabin, these two figured they could make a bit of money by constructing a forest retreat “on consignment”. Frank says that idea ultimately proved to be slightly more than a minor miscalculation on their part. As it turned out, Percy Burton and Mel Leslie wanted the log surfaces to be squared on the inside. (PHOTO_31) Not an easy job for anyone. The principle tool for this sort of work was typically an adze. As Frank recalls, some guys may have had the knack for using it, but he says it wasn’t a tool he could really get the hang of, unlike the Swedes, who were so skilled with its use that they could, with what seemed like minimal effort in Frank’s estimation, “turn a bunch of planks into a ballroom floor”.
Since the lads lacked experience with this traditional tool, using a heavy broad axe was the next best choice, which meant many more painstaking hours tediously hewing and shaping all that wood. As fate would have it, whenever work of this kind was performed, something often slipped causing an injury. The only time Frank recalls being hurt badly enough to require medical attention was when an axe cut his foot. It went right through the rubber boot he was wearing, a common type of footwear popular at the time; suitable for both manual labour and hiking around the mountain.
Whenever Frank walked down the Main Trail from Hollyburn Lodge, he normally passed the ranger station, skirted Marr Creek’s right bank, then turned west near cabins Frank describes as the Boy’s and Girl’s dorms. Frank says he’d sometimes go over to ensure the kerosene lamps were filled, light fires on frosty mornings, and rouse the youngsters. He also confirmed that one of these structures, the Hollyburn Pacific Ski Club cabin, was built of logs hauled over from the former site of the cabin above West Lake after West Vancouver determined it was on the edge of Brothers Creek watershed. Later, it became the Vancouver Ski Club cabin. (PHOTO_32) Burnaby Girl Guides have owned the cabin since 1965.
About 100 yards beyond Frank and Harold’s site was the location of what came to be known as “The Stone Hut” (or “Stonehaven”...cabin #187). On this subject, Frank had an interesting tale to tell about its rather unique origin. As the story goes, when partners in on the project...Frank recalls there being four of them... set out to build their cabin, they found - just as Frank and Harold had discovered- good trees suitable for log-cabin building were likewise scarce in their locale. The upshot being, they decided instead of going all log, they’d approach their cabin-building endeavours in a more dynamic manner.
Aware of a ravine nearby with exposed rock out-crops, the partners wandered down; there to consider the possibilities. With a little help...from a stick or two of dynamite one suspects...these guys “blasted loose” a stockpile of rock sufficient for constructing a four-foot foundation of broken stone carried up from their quarry site. This material formed a solid base upon which logs were laid to complete their abode. In fact, archival photos indicate enough loose rubble was left over to build an impressive rock chimney. This rather inspired cabin-building strategy saved these fellows a good deal of time and effort since they didn’t have to haul near so many logs from afar. (PHOTOs 33 & 34)
On Hollyburn Ridge, ‘making do’ was a regular feature of life for most folks who possessed cabins here. From time to time during the Great Depression of the 1930s, many cabin owners scavenged materials from an abandoned logging operation and flume-works located part-way down the mountain.(PHOTO_35) As Frank tells it, the only time he salvaged materials from that vicinity was in 1945, when some heavy boards were prised from an old water tank, which he fashioned into solid shutters. With break-ins by local bruins being a frequent occurrence, most inhabitants took precautionary measures hoping they wouldn’t hike in on some bleak afternoon to find their rustic hideaway had been trashed by a bear.
Though Frank says he rarely observed much wildlife on the mountain, bears were always around and tended to be downright “rude” in the spring and fall while on the prowl for needed sustenance. (PHOTO_36) Since break-ins by local black bears were an ongoing problem, Frank finally vowed to secure his windows once and for all, hoping to forestall the nuisance factor of having some wayward ursine brute claw its way into his abode. After cutting up planks from the mill-site to fit, he carefully bevelled the edges. By shaping them in such a way, even the most determined bear that happened by and tried to force those shutters off would’ve had a lot tougher time getting leverage with its claws, likely discouraging further attempts.
