A R T I F A C T S of Y E S T E R Y E A R
A. G. M. F.
“Artifacts of Yesteryear” is a sweeping account of the history of Hollyburn Mountain,
which pays homage to its early pioneers and the structures they left behind. (HHS)
In 1924, Swedish immigrant Rudolph Jules Verne along with several young men newly arrived from Scandinavia devised an ambitious plan to promote winter sports in Vancouver. They acquired a derelict loggers’ cook shack and several small cabins at the former Nasmyth mill site on Hollyburn Ridge and transformed them into the first commercial ski operation on Vancouver’s North Shore mountains1. After two seasons of low snowfall, they dismantled the cook shack and hauled it in stages to higher ground, then opened for business as the Hollyburn Ski Camp on a site beside First Lake on January 16, 19272. Elsewhere on The Ridge, locals keen on outdoor pursuits, lent their hands to felling trees for log cabins3, most of which were clustered close to a winter snowline that normally lingered around 900 metres (3000 feet). In just a few short years, faint paths became well-beaten trails threading through a labyrinth of cabin sites to a rough-hewn mountain lodge. And, while this ‘chalet’ at First Lake served hikers and picnickers in summertime4, it essentially existed to support Nordic events where competitors soared off makeshift wooden trestles5, or demonstrated their skiing prowess on hard-fought downhill races6.
In skiing’s formative days, despite ungainly hickory slats, stiff leather boots and basic bindings7, devotees weren’t to be dissuaded from spending their time gliding through snow covered woodlands. Not surprisingly, skiers weren’t the only souls yearning to escape Vancouver’s gloomy, rain-slicked streets. Whether skiing, snow-shoeing8 or simply delighting in a pristine world of white, being on Hollyburn was an invigorating way to elude life’s turmoil, if only for a few hours9. As a result, First Lake’s humble encampment became an indispensable mainstay for outdoor diversions. By day, seasoned skiers craving copious snowfall repeatedly trekked to Hollyburn’s crest10, and then, by turns, left their intertwining tracks on undulating inclines and sinuous runs11. Afterwards, in the dusky remainder of another wintry day, revelers gathered inside the ski camp to socialize12, or made their way to the lantern-lit confines of someone’s cozy cabin.
Whether visible alongside a main trail or hidden deep in the woods13, cabins embodied the toil it took to build them14. Constructing cabins wasn’t for the faint of heart, since it required backbone, stick-to-it-iveness, and a few essential tools for working in the bush15. And of all the cabins on Hollyburn, none were more admired than those expertly crafted by Swedish and Norwegian immigrants16, whose skill in joining or ‘notching’ logs together was unsurpassed. By their very nature, cabins evolved in uniquely organic ways as builders strained to lay yellow cedar or balsam logs one atop the other17. Shakes for roofing or other uses were cut from red cedars felled on the mountain’s flank, and then borne back uphill on pack-boards to cabin-sites18. By the late 1930s, a rough tally of Hollyburn abodes regularly occupied by local folks likely exceeded 200.
Despite the mountain’s relative inaccessibility - or perhaps because those who repeatedly made the ascent knew it took a reservoir of stamina to do so - Hollyburn acquired a faithful contingent of regulars19. And of those steadfast individuals who routinely trekked ‘up the mountain’ to their retreats, most possessed a penchant for contriving clever, cryptic, or capricious names to accord their cabins character. Certainly for some, descriptors signified a form of posterity, or a desire that their habitation should be identified by more than just a number, yet no one could know if their particular dwelling would endure. Notable appellations like “Skiesta”20, “Misty Manor”21, “Skogeheim”, “Wee Nip Inn”22, “Hwis-Ki-Jacks”, “Trails of Hofman”, “Sky Tavern”23, “Try and Find It”, “Snow Haven”, and “Norselander”24 are among scores of distinctive designations applied to cabins on Hollyburn Ridge. During the war years (1939-1945), and in its immediate aftermath, a regrettable number of susceptible or less substantial cabins succumbed to benign neglect or the ruinous effects of turbulent weather. Nonetheless, more than a few of them attained immortality, if only as intriguing footnotes in the annals of Hollyburn’s historic past.
During the 1950s, ridge-top regulars bound for their Hollyburn haunts, headed up the mountain by various means. Some strapped on heavy packs; prepared for a strenuous hike. A few headstrong characters hell bent on driving closer to their cabin sites, ground gears along a rutted, dirt tote-road following a series of switch-backs up the mountain. Everyone else motored to Hollyburn Aerial Tramway’s lower terminal to hop on a recently-built chairlift. Prior to embarking, some folks paused to check gear and shoot the breeze inside the H.A.T. Inn, since it adjoined the platform25. Then, all bundled up with pack in hand, riders grabbed hold of the next seat on this new-fangled conveyance (powered by an over-worked engine) and hung on trepidatiously while it swung skywards26. In the space of 15-30 minutes, each chair droned along past 27 steel towers for just over 2km (1 mile) until it reached the upper terminal located at 847m (2780 feet) above sea level for an elevation gain of some 535m (1750 feet).27 On clear days, a backward glance offered escalating vistas of Vancouver, while alongside the chairlift’s cutline, exposed vegetation included: mixed deciduous, a thin band of ‘dog-hair forest’, old growth red cedars; mature hemlock and fir. Upon alighting at the upper terminus28, passengers became onlookers standing at a pleasant prospect upon which was perched the impressive Hi-View Lodge: a sturdy log edifice whose confines welcomed each arrival29. Patrons stopping to warm up inside or purchase simple fare from snack bar offerings were treated to a panorama of the Lower Mainland while seated at weighty wooden tables lined up next to Hi-View’s expansive windows30.
