The History of Hollyburn Lodge
Donald Grant – Archivist/Historian (Hollyburn Heritage Society)
From countless viewpoints on the Lower Mainland, on clear days the nine peaks of the North Shore mountains - Black, Strachan, Hollyburn, the Lions, Crown, Grouse, Fromme, Lynn and Seymour - make an imposing impression on local residents and visitors alike. These mountains mark the southern end of the Coast Range which extend north along the western edge of British Columbia and through Alaska, where the tallest peaks and largest glaciers in North America may be found.
In the early 1920s, many Vancouverites were becoming aware of the potential of Hollyburn as a recreational area. Since the late nineteenth century, loggers and shake and shingle block cutters, in their efforts to reach valuable stands of fir and cedar on the lower slopes of the mountain and move cut logs and shingle bolts down to the sea, had provided quick and easy access to Hollyburn for hikers and skiers. From the beaches and summer cottages of West Vancouver a network of flumes, buildings and skid-roads was built , extending beyond the 2500 foot level. On the Hollyburn plateau, trails were created when streams, lakes and marshes were dammed to provide water for the logging flumes. By the end of the First World War, some hikers had already built log cabins on Hollyburn. Norwegians were the first skiers on the mountain, demonstrating their skills on May 17, 1922, as a way of celebrating their national holiday.
By the mid 1920s, most of the loggers and mill workers had abandoned Hollyburn because they were unable to make a profit from their operations, the remaining stands of useable timber were inaccessible due to their high elevation and the water supply for the flumes was unreliable.
In 1921, Rudolph Jules Verne, a Swedish immigrant and an accomplished skier, made his first trip to Hollyburn. Intending to go to Grouse Mountain, Verne and his companions got on the ferry to West Vancouver by mistake. Rather than return, they walked through the small village and eventually found a trail that led to the deserted buildings near the Nasmyth Shinglebolt Mill at the western end of Hollyburn Ridge. Higher up, they encountered enticing expanses of snow on the plateau below Hollyburn Peak. Verne, always the enthusiastic entrepreneur, recognized that money might be made here. By the beginning of January, 1925, Verne, Eilif Haxthow, Uno Hillstrom and others had set up a ski lodge and rental shop in the bunkhouses at the abandoned mill.
Hikers began to make the two to three hour trip to the new ‘ski camp’ where they could purchase meals and overnight accommodation on a wooden bunk in an unheated room with a layer of green boughs for a mattress. In the evening, if so inclined, they could dance to music from a gramophone player.
In the morning, heavy wooden skis could be rented and were strapped onto any shoes the renter happened to be wearing. A large snow-covered sawdust heap became the first ski run. More adventurous skiers hiked up to First Lake, where snow conditions were better.
During the winters of 1925 and 1926 there was so little snowfall at the Nasmyth Mill site that Verne decided to move his operation to First Lake. With the help of three Swedes - Oscar Pearson, Ole Anderson, Andrew Irvine - and a team of horses, Verne skidded the dismantled ski camp buildings up a muddy, slippery trail to a site on the west side of the lake. There they constructed a ‘temporary’ shelter out of the salvaged logs, planks and shakes, intending to replace it with a more elaborate lodge later on. This ‘temporary’ building, named the Hollyburn Ski Camp, was never replaced. It still stands beside First Lake. Like its predecessor at the Old Mill site, the Hollyburn Ski Camp was a combined lodge, restaurant and dance hall, complete with a gramophone player. It ‘officially’ opened in January, 1927.
Assisted by local skiers, the Swedes cut ski runs out of the virgin forest, using the timber to build rental cabins. The main ski run was only 20 to 23 feet (6-7 m) wide, but it ran from Hollyburn Peak down to West Lake, a distance of 2 1/2 to three miles (4-5 km). There were several ski jumps, including one at First Lake, where ‘the three musketeers’ - Nordahl Kaldahl, Henry Sotvedt, Tom Mobraaten, (Canadian jumper at the 1934 and 1948 Olympics) and others like Nels Nelson, Axel Sneis, Jack Pratt and Jack Roocroft trained and competed.