Yet, employing cautionary measures - even a crude electric fence – couldn’t guarantee bruins wouldn’t be a bother. Especially ‘smart’ bears, who Jim Harman was convinced could tell the difference between a cheap can of beans and peaches; these big black pests preferring the latter. On one occasion, a bear did get into the crawl space directly under Frank’s cabin while he was upstairs. It seems food odours emanating from the sink’s drain attracted this particular bear’s attention. As this unseen creature snuffled and rummaged around, the anxious occupant could only wait and see what would happen next. And since Frank didn’t keep a firearm in the cabin, his only recourse was retreating to the loft in case this snooping bear somehow broke into the main living area. Happily for Frank, the beast eventually lost interest and left without doing any harm; shambling off to another place, no doubt hoping to gain entry to somebody else’s cabin. Although this type of incident was not uncommon, Frank couldn’t recall any really serious human/bear confrontations during all the years he was on the mountain.
During World War Two, Vancouver remained Frank’s home where he worked in aviation repairing damaged bombers and fighter planes, thereby doing his part for the Allied cause. Despite the overseas conflicts, neighbourly activities around Hollyburn weren’t significantly diminished, Christmastime remaining the focal point of socializing. Naturally, New Year’s drew a lot of folks to The Ridge as well, eager to see the old year out and hope for peace during the coming one. (PHOTO_38)
For folks on the home-front, the least bit of time spent on Hollyburn seemed blessed by comparison, considering the news from Europe. But, in due course, most of those locals who’d gone overseas came back home, and life on Hollyburn returned to a semblance of normalcy. (PHOTO_37) As forongoing improvements to his cabin, Frank installed a rudimentary electric system, thanks to a small power plant he packed up the mountain. Acquired shortly after the war, this equipment proved to be exceedingly useful since a gas-driven generator could charge batteries. Frank is quite proud of having obtained machinery enabling him to run a basic circuit of lights at the cabin and maintain said batteries. Since the lodge at First Lake regularly held dances, reliable lighting for the common area was considered a must, so his batteries often came in handy. During winter, he’d put these 20-30 pound charged units on skiis and pack them over to Hollyburn Lodge to illuminate social affairs.
Frank says weekend dances were the biggest social draw, more so in wintertime when people partied at the lodge after a day of skiing. (PHOTO_38) The common room, where folks assembled, featured a rock fireplace, coffee bar, benches, and sometime later, a Wurlitzer juke box playing ‘78 RPM records. (PHOTO_39) On many occasions, some of Frank’s charged batteries kept the venue lit. This was around 1946 and ‘47. Happily, as long as lights burned, a good time was had by all. On the other hand, given the boisterous nature of a few quick-tempered types, altercations were likely if a dance got cancelled. Eventually, as business improved, lodge owners acquired a reliable Onan power plant, thereby facilitating self-sufficiency.
On one of his wintertime forays, Frank recalls staying with acquaintances who occupied a cabin larger than most. By his own estimate, he’d been in more than a dozen other cabins over the years spent on Hollyburn, including those little rental huts scattered near Hollyburn Lodge. However, this one impressed him because it was a cabin of considerable expanse and actually had a “full staircase” leading to the loft. Despite making the rounds on weekends and attending parties at the lodge, Frank never smoked, nor did he identify with any hard-drinking party crowd. Neither was he among those young fellows who swore a lot, or as Frank puts it, the guys who seemed to have “made it their language”. It “didn’t suit me”. Yet, despite there being all kinds of people on the mountain with different ideas about fun, somehow most folks in this close-knit community managed to get along, giving rise to the kind of environment where no one felt put upon. For regulars on Hollyburn, ‘each to their own’ was the prevailing mind set, an attitude still prevalent today.
A few of Frank’s closest neighbours included Jack Pratt (PHOTO_40) and Gerry Hardman (PHOTO 41), and a fellow named Erskine. A future West Vancouver district forester, Jack Wood (PHOTO_42), also had a cabin nearby, plus guys called “Smoky” and “Stuffy”. Other people he knew included the aforementioned Oscar Pearson and Andrew Irving, two of the men responsible for establishing Hollyburn Ski Camp next to First Lake in 1926. It was Frank’s observation that young, European men - Norwegians, Swedes and Germans among them - were eager to pursue hibernal sporting skills acquired in their homelands. Thus, Hollyburn Mountain became a place where ski jumping and cross-country/downhill skiing really took off. Such activities were, in all likelihood, partially inspired by the 1924 Olympics held at Chamonix, in the French Alps, first site of the modern Winter Games. For whatever reason, Hollyburn became an even more popular destination as time went on.