For hikers striking out from Hi-View to ramble around the quiet woods of Hollyburn, just a whiff of wood smoke conveyed a reassuring sign that folks were at home on The Ridge.31 Whatever the season, tramping along a forest trail imparted all that one could ask of sublime seclusion; a state of being keenly felt by those who knew these trails by heart.32 And, while die-hard hikers often groused that summer’s splendour rarely lasted long enough, thoughts of autumn’s frosty nights and misty morns were always in the minds of those who kept a mountain cabin. For as serried ridgelines turned to gleaming white tableaus with each successive shroud of snow, beholders knew the mantle of winter had once again transformed the heights of Hollyburn.33
Then, seekers of snow on their perpetual quest gripped wooden poles while striding along muffled corridors of pale gloom: beckoned by beguiling glades of brightness just beyond. On hectic days, skiers leaving Hi-View Lodge either trudged uphill, forging on to First Lake34, or aimed their skiis towards Westlake Lodge35. After a thrilling day spent hurtling down nubbled slopes, day-trippers backtracked to the chairlift prior to nine o’clock for their return trip down the mountain. A lucky few staying on The Ridge - citing firesides and friends - reposed with bought or brewed libations to recount the day’s events, or regale a receptive group with storied snows of winters past. And o’er those long, dark, hibernal months, woodstoves radiated soothing warmth36 as cabineers communed until the last skiable slope dissolved into patchy drifts of sodden slush.
With the onset of vernal rains, mountain steams gushed snowmelt, as springtime’s bracing air ushered sounds of birdsong midst a reawakened forest. With the dewy glint of early dawns, fervent sunbeams permeated woodlands, hinting piquantly of oozing pitch. Come high days of summer, footfalls traced familiar trails to alluring alpine lakes and explored secluded groves on fragrant, moonlit nights37. In August, hordes of blueberry pickers with empty pails converged on sunlit slopes to join the occasional bear intent on using its paws and maw to strip selected branches of their bounty. Such idyllic scenes were, by any measure, reflections of a carefree existence that seemingly had no end. For regular inhabitants of Hollyburn, this placid way of life was held to be as constant as the seasons. Yet, knowing Mother Nature’s strange propensities, unforeseen events often rule the day, and so it was when fate took a tragic turn in June of 1965. During the night, a raging conflagration consumed Hi-View Lodge taking the chairlift with it38. In a matter of hours, an irreplaceable part of Hollyburn Mountain perished in the flames39. For the previous fifteen years, this forested realm had been an all-encompassing entity unto its own. Now the future was imposing its will on the past. Some twenty years later, when fire claimed Westlake Lodge, it merely served as a grim reminder of what was irretrievably lost40. After that, numerous other structures that heretofore served the public well and lent this mountain character were ignominiously dismantled. Just a few paces away from Hollyburn Lodge, log bunkhouses and tiny huts built by proprietors for patrons bunking overnight during the mountain’s heyday were deemed to have outlived their usefulness. Upon a knoll to the East overlooking First Lake a clutch of Ski Club cabins that once claimed a prime site no longer exist41. From this prominent location, generations of youth heartily pursued the boundlessness of life on Hollyburn Mountain42.
After fending off Nature’s inclemencies for nine decades, the logs, timbers and shingled roof of Hollyburn Lodge had outlived their natural life. Regardless, regulars on The Ridge consoled themselves knowing Hollyburn’s oldest lodge remained the mountain’s centrepiece. Yet, given the essential nature of aging wooden structures and the extremes of a coastal mountain climate, everyone understood their cherished retreat could not stand forever. Since 1926, neither a careless human hand, nor some calamitous ‘act of God’ managed to reduce the ‘old red lodge’ to ruins. Only decrepitude and the relentless passage of time could still the heart of Hollyburn.
In June of 2015, amidst an atmosphere of profound regret, First Lake’s original skier’s lodge was methodically demolished, laid to rest with other long-standing structures that once graced these heights. Yet, to legions of people from all walks of life, ‘the old red lodge’ was a special place, and it surely endures in the hearts and minds of anyone who ever crossed its threshold. Offsetting feelings of loss was a welcome measure of good news. Supporters unwilling to accept the permanent absence of Hollyburn Mountain’s foremost landmark were actively promoting the Hollyburn Lodge Renewal Project. And, since its inception, requisite funds to rebuild have steadily accrued from governments, corporate sources and the generosity of individual donors.
It is anticipated that contractors, with the support of volunteers, will complete this modern replica of the 1926 ski camp in the late fall of 2016. (To view photos of the construction site as it was in 2015, CLICK HERE. (For 2016 photos, CLICK HERE.) The official opening will take place on January 15, 2017, the 90th anniversary of the opening of the original lodge. It will continue to serve as a common gathering place for Hollyburn’s heritage cabin community, just as the ‘old red lodge’ did in its time. Encompassed by ghostly reminders of memorable days gone by, this cultural centre opens its doors to new generations of woodland wanderers. Inside, an extensive display of memorabilia retrieved from the old lodge invites casual reflection. Now, as passers by pause beside the margin of First Lake, they will discern in the words of a simple sign the enduring hallmark of Hollyburn Mountain: “Here You Will Find A Welcome Most Kind”.
As the oldest of some 80 remaining heritage cabins nears its centenary, individuals who maintain these ridge-top habitations not only regard their long-standing retreats as affirmative forms of escape, but an authentic means of preserving Hollyburn Mountain’s historic past. Their desire to keep this community intact is summed up in the clarion call of “Cabins Alive!” Inspired by trailblazing forebears, they are guided by a pioneer spirit still ascendent on this height of land.
Readers interested in learning more about the story of Hollyburn Mountain can access a wealth of information on this website. To find out more about heritage cabins, go to: http://hollyburnridge.ca/
A. G. M. F. – July, 2016