Youthful Days On Hollyburn Ridge - Part 2
"Late Night Soirees & Other Hollyburn Adventures"
A.G.M.F. - February 2011
So, now that our cabin was closed in, we had ample time to hoof it around in search of late night soirees to which we could invite ourselves. Also, I’d be delinquent at this juncture if I failed to mention that distraction known as amour. After all, what would Hollyburn be without it? Yet, just as earnest romance flourished on the mountain, so too did the she-wolves of Hi-View. For it was there that certain flirtatious free-spirits lay in wait scheming how to break the hearts of innocent young males who happened to be passing by. Faced with such worldly wiles, even hardened Boy Scouts found they had their hands full. All artless lads like us could do was await that chance encounter with some gentler soul while hoping that love might follow. It was not such a forlorn hope.
As for other diversions, if folks were about to gather at the lodge for a social function, that was the place to be. And, for my money, the festive events held there by the community as a whole were the ones most worth attending.
I concede that Hi-View Lodge, with its dark interior and spare decor, was no country club, but whatever the occasion, parties there were always a hoot! Yes, it was smoky, dimly lit, the music was mostly canned, the surroundings rustic and from time to time, the air might have been imbued with the lingering scent of booze, but oh what great fun it was to be at one of those community affairs. One I particularly recall attending was held around Halloween in 1962. At the time, the ‘limbo’ was a popular dance craze. Doing the limbo became a great spectator sport as a few - very few - athletes, and a line-up of inebriated, would-be contortionists made for a lot of hilarity as they tried to scuffle under that ever-lowering bar.
Besides dancing and socializing, there was almost always some home-grown entertainment in the form of a skit, impression or something. And door prizes. In fact, at this event I actually won a crock of rye in a raffle and recall ruefully handing it over to Alex Swanson for safekeeping. I knew me well enough to know that it would be tough to stay clear of the hard stuff if temptation was too close at hand. Sure as shooting, Christmas holidays up the ridge were mighty cheerful that year!
During its brief existence, Hi-View Lodge saw its fair share of fun, but for most people, parties of a more intimate nature were the norm. Sitting around a glowing fireplace - or in our case a thumping hot airtight stove - with a few friends having some laughs was all it took to make a convivial evening a memorable one. In December of 1962, I remember spending New Years in our cabin listening to disc jockey Red Robinson’s top 100 hoping my transistor radio batteries would hold out.
However, not every weekend was full of fun and frivolity. If none of my pals were around and a fellow got a little lonely, he could always wander over to Hollyburn Lodge and visit Ev Burfield and her young daughter, Peggy, at their coffee shop. Except for after hours, it seems to me now that they were hardly ever closed. And no matter what, whether familiar face or stranger, that cheerful twosome was always prepared to make the cold and hunger go away. Such was the way of life on Hollyburn Ridge during a period when there existed a unique sense of closeness that knit its inhabitants together.
I think it’s fair to say that Hollyburners liked the idea of retaining something of the intimacy and small-town charm that once characterized the village of West Vancouver.
Regrettably, such expectations were destined to be diminished given the inherent properties of progress, changing values and the eventual loss of Hi-View and Westlake Lodge.
Finally, the transformation of Hollyburn Ski Lodge from one family’s going concern to a relic of another era meant life on the ridge lost something of itself. It stirs one’s emotions just knowing so many cherished old haunts have withered away to bleak and shadowless artifacts of yesteryear. Yet, those lodges were once full of life. They were warm, familiar places where one could sit and watch the eager to and fro of people passing through. Now, standing on that same ground, all a person hears is the indifferent hush of a lonely silence where nature has reclaimed its own.
In the summer of 1965, I was in Prince Rupert when a friend informed me that Hi-View Lodge had burned to the ground. That news struck me like a bolt from the blue. The lodge was always a fun place to be due to the comings and goings of people, and given that so many good feelings were generated there, whenever I think of it, I always get a bit sick at heart knowing that those gladsome times we all enjoyed will never come again. That magnificent log structure overlooking much of Vancouver had only been on its site for a mere fifteen years!
During its all too brief lifespan, Hi-View had come to mean so much, not only to me, but to anyone who’d spent any time up on Hollyburn. To sit inside and be embraced by those gnarly walls of varnished logs, the mute remains of trees that once grew to maturity on that very spot made the sense of place all that more profound. The lodge wasn’t merely a well-crafted building perched on a spectacular location comparable to that of Grouse Mountain; it was Hollyburn’s centrepiece at a time when the human tenancy on the ridge was at its apex.