Understandably, folks who roamed Hollyburn in those days were, by necessity, a rugged lot. Hoofing it some 3000 feet uphill from down by the beach in West Vancouver to the vicinity of First Lake could easily became monotonous, especially under the weight of a heavy pack. Weary of the constant hiking up and down Hollyburn, Frank decided riding part-way would be a more agreeable means of accessing his forested stomping grounds, even if it meant juddering up a muddy mountain track in a rough-riding jalopy. So, After the Lions Gate Bridge opened for vehicular traffic in 1939, Frank acquired a 1932 Plymouth 4-cylinder automobile, thereby facilitating a much shorter commute to the North Shore.
Among the people he sometimes encountered trudging up the mountain was writer and poet, Pollough Pogue. Frank remembers taking a pack from him after coming across his friend part-way up the main route. Frank characterizes Pogue as sort of an irregular character who then occupied a cabin just off the east end of the First Lake dam. (PHOTO_43) Interestingly, his offspring: a girl named Molly (PHOTO 45) and a boy named Mickey (PHOTO 44), were the only youngsters Frank knows of who tried, successfully, to leap off the jump atop Popfly ski hill. But, it didn’t take long for adults who supervised the slope to put the kibosh on youngsters hurtling off the adult...mainly men’s...jump, ostensibly concerned for their safety. (PHOTO_46)
Having acquired an automobile, Frank would motor up to “The Forks”, a well-known road junction near an old logging concern. (PHOTO_47) Often, as a courtesy, he’d convey hikers up to a location near the “cross-roads”, where he’d drop the excess weight of passengers, then carry on up a steeper grade near the “Old Mill-site”; there leaving packs for hikers to pick up upon their arrival at that point. From there - depending on just where each person’s cabin was located - it left a relatively short jaunt to reach a given destination.
Frank also cites a day when he came upon Hi Coville in his “World War Two ex-army-surplus half-track stuck in some mud” (PHOTO_48) alongside what passed for a road up the mountain. Together, they managed to free Hi’s vehicle. Hi was using his outfit for the same purpose as Frank, albeit on a more profitable commercial scale, since his open-air vehicle could carry 15-20 patrons standing up at fifty cents apiece. Hi also purchased a bus to carry passengers to the “Old Mill-site”, road conditions permitting. (PHOTO_49) As those familiar with the history of The Ridge will know, Hi later went in with some partners and built the Hollyburn Aerial Tramway. This chairlift operated more or less without incident until a blaze of undetermined origin destroyed the upper terminal one ghastly summer night. This tragic event thus consigned to history an erratic conveyance recalled with fondness by all those folks who climbed aboard a chair during its short but productive existence. (PHOTO_50)
As for the aforementioned Oscar Pearson, he was a real presence on Hollyburn for most of his adult life. During that brief, 15-year period when the Hollyburn Aerial Tramway carried people and supplies up The Ridge [1951-1965], Oscar would routinely walk over from his nearby cabin, then station himself on the platform at the upper terminus helping folks ease off their chair, while generally overseeing the lift’s operation. Everybody who frequently ventured up Hollyburn Mountain in those days held a special place in their hearts for Oscar. (PHOTO_52)
Frank says he didn’t do much ski racing on Hollyburn, but did participate in one memorable competition starting high up near Hollyburn’s summit; an event which included Jack Pratt, among others. On one occasion he proudly recalls finishing just seconds behind the man whose skill and daring truly epitomized a generation of skiers. (PHOTO_51) Regrettably, Pratt died in1957. However, in 1958, recognizing his prominent place in the pantheon of Hollyburn skiers, when volunteers erected a new ramp atop the run-out to Westlake, it bore the name: Jack Pratt Memorial Ski Jump in his honour. (PHOTO_53) Never destined to be a permanent landmark, this rustic tower approaching Olympic standards in dimension gave way to the elements and collapsed in March 1967. (PHOTO_54)
Prior to the 40s, about the only sounds of strenuous activity one might have heard around cabin sites were a few loud voices and the thunk of an axe. According to Frank, it wasn’t until just after World War Two, circa 1946, that he began hearing the growl of chainsaws filtering through the forest. Even then, axe-work remained the dominant means of cutting wood, but it was only a matter of time before various makes of that ubiquitous power saw made their way up the mountain to fell trees, buck logs and clear trails of windfalls.