By 1931, Verne had incurred such deep debts with the Swedes that they took over the whole operation.
It is widely accepted that the thirties, forties and early fifties were Hollyburn’s ‘golden age.’ Late Friday afternoon, up to 400 young men and women from Vancouver would start their weekend trip to the mountain with a ride on the streetcar to the ferry slip at the foot of Columbia and Hastings and walk to the ferry. There they paid ten cents for the 30 minute ride through the First Narrows to the dock at Ambleside.
In the gathering dark, skiers and partygoers would make their way from the ferry dock up the trail to the lodges and cabins of Hollyburn, lighting their way with bug lights and miner's carbide lamps. On Saturday , more folks would hike up the mountain for an afternoon of skiing before going to the lodge for the Saturday Night Dance.
In 1946, the Hollyburn Ski Camp was purchased by the Burfield family from Oscar, Ole and Andrew who were growing weary from carrying the heavy loads of supplies up the mountain. The Burfields renamed the ski camp “Hollyburn Ski Lodge.” Men’s and women’s dorms were built near the lodge to accommodate the increasing numbers of visitors.
In 1951, a single-person chairlift was built to bring skiers from Hat Inn, near the top of the Chelsea subdivision, up to the newly built Hi-View Lodge. From there, young families could make the long hike to First Lake, where they could purchase tickets for the rope tow that took them to the top of the ‘Popfly’ ski run.
Competition from more accessible ski areas such as Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour led to Hollyburn's decline in the mid -1950s. The chairlift went broke about the time that Hi-View Lodge burned down in June, 1965.
For almost 20 years, Hollyburn saw few visitors, with the exception of a dedicated group of cabin owners and their friends. Then, in 1968, a logging scandal at Cypress Bowl renewed public interest in the area. The government eventually halted the logging, after 15 million board-feet had been removed. Ray Williston, then Minister of Natural Resources, recommended that Cypress be locked up for 10 to 15 years of reforestation.
As several levels ot government debated the area's future, another scandal unfolded. This one involved the Manila-based Benguet Corporation, which leased Cypress Bowl with the intention of running cruise-ships between a Vegas-Iike ski development and casinos in the Bahamas. The government cancelled Benguet's lease after criminal allegations related to the corporation’s operations were made public.
In 1973, the B.C. government finally bowed to public pressure and designated the area as Cypress Provincial Park. A $ l3 million highway was built to provide easy access to the new alpine ski development on Black and Strachan and improved Nordic runs on Hollyburn, all of which opened in 1976. Fred Burfield continued to operate Hollyburn Ski Lodge, renting skis to growing numbers of cross-country enthusiasts.
In 1983, the provincial government announced plans to have the ski areas privately run by a single operator. This would remove the government from the costly business of maintaining ski hills, especially ones with inconsistent snow conditions.
In 1984, after almost a decade of losses, the downhill and cross-country operations were purchased by Cypress Bowl Recreations Ltd., owned by three business men, including Wayne Booth., for $500,000 with a 50-year renewable Park Use Permit. In the early 1990’s, Milan Illich became a co-owner when Booth’s two partners retired. For marketing purposes all the ski facilities on Black, Strachan and Hollyburn were referred to as Cypress Mountain. Hollyburn Ski Lodge was renamed Hollyburn Lodge.
On February 20, 2001, CBRL sold Cypress Mountain to an American company, Boyne USA. A new company, Boyne Canada, headed by John Kircher, was created to manage the ski operation.
In the summer of 2003, Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Olympic/Paralympic Winter Games. The freestyle skiing and snowboarding events will be taking place on Black Mountain. Hollyburn pioneers hoped that a newly-restored Hollyburn Lodge would be ready for the Olympic Celebrations. Their dream was not realized.
In November 30, 2012, there was renewed hope that Hollyburn Lodge would be restored by the end of 2014. This did not happen, but a new lodge, built in the image of the old lodge, will be officially opened on Sunday, January 15, 2017, 90 years after the opening of the original Hollyburn Lodge.