Had West Vancouver’s Hollyburn Aerial Tramway proclaimed a motto, it could have easily been ‘Levity Is Our Business’. Let’s be honest, compared to the brutal efficiency of its modern-day counterparts, our beloved old chairlift rarely failed to inspire a sunny sense of over-confidence. By that, I don’t mean to imply that service was impeccable. Au contraire. To be a regular rider was to fully grasp every nuance of the word ‘tension’. The promised 12-minute excursion seldom lasted a mere twelve minutes. Frequent stops were the norm. Just as things were humming along nicely, that reassuring drone would abruptly cease, the cable would droop, and one’s chair would swing to a halt. Let’s just say the H. A. T. operation didn’t cater to restless individuals or those averse to sustained introspection. Nor was it for the faint of heart. Think, dangling perilously above the deep ravine through which Marr Creek flows. One could be suspended there for quite a while despite being maddingly close to Hi-View Lodge if folks on the platform took their time sorting through gear heaped on one of the baskets. If the weather was inclement, hovering in the open was just that much more invigorating. Hanging from one of those not so comfy chairs while being pelted by rain, buffeted by wind or an onslaught of snow was, without doubt, an effective gauge of a person’s patience and resistance to the elements. Yet, in spite of this galling exposure, just knowing the ridge was in sight stirred feelings of eager anticipation. And, at that very instant, there came a sense that one’s place in the great scheme of things was just like it ought to be, or put succinctly, ‘copacetic’, as my erudite friend Ron Harrington was fond of saying.
That the Hollyburn chairlift connected two different worlds was never more apparent than when thick, ground-hugging cloudbanks crept in off the ocean blanketing most of the Lower Mainland. I vividly recall leaving the oppressive damp of a foggy autumn day and ascending on the chairlift into a realm of bright sunshine and brilliant blue sky. From the heights of Hollyburn, a wispy gray cloudscape was visible below, its broad form extending well beyond Mount Baker’s snow-capped summit. Fortified by this radiant scene, off I would stride into the chill, silent forest, the trail fast growing faint in the failing light of late October.
Come Monday morning, I couldn’t resist gloating just a bit about how I’d spent my weekend. Classmates who weren’t ridge-goers seemed a bit miffed upon hearing that I’d been basking in the glory of fresh, clear, mountain air, while they’d squandered their two days, mired as it were in a dense, gray miasma, through which the sun - if it appeared at all - was revealed as nothing more than an ashen, yellow orb. Thanks in large measure to the presence of smoke billowing from so many lumber mill beehive burners, this dank, stagnant atmosphere routinely cloaked the Greater Vancouver area for days or weeks at a time, thus depriving most residents of those resplendent Fall days we up on Hollyburn Ridge simply took for granted.
For visitors and regulars alike, the upper terminal of the Hollyburn Aerial Tramway was a portal though which everyone passed at one time or another. After that tragic loss, access to the ridge reverted back to what it had been prior to1950. Before the existing Cypress road was graded, the only practical means for someone to reach the ridge in a vehicle was to spend time in a four-wheel drive crawling along a rough track that switch-backed its way up the mountain.
And, in wintertime, if the snowline was low, it still meant a long, tough slog on foot for most of those who needed to reach their cabin. Otherwise hiking from a trail head at some point farther down the mountain remained the only practical means of getting to where most folks wanted to go. Despite its sometimes erratic disposition, that ramshackled old Chairlift had been a godsend, but now it was gone for good. Thankfully, it didn’t signal the end of activities on the ridge.
Since people first built cabins on Hollyburn, wintertime has meant fun in the snow. This fact has been assiduously documented in the recent Hollyburn history book. Nordic skiing and such were mainly the reasons for establishing Hollyburn Ski Camp at First Lake.
And as the years went by, a few rudimentary shelters had - by the late 1950s - become an extensive community of some three hundred cabins, most of them distinguished by their eccentric conformation and unique descriptors. Dispersed among abodes graced with more practical names are clever, whimsical and oddly expressive ones. Two examples fitting that latter category come to mind. Both are located just over the rise behind Popfly. The first cabin is called “Alasker Inn”, a name suggestive of frigid territory.