When asked what kept him coming back to Hollyburn Mountain over all those years, Frank says “I just liked it...the woods were quiet, primitive and beautiful”. In this vein, he distinctly remembers reading an article in the Vancouver Daily Province entitled “The Higher Lunacy” by Pollough Pogue, in which he described - in deeply-felt terms - the appeal and enchantment of The Ridge; a special place where Frank and his fellow cabin owners kept returning to time and time again because it meant so much to them.
Though summers saw many hikers on Hollyburn, winter was a time when skiers thronged The Ridge and the festive character of cabin culture truly thrived. The vast majority of folks who did ski there were, in Frank’s words, all Nordic enthusiasts looking “for one good slide” down a series of runs starting just below the crest of Hollyburn Peak. But getting up to those aerie heights wasn’t for the faint of heart. It meant applying “klister” to skiis (PHOTO_55) or using ‘skins’ to assure adherence for the long tramp up to where aficionados could turn around and speed downhill from a slope called Romstad’s Run (PHOTO_56) or on the adjacent Slalom Run. (PHOTO_57) Frank admits to having been fairly proficient on skiis, but remembers getting a bit of a scare one time when he was heading back down from below the crest. He was near Romstad’s when a sudden snowstorm hit. Somewhere along the line he missed ribbons marking a series of lower runs and in no time at all had all but lost his bearings. Having strayed off his intended track, Frank was forced to make an unintended traversal by rough reckoning. With daylight all but snuffed out by thick cloud, his face and clothing smattered by slanting snowflakes, the only discernable sound was the rhythmic slither of sliding skiis. After slogging through bleak woods for some time, he fortuitously came out near Westlake Lodge (PHOTO 58), where he met up with the Jones’ boys who lent him a jacket for the jaunt back to his cabin, which lay about a mile to the west of where he’d turned up.
Among other locals Frank knew well was “a prodigious individual” named Abe (PHOTO_59); a man generously endowed with original ideas. His cabin site was located somewhere down a ravine near “The Bus Stop” (PHOTO_60), this latter abode being well-known to regulars on the mountain. According to Frank, the fellow who owned it put up a sign at his turn-off on the Main Trail pointing east...thus, it’s hard to resist imagining the owner hiking up towards Hollyburn Lodge with some pals, then upon reaching this point saying: ‘here’s where I get off’, before heading across Marr Creek to his cabin. Anyway, according to Frank, Abe had a girlfriend who needed a separate place to stay if he wanted her to remain overnight up the mountain. Since her mother forbade her to be there otherwise, the only way she could abide by that dictate would be if she had a place of her own. Knightly Abe to the rescue!
As it turned out, in this anecdote we are witness to yet another familiar scenario emblematic of that age-old saga, namely, ‘the eternal triangle’; this particular tale involving a love-struck swain vying for the affections of a young women’s attention, and in doing so, going to great lengths to keep her close at hand. Since he was well-acquainted with this part of the mountain, Abe knew he’d have to venture a ways to find suitable logs to build her cabin, which surely meant an excess of work. So, he decided to pack an old 6-cylinder Chevrolet engine up the mountain in pieces, and then re-assemble the parts on site. Once there, he anchored the engine to a tree near to the proposed location of his sweetheart’s woodland retreat. After locating a suitable source of timber some distance below, he ran a cable downslope with a ‘choker’ attached. This device, when looped around a log by the loose end, enables the load to be winched up to where it’s needed akin to a logger’s drag-line. This system worked reasonably well, and, according to Frank Flynn, supposedly saved a heck of a lot of labour. But even this clever set-up had drawbacks. Almost every time a log appeared, at the right end of things along with it came “a lot of blueberry bushes which had to be burned”.
