It is at this moment March 19th, 2003. It is a wet, dull, dreary day at quarter to six in the evening. I’ve been asked to put on tape my reflections of Hollyburn Mountain because the Hollyburn Heritage Society is an active entity. They’ve put out some excellent pictures and material and they’re trying to rehabilitate the old ski lodge at First Lake and so I’ll put a few words down. In the early fall of 1929 I was just going into Grade 8 at Point Grey Junior High School. I was thirteen coming fourteen in October. My friend, Don Fraser (who was, I think, in my class at that time - he certainly was at some time in my early schooling) and I somehow got interested in going up Hollyburn Mountain. We used to go to Hollyburn commencing in ‘29 and into ‘30. We stayed at a big, old rat and mouse infested cabin, built and owned by Mush Limon, Art Alex (I think his name was), and two or three other guys. I know Mush is gone and probably the others are all gone.
We went up there and did what all young kids do. We did snowshoe a little bit - I have one snowshoe for some funny reason in my office upstairs where I’m sitting right now as a memory piece - and I think we rented skis. I didn’t have skis of my own at that time. And so we did our thing as young kids up Hollyburn.
You could go up Hollyburn in those days and literally not see a single soul. In fact, as we got more proficient on skis, Don and I and the others we were with would go up as far as the top of the peak of Hollyburn, which is a considerable distance because our cabin was at what we call the "Old Mill", so the peak not only had significant altitude difference but was a long way off, and we’d spend the whole day with our primitive skis and lack of good wax and so forth. We applied on our skis an undercoat of pine tar - I remember it was sticky black stuff. On top of that we would put just regular candle wax - that's all that we had.
Later, I know I bought a pair of skis from Hamish Davidson who had a shop where he made, I think, canoes and started making laminated skis. They were very wide, very heavy, but they were wonderful skis - for the time they were wonderful skis. The boots we used were just logger's boots, with hobnails in them. We had nothing, of course, of the wonderful and expensive clothing, boots, and equipment that is available today, but we didn't know any better and we had a ball.
Hollyburn was a great place for young lads and some young women - girls too - who went up there. My cousin Eleanor Graham - she and some girlfriends had a cabin. I was never to it. I didn’t know anything about Eleanor’s cabin until later years. Now when Don and I and the others went up Hollyburn, most of the time we would take the West Vancouver ferry from the foot of Columbia Street. This little ferry, about fifty feet in length and very narrow, went through the First Narrows to the Ambleside wharf, which is still there. The ticket office was in the small building near the dock that has now been converted to a small public art gallery. We had little money for tickets as this was the beginning of the very terrible depression that lasted for all the time that I was going up the mountain. I know I started in ‘29 and went up only once or twice in ‘35 and ‘36, having started to work in October, 1934. We would hike all the way from the Ambleside wharf up to Marine Drive, head west and cut through what is now West Vancouver Memorial Park and wind our way along a route scattered with houses until we got to the trailhead at the top of 22nd Street.
The trail itself was a very nice trail, very beautiful, scenic - a good walking/hiking trail that had several creeks with beautiful water that we would get drinks from - of course you didn’t think anything about beaver fever or any other such thing in those days. We just had no problem whatsoever.
Higher up the mountain you would encounter snow. We used to have a lot of snow in those days for some reason and I have pictures to prove it. You might have had considerable snow during the week or even two weeks since you were up the previous time and our cabin, which I will describe later, was quite a way in from what was the "Old Mill" and therefore you could be totally the only person in that whole area of the mountain. And you’re in there struggling up the steep little hills the considerable distance which was as much as, well, maybe half a mile - certainly a few city blocks - from what was considered to be the "Old Mill" site.
Now to illustrate the "Old Mill" site, it was a clearing of stumps that had to be as much as a hundred acres in size with the headwaters of Cypress Creek going through it. It was called the "Old Mill" because it was where shinglebolt bolts were cut in the earlier 20’s up until 1923 or so when the mill workers either quit or went broke. The two main people were Mr. Naysmyth and Mr. Johnstone. They started this little shinglebolt mill and built a flume down which they would send the shinglebolts which are blocks of cedar from which shingles or shakes would be cut. The water of Cypress Creek was used to flush down the blocks of cedar. The shinglebolts would go all the way down to a small processing plant within four city blocks from where I’m sitting at 3850 Marine Drive. The concrete foundation was still around a few years ago up by the BC Rail tracks - very close at hand.
There is evidence, still, of the pond and the pond dam where the shinglebolt mill was located. You shouldn’t call it a mill because it wasn’t a sawmill. It was just for making these blocks of cedar. In 1926/1927, the cookhouse used by the workers at the "Old Mill" site was moved by a group of Scandinavians board by board as much as a mile and a half up to higher ground and a better location at First lake where it now still stands - better because the snow was deeper and lasted longer.
In ‘31, I think, Don and I decided we would build our own cabin. Well, that just didn’t work out. First of all, the site, as I remember it, was a nice site, with s good view of the city but crummy trees around it. The one picture I have is of Don sitting on the floor of our would-be cabin with several small logs from nearby trees we have cut down, logs just no good at all for building a cabin. We were very young and we didn’t know any better so that was a false start. We gave that one up and I think the very next year we chose a spot surrounded trees very suitable for the building of a cabin with a little creek nearby that became our water supply.
We bought on Main Street a two-man crosscut saw, an ax, and a frow we used for splitting shakes. A frow is a blade with a round hole in the end in which you put a wooden handle.
So we built our cabin. I remember it was very hard physical work and we were again, I repeat, just kids. and groping our way, so to speak. What we used for the floor and I think for the door and I know for the shutter on the one window that we made was , in fact, a few remaining 2 by 12 boards that were part of the flume that originated from the "Old Mill" which was a considerable distance from our cabin.
Having started our first attempt at a cabin in '30/ '31, we probably finished our second cabin in 1932, a cozy, little log cabin, and hung the sign "Woodbox" on it along with our names Don Fraser and Jim Graham. That was a happy day!
"Woodbox" was built about half a mile from the "Old Mill". Our friends George and Charlie Pope built a bigger and better cabin at the north end of the "Old Mill" site.
There were no rules and regulations when Don and I were building our cabin on Hollyburn - from the first time I went up there in '29 until I left in 35'/ '36, having sold the cabin for $75 to Gerry Gaffney who was a partner in Holland's Grocery Store in Kerrisdale at that time. You could go up the mountain, cut your trees, split your shakes, build your cabin, cut your firewood - do whatever you wanted and nobody asked you any questions.
Well, just before the time I quit going up, West Vancouver made it necessary to get permission to cut down trees and build on a particular site. You had to pay an annual $10 fee. Those near the "Old Mill" site and beyond were exempt from this fee because they were out of bounds.
There was a young, and I believe, excellent (although I never met him) official, Scotty Finlayson who traveled the mountainside, inspecting building sites and clearing the many creeks of debris and dead animals.
Now we were at the western extremity of where the cabins were built. The more active area for cabins was actually up near or beside or on the way up to the Ski Camp at First Lake. There were a lot of cabins built up there, many of which still stand and have been maintained so that people are able to use them to this day.
Somewhere I have a picture of our elder daughter, Margaret, when she was about eight to ten years old, sitting or standing beside the remains of our cabin but for the life of me I haven’t been able to find anything in the past ten to fifteen years, much as I have tried. The truth is the road that was built in 1965 or so up to Cypress Bowl maybe, I think, went right through where the cabin was so of course there is nothing left to be found.
I should maybe say that cabin owners such as ourselves did have a lot of bear trouble. In the early thirties there were only a few cabins that bears could raid in their search for food. To keep out the bears, Don and