A nearby cabin bears an appellation difficult to spell. let’s just say the name conjures up thoughts of warmer climes. To tell the truth, I haven’t got a clue who originated the tradition of applying outlandish names to cabins on Hollyburn, but considering their proliferation over the years, it was obviously a popular practice. Perhaps some jokester conceived it as a satiric barb directed towards those members of the local gentry who were partial to naming their estates. West Van’s “Spuraway” would be an example. In any event, whoever initiated the custom should at least be occasionally toasted for exposing Hollyburners’ cheekier side.
A quirky name that everyone knows is the one applied to a modest slope by Hollyburn Lodge. Early on, someone drolly dubbed the ski hill at First Lake; ‘Popfly’, which is what generally happened to me when I tried to ski. A binding would pop; and off I would fly. Apart from being sopped to the skin from falling down, suffering from numb toes and losing mittens when they froze to the rope tow and disappeared up the hill into the engine shed, I had fun, sort of. Actually, being a spectator was more my speed, but if I got talked into spending the afternoon on Popfly, the best part was always turning in my rentals and walking past the old 78 jukebox into Burfield’s snack bar to warm up and dry off.
As for neighbours, we had the great good fortune to be a two-minute walk away from a log cabin on the Grand National Trail called The Doghouse. It didn’t take more than a couple of visits to became good friends with its patriarch, Alex Swanson, a can-do, ‘here’s to the breezes’ kind of guy who always made us feel welcome.
On those wet, dreary days when things weren’t going quite right or we were just plain beat, the Mildew Manor boys would straggle over to his cabin to warm our hands by the Swanson’s fire. But it was Wendy who invigorated us with hot coffee or cocoa and homemade pie. That she took time catering to us four louts when she already had Alex, a quartet of kids, a pack of overactive cairn terriers and her babysitter, Judy Colpitts, to ride herd on, really says a lot about the lady. Wendy always made time for us, and it was certainly much more appreciated than we likely let on. In retrospect, one comes to appreciate that sometimes small comforts are beyond measure.
I should say at this point that if the cabin community on Hollyburn Ridge had ever had an elective office of the administrative kind, Alex would have surely been one of its longest serving mayors. This brings me to the intriguing subject of Alex Swanson’s pants. As I perused the recently published history of Hollyburn Ridge and its environs entitled: “Hollyburn: The Mountain and the City”, I found it to be a comprehensive, enlightening and pleasurable read. I noted, however, that there were what I would call inadvertent omissions. For example, I couldn’t find any reference to Alex Swanson’s unusual pants.
Now, these weren’t just any old pants. Well, O.K., they were old, but they most certainly weren’t ordinary. To be specific, they were a pair of heavy denim jeans that Alex donned whenever there was real men’s work to be done. Over the years - having never been washed - those jeans took whatever Hollyburn had to throw at them and a fair bit of it stuck to those tough, grungy, well-seasoned old pants. In time they became encrusted with so much chain oil, dirt, sweat, spilled beer and other crud that with age, the fabric stiffened up to the point where it resembled flexible armour. When Alex got back to his cabin, he’d just slide them off and stand them in a corner until the next time he needed them.
My, what engrossing stories those jeans could have told if they’d been able to talk. But that was a different era when men gathered together to laugh and joke with hardly any sense of propriety or how what they said might be misconstrued. Nowadays, a greater sense of correctness seems to be the norm. In this day and age men seem inclined to be just a tad more wary about being overheard. I hesitate to mention it, but in my time, if a fellow was slightly miffed, he likely expressed himself using picturesque local vernacular. For instance, if he noticed something was amiss i.e. ‘out of whack’ or not ‘up to snuff’ he might irritably ask of no one in particular: “Alright! Who put the bear shit in the buckwheat?” Come to think of it, I did hear a few other ill-bred epithets bandied about. Suffice to say, those of us of the male persuasion were a bit rough around the edges back then, but a natural gracelessness just seemed to lend authenticity to the rustic sensibility of life up the mountain.