On at least one occasion, someone either set the choker too far down the trunk of the log to be hauled, or for unknown reasons it slipped out of position while in transit. Since the log had turned sideways and got jammed up somewhere, the engine commenced climbing a tree to which it was tethered before power could be shut off. In any event, after this project was completed, Frank believes that same ‘in-line’ engine was the first one used to power a rope tow on Popfly, circa 1948. (PHOTO_61) Oh yes, Frank remembers that while an impassioned Abe was otherwise occupied with cabin-building, his girlfriend used the intervening time to take up with another fellow. While nobody enjoys getting jilted, at least Abe ended up with a new cabin to compensate for his loss. Yet, more than likely Abe interpreted this latest circumstance as being a rather mixed blessing.
Near the end of his time on Hollyburn, Frank concluded his cabin’s original shingle roof needed replacing. This time he was determined that chore would be done utilizing a red cedar tree, shakes from which were light in weight but extremely durable and rot-resistant. As referenced earlier, the best examples suitable for the intended purpose grew in a narrow band, well down the mountain from Frank’s cabin site. Intent on getting this job done right, he enlisted the help of another friend, Ernie Cannon, an old-time logger who knew how to fell large trees with methods prescribed by his profession. The men commenced the operation by placing ‘spring-boards’ to stand on about 6 to 8 feet overhead so as to get above the ‘bell’ where tree trunks broaden outwards into a root system.
Cannon first axed the undercut on this lofty evergreen, so when the time came, it would incline towards the direction where he wanted it to fall. Then both men began the tedious task of felling it with a long, crosscut saw. Frank remembers sinking his axe in the tree, then hanging from it as the two men adjusted the planks they were standing on, each board having been driven into slots chopped out of the tree trunk. Once this big cedar tree was down and rounds cut, Frank made his shakes, shuttling numerous loads on his pack-board roughly a mile by trail back up to his cabin.
Frank Flynn roamed this mountain for some twenty years. But, shortly after World War Two, with limited employment options, he felt compelled to head south where greater opportunities beckoned. Having re-roofed his cabin and ensured everything was in good order; this pioneer cabin builder prepared to move on. So, in 1948, Frank bade farewell to Hollyburn’s sylvan solitude, a place where he’d spent so many happy years, and made his way to Southern California, where a now 33-year old found work with United Airlines.
Before he left Hollyburn Ridge for good, the cabin he and his friend had completed almost two decades earlier was sold. Now its sole owner, Frank came to a purchase agreement with Harry Burfield (PHOTO_62), who bought the cabin along with “a good pair of skiis”. Harry later raised the structure several feet as Frank pointedly observed, then subsequently resold it. Today, this snug log abode Frank and Harold Ward built back in the 1930s still stands, having been maintained by various owners over the last eight decades. In more recent years, cabin #180 went by the name “Vennskap”, Norwegian for “friendship”. Merle Michael, the cabin’s current owner since 1998, calls her mountain home: “Mike’s Inn II”. (PHOTO_66)
Presently, Frank Flynn stands on the cusp of 100 years. Clearly, his two decades of recreation and cabin life on Hollyburn during the 1930s and 1940s played a pivotal role in laying the foundation for a long and productive life. The last time Frank visited his cabin was in the late 1990s. (PHOTOs 63, 64 & 65) Happily, Frank kept pictures of his hideaway, old photos that serve as a reminder of simpler times when adventurous youths built cabins on the timbered ridge of Hollyburn. Always eager to chat and recount all the good times he experienced on the mountain, Mr. Flynn personifies an era now far removed from ours. His vivid recollections were a joy to receive and record for posterity. At the time of this writing, he maintains his home just outside Denver, Colorado along with Nancy, his wife of some 55 years.
A. G. M. F. (August, 2014)
Drawn to Hollyburn Ridge/
Two woodsmen in their prime/
Raised logs to build a cabin/
With many a notch in time.
The foregoing article was written on behalf of the Hollyburn Heritage Society
by contributor Tony Flower based on telephone conversations conducted with Mr. Flynn,
who communicated this reminiscence from his home between January and April 2014.