If some fifty years ago, a stranger just happened to encounter a Hollyburn man charging through the bush on his way to mutilate some deadfall, this amiable woodsman might have been dressed thusly: Dayton boots, or some equally beat up equivalent, partly laced then tied snugly around the ankles, a well-worn pair of cheap blue jeans with the cuffs turned up, a chambray or checked flannel shirt and, to top it off, headgear such as a greasy peaked cap or a handmade toque bearing the likeness of a woodland creature such as deer or elk. If a drizzle seemed imminent, he might be wearing a green Pioneer “The Brand of a Man” rain jacket.
Perhaps this fellow was sporting a grubby wool jac-shirt or mackinaw. Slung over one shoulder, this scruffy gent might be balancing a chainsaw, possibly a Stihl, and with his other hand he’d be carefully holding a half-case of Old Style pilsner or some other brand of domestic brew. If this fellow was anything to go by, then maybe what they say about clothes making the man is true. And that makes me wonder what McLuhan would make of that easygoing man of the woods
It barely needs to be said that no matter how badly one wants to make a certain impression, it’s generally at the mercy of somebody else’s highly partial opinion. So, after that peculiar person bearing a chainsaw grinned and said “see ya later, eh”, the stranger doubtless scratched his head and drew a few conclusions. In all probability, he attempted to make some sense out of who he’d been talking to and figure out what that man he’d just met was really all about. He might not be able to put his finger on it exactly, but depending on his mood, he’d likely be inclined to concede that this strange character managed to pass the rugged test with flying colours and was, given his arresting grin, at least half as smart as the average bear. I’d be inclined to take the stranger at his word on the rugged thing, but as for intellect, there’s room for considerable debate, considering that bears are typically a lot brighter than they appear.
I admit that when I say that, it’s only anecdotal. But I’m basing my surmise on all the stories I’ve heard about bears getting into cabins without a key then opening cans, jars or other containers of their favourite food without resorting to a can opener, lid turner or knife. If that’s not smart, I don’t know what is. Sure they made a mess, but just let’s see that scruffy guy with the chainsaw do any better without hurting himself.
On the other hand, you take skunks. They’re not near as smart as bears, but it could be argued that they have a little bit more on the ball than people. I say that because there was an occasion when Bob Richards and I discovered one hiding in a corner inside our cabin under some tar paper, two by fours and other junk. We both decided that the best thing to do was to yell a lot and chase it out of our place. Well, that little beggar sprayed us without even looking while all we could do was fall over each other in an effort to get clear of the cabin and that foul-smelling polecat. Now, how dumb is that?
But, eventually we learn to adapt and change, as it seems does everything around us. Although we didn’t know it at the time, Hollyburn was about to see a significant metamorphosis in terms of administration. Even while Mildew Manor was materializing, plans were no doubt afoot to create Cypress Provincial Park, a move which would logically rule out any further development in terms of cabin-building and the like. As it turned out, our cabin was probably one of the last to be built from the ground up before all but restorative work was allowed. Given human encroachment, I suppose it was all for the good.
One other cabin of particular note being built at the same time as ours was owned by Bob and Dennis Edwards. They were ahead of us in terms of construction and in the process of putting the finishing touches on as the autumn of 1962 approached.
Few of us will forget that fall when Typhoon Freida hit the coast wreaking havoc on parts of the lower mainland as well as the local mountains; if what happened on Hollyburn was any example. The storm’s full force struck late Friday evening, on October 12th, 1962. That night, the wind blew like I’d never heard it before. It wasn’t just whistling though the telephone wires, it was shrieking and even though the house we lived in was solidly built, it repeatedly shuddered with every brutal gust of wind. As is often the case with systems of such severity, the storm didn’t last long. By morning the weather had cleared and it was a picture perfect west coast day. Naturally, I was eager to view conditions up on the ridge and, as usual, Bob was itching to get going. So, on Saturday morning we headed for the Westlake Trail; a well-used route extending up along the East side of Lawson Creek after 15th street terminated at the Upper Levels Highway.
Well, once we got into the taller timber above the Bridge River Power Line right-of-way, the destructive might of what had started out as a storm far out in the Pacific Ocean became all too evident. At about the 1800 to 2000 foot elevation, the timber gets heavier. There were and are some real giants along this stretch of trail. I always liked to take my time wandering through here as this section was really the most venerable according to what one thinks of as a forest. Anyway, as we entered the next several hundred feet up until we reached Westlake Lodge - sitting at about 2700 feet - the devastation overwhelmed us.
There were a huge number of Douglas fir, hemlock and cedar blown down all over the trail. Along a section that would under normal circumstances have taken us maybe thirty or forty minutes to hike, Bob and I clambered under and over dozens of massive trunks for what seemed like a couple of hours. The vast amount of trees uprooted in such a brief period of time would have been difficult to accept if I hadn’t witnessed it myself.
After we passed the lodge and ascended Suicide Ski Hill to access the Grand National Trail, damage was much less evident. And by the time we reached our cabin, there was really nothing in the way of blow downs to indicate just how bad the wind’s effects had been in other areas. Our cabin had come through the storm unscathed. This was not the case for others, however.
A substantial number of cabins either had trees leaning against them or sustained damage to their roofs when trees toppled over with greater force. After inspecting our cabin, Bob and I wandered over to Hollyburn Lodge where we heard about what had befallen the Edwards’ place. Keen to see for ourselves, off we hurried down the main trail towards Hi-View. Even after what we’d witnessed coming up the mountain, I don’t believe the two of us were prepared for what we saw. It was an incredible sight to behold.
As the story goes, on the night of the storm, Bob Edwards was late getting up the mountain and when he went to their cabin expecting to see his brother Dennis, he wasn’t there. Rather than just settle in and wait for his return, Bob hiked on over to Norm Deacon’s Westlake Ski Lodge where he presumed his brother had gone. It was certainly a fortuitous decision on Bob’s part. I don’t believe that there was anything to compare with what happened to the Edwards’ place.
Their cabin was situated in a tract of forest several hundred yards west of Hi-View Lodge and, as fate would have it, fell victim to the full brunt of Frieda’s cyclonic fury. Sometime during the night a violent flood of air ripped through this area, leaving in its wake a stranded raft of logs boomed by a wind of unimaginable ferocity. What had been a tall, healthy stand of timber just twenty-four hours earlier was now a jumbled swath of evergreens laid waste by unseen forces that had come and gone during those turbulent hours of darkness.
At the height of the storm, about a dozen trees toppled over onto the Edwards’ place absolutely flattening it. Had there been anyone in the cabin, they would certainly not have survived. Their cabin was totally crushed and a wood stove which the boys had just recently installed was laying a good distance from the building proper.
To the best of my knowledge, no one on the mountain was physically harmed by Frieda’s effects. That was about the only good thing one could say about that Fall’s freakish windstorm. I don’t believe that any other structure on the mountain bore the kind of horrendous damage sustained by the Edwards’ cabin, which on the Boy Scout’s “Trails In The Area Hi-View To Hollyburn Peak” map of 1963 (Third Edition) is marked as “remains of cabin 141"[?] next to what is indicated as the “Gale Area”.
About nine months later, during the summer of 1963, while I was over at Hollyburn [Ski] Lodge, ranger Ted Russell asked if I’d mind giving him a hand scaling trees in that same ‘gale area’. So along I went carrying some of his gear while he packed a chainsaw. It was truly one of those singular learning experiences. To stand and look over an area the size of a football field littered with timber crisscrossed over each other three and four trees deep - many measuring close to four feet at their base - was striking enough. But to learn of the invisible stresses and strains that these trees were still subject to having lain there since the storm was truly eye-opening. Right off, Ted informed me that we had to be especially careful because compounding the usual hazards of our clambering over such a nightmare, were unseen dangers that had to be taken into account as we worked.
Every time Ted made a cut, he had to determine as best he could whether to make it under or over the point he had selected to saw. Because, if that cut relieved a stress - assuming there was some pent up force - part of that tree might move abruptly and unpredictably. And given those unknown forces, when it wasn’t clear what might happen, we had wedges handy. Hopefully, by placing them properly, they would keep the saw from being constricted by the tree.
If a cut seized on the saw so it was bound tight, it would have had to have been tediously chopped out. There was definitely more to this sort of job than met the eye. And, as I witnessed on more than one occasion, as soon as a cut was almost complete, there would be that telltale ‘crack’ just as if the tree were still standing and about to fall - then the log end would suddenly rise up, drop, or twist to one side depending on how it sought to release itself from the restraining influence that was otherwise holding it secure. From time to time, one could detect eerie screaking sounds as other big trees re-adjusted and settled into a new equilibrium.
Thanks to his wealth of experience, Ted managed to judge each cut he made with a certain degree of precision and work steadily progressed. Foolishly, my boyish nature rather hoped something exciting and unexpected might happen, whereupon we’d suddenly have to abandon the saw and leap for our lives lest we be fearfully harmed. But, no such luck.
There was no doubt in my mind that it was a dicey business working on that brooding raft of windfall, but in the end, our efforts ended agreeably. All in all, those two days with my ranger friend left me with a greater respect for the man’s woodsmanship and prowess with a chainsaw. Now Ted was definitely no softie, but neither was he one of those guys who hew to the view that a dumb machine like an axe or chainsaw should simply be used and abused.
With respect to equipment, he was an exacting man. If it became clear to him from the pace of cutting that the chain was even a little bit dull, he would stop work, sharpen it expertly, then crank it up and get back to work. Not that he was a brute for punishment.
If the saw got too hot, we’d take a break; chew the fat for awhile, then resume work. Ted knew how to pace himself and his machine. There was a lesson there to be gleaned which might have saved me some grief down the road had I taken it to heart. But, despite lessons not learned, the time I spent walking those windfalls with Ted did allow for fresh insights. Working on that twisted jumble of downed trees even for two days enabled me to more fully appreciate the vicissitudes of nature especially where humans are concerned.
As alluded to previously, there were several ways to access Hollyburn Ridge. If we were feeling our oats or low on funds, a gang of us would hike the Westlake Trail from either downtown West Vancouver or, if a ride was available, from the Upper Levels Highway. Occasionally, we would access it from a trail head on what was then the west side of the British Properties, just east of Brothers Creek. Naturally, mid-summer was the best time to take the 15th street route because we could eat our way up the mountain; feasting on nature’s bounty as we went.
Close to the bottom were thimble berries and salmon berries, both of which were rather bland but still possessed their own distinctive flavour. Further up, one could pick a handful of pink, juicy huckleberries - my personal favourite. As we progressed above the power line right-of-way, into heavier timber, sweet, wild strawberries could sometimes be found creeping along the ground in sunny forest glades. And lastly, up by Westlake Lodge and beyond grew countless patches of blueberry bushes, which in a good year bore a rich bounty of firm, sweet fruit; a luscious delicacy indeed!
On those occasions, I sometimes wished I was a big, black bear so I could just strip the branches, leaves and all, and not worry about the aftermath. Everyone knows that when bears get the urge, they just plop down wherever they are if there’s no one around to say scat. It’s truly a blessing to be a bear in such a place as long as they don’t go looking for trouble as some are wont to do. But just like the seasons, the joys that bear and man mutually prize come and go. And so it was with our youthful, carefree years building a cabin on Hollyburn Ridge. As all good things do, that too came to an end.
By the time 1964 rolled around, all of us were headed in various directions for different work: Bob as a firefighter, Ted as a geophysicist, John as an employee of the Municipality of West Vancouver and myself into law enforcement and other endeavours. So it seemed to make sense at the time to sell our cabin and split the proceeds. Out of pocket, it probably cost each of us a few hundred dollars apiece. We sold the cabin for twice what it cost us in monetary terms. My share amounted to maybe two month’s pay at minimum wage. But, as has often been proclaimed, the experience was priceless. For buyer Don Nelsen it was a pretty good deal, even if Mildew Manor did require much more work inside and out. As it turned out, Don was the right guy to do it. He renamed it Tickety Boo and transformed our rustic effort into a classic Hollyburn cabin worthy of the name. It may have even altered the cabin’s future. If it weren’t for his skill, imagination and care, the structure we built might not have survived, but thanks to his labourious efforts over the years, under its largely transformed exterior and interior finish exists the original Manor. Had our humble creation fallen into the wrong hands, it may very well have ended up like its predecessor and been reduced to an overgrown heap of mouldering scrap lumber.
Thankfully, Fate had other plans for our cabin. Anyone who knows how much heavy, wet snow can fall on Hollyburn in the winter also knows that keeping a cabin roof from collapsing under its weight is a full-time job. Thanks to Don’s efforts over these many years, the four of us can still hike over from First Lake as we did some five decades ago and visit the Manor’s existing form and there to reflect on our part in its realization. In 2004, we did just that when my pals and I reunited at the cabin site to toast the event with a few brews. Hopefully, there will be many more reunions and a toast or three before our time runs out.
I often think about the fact that the whole of modern-day Vancouver was mostly virgin forest not that long ago. When I was a lad of five - in 1950 - I remember seeing old guys sitting in Lawson Park. I since have realized that if they had been only slightly older than my present age when I observed them, then when they were youngsters, it would have been prior to1885. The city of Vancouver didn’t exist until 1886, when the Canadian Pacific Railway extended its line from Port Moody westwards along the south side of Burrard Inlet to its present terminus.
About the only visible evidence of European habitation was a crude settlement dubbed Gastown consisting of a few sawmills, primitive businesses and a collection of shacks. And witnessing all this were local native people paddling around the inner harbour wondering what the heck those white guys were up to.
So, it’s in this context that I believe the cabin community on Hollyburn Ridge can be considered. It’s easy to see it in terms of being a throwback to those earlier times and even today, I think it retains that connection with the city’s vestigial origins; a time that was not really so long ago.
I wonder if perchance a few of those old-timers sitting in Lawson Park cast younger eyes upon the enchanting sights hidden from view on Hollyburn’s forested slopes; Blue Gentian’s still, misty waters, snug abodes among the woods, the meadows and mountain crest beyond Mobraaten, the uneven trails through cathedral groves and the precipitous course of that eponymous stream of water that tumbles down the mountainside; emptying into the sea beside its namesake park where those old men reposed.
It was calloused hands like theirs that transformed a loggers’ old cookhouse into Hollyburn Ski Camp, that carved an area called Westlake out of the bush, then manhandled huge logs in place to create Hi-View Lodge and raised amidst of these delightful places scores of rustic cabins. But for those industrious few, others might never have discovered the peace and contentment that resides there.
From my vantage point it seems to me that despite the passage of time, inhabitants of Hollyburn Ridge remain a vital, flourishing community; one that continues to embrace a basic set of shared values and a spirit of self-reliance that binds them all together. Clearly, those who take pride in being Hollyburners remain mindful of their community’s fragility and are committed to preserving the heritage the ridge represents. Though it’s been many years since I spent any amount of time there, I’m heartened just knowing that those who still people the mountain manage to retain much of what has made the ridge a special place to be. And to those less cognizant of Hollyburn’s real history, I would point out that maintaining the existing cabin community isn’t simply a marginal preoccupation engaged in by the few hundred people with a direct interest. It should also concern anyone who believes in the importance of protecting a unique and historically significant part of coastal British Columbia’s cultural inheritance. I believe it’s worth emphasizing that whatever remains of lodge life and cabin culture on Hollyburn Ridge deserves to be preserved. Hopefully, by doing so, the spirit that is Hollyburn will endure for a long time to come.
Lastly, since five decades has elapsed since my friends and I commenced building Mildew Manor, it seemed like a good time to open up the time capsule in my head and root through the contents. Apart from a slightly embellished and nebulous recollection of events represented by the foregoing narrative; there wasn’t much left to recount except for a few random ‘thoughts’ about the past which I can’t resist enumerating:
Locals could only get beer in bottles; a two dollar bill would buy a dozen Carlsberg>>>A pouch of Old Chum fine cut Virginia smoking tobacco with papers could be bought with a one dollar bill >>>When you arrived on the platform at Hi-View Lodge, there was no beefy security guard to hassle riders, just Richard or Oscar looking after folks as they got off their chair >>>No snooty restaurant critics were comparing hot dogs sold at Hi-View and Hollyburn Lodge, describing the coffee sold at Westlake as “swill” or getting after Norm Deacon for not wiping his counter off all day>>>There were no posters plastered on trees along the main trail demanding that revellers desist from singing “Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall” at two o’clock in the morning while lurching back to their cabins>>>Boilermakers were bad news.....and no, I don’t mean the union>>>Rental skiis at Hollyburn Ski Camp all came in the same two-tone colour; ‘pummelled earth brown’ and ‘scaly gray metallic’ >>>For Nordic skiers, there were no “Out of Bounds” signs because there were no bounds. Well, OK, the Capilano watershed. Maybe>>>No PhD students were tromping about counting trees and demanding to test everyone’s water supply for parasites >>>A cup of coffee cost a dime; possibly a bit more on the mountain >>>There were no satellite radios or ipods; just clunky tube or transistor radios powered by huge batteries that often went dead about half-way through a long weekend>>>During the summertime, there was no lifeguard lounging at First Lake telling youngsters they couldn’t cannonball off the high diving board>>>
There were no “No Smoking” signs. Not anywhere. Probably not even in Fred Burfield’s fuel shed >>>There was no internet to which one could post pictures of skiers schussing naked in the moonlight >>>You could still defy death by clambering up the remains of Jack Pratt Memorial Ski Jump >>>Everyone knew what a ‘church key’ was for and how to use it>>>There was no “best before” date stamped on anything for sale at Hi-View Lodge and a person only needed one hand to hold the menu >>>There was no GPS. And, for my money, there’s still no better map of Hollyburn Ridge than the one a bunch of eager beaver Boy Scouts compiled circa 1962 >>>“Because you’re a woman” still worked for guys whenever they wanted to go out with the boys to drink rye and compare the merits of each others’ chainsaws>>>There were no fancy LED flashlights and when the batteries went dead in the regular ones, you carried a ‘bug’ to find your way up the trail........ it’s a jam or coffee can containing a candle with a wire strung through holes for a handle>>>No one would have even considered stomping around the mountain with a petition denouncing Fred Burfield for ripping up the landscape with his tractor>>>If you were laying hurt and helpless after crashing on Suicide or Graveyard at Westlake, chances are the Ski Patrol person would be over on Paradise admiring the view >>>No one ever got sick from drinking too much and it was unheard of to find some poor schmuck dry heaving over a porch rail at a stag party.
O. K., I fibbed just a bit >>>Every cabin owner knew how to use a Swede saw and had the muscles to prove it>>>A guy could still march around with a WW II machete hanging on his belt without fear of being labelled a threat to civilized society>>>really good skiis were few and far between>>>There were no cell phones, voice mail or crank calls; just hand-cranked hardwood telephones linked by the Blueberry Line; if and when it was working>>>There were no snotty interior designers poking around Hi-View griping about the drafts and tut-tutting over there being ‘too much wood’ >>>so-called ‘illicit substances’ consisted of head-reeling home-brewed beer, gut-churning potato wine and fat gallon jugs of rough red hooch harsh enough to make winos wince.>>>On Hollyburn, hangovers were virtually unheard of. And, after consuming any combination of the aforementioned libations, there were no ill effects, no tormented stomachs, and no earnest pleadings for the stabbing pain in your head to go away. O.K., so I bent the truth again>>>There were no rainbow-coloured internal frame back packs; only bulky European rucksacks or that trusty Canadian workhorse; the rigid Trapper Nelson packboard with its grubby, olive-drab canvas bag attached by a couple of stiff wires bent into a ‘U’ at one end>>>There were no fancy designer labels; just names like Pioneer, Filson, Woods, GWG and an assortment of weird Army surplus gear which often made folks who wore it look clownish or incompetent>>>There were no hard-hatted, goggle-wearing, day-glo jumpsuit-clad government inspectors shambling around the ridge checking for defective Coleman lanterns, loose axe handles, leaky gas cans or unregistered chainsaws>>>There was no reliable road access to the ridge unless you count being rudely jostled about for two bone-jarring hours in someone’s deathtrap of a jeep.
And, finally........riding on the Hollyburn Aerial Tramway, a person didn’t need to be a prodigy to figure out that one’s life hung by a thread, or, more accurately, by a rusty, worn-out steel cable running over a bunch of wobbly wheels hanging from towers that didn’t look any too great either. But hey! It was worth every penny even if we were charged an outrageous 75 cents for a return trip. Furthermore, no sane person ever complained because the chairlift enabled all of us to reach the ridge with ease. This meant that anyone who wanted to could join its inhabitants and enjoy the grand times that were always to be found up there. And who wouldn’t be thankful for that?
ONCE UPON A RIDGE
We were boys made men
in muddy boots and mackinaws
high on the heights of Hollyburn
building a cabin in the woods
when day was done
we laughed and joked
and rolled our own
in a beery haze
suffused with pitch
and singed wool socks
in the draping damp
of a drizzling night
under a lantern’s hissing glow
the sounds of camaraderie...
a gathering of friends
lazing in the swelter
of an air-tight stove
in the comfort
of our own creation
Though many years
have come and gone
and destinies fulfilled
there was a time
we lucky four
raised a cabin in the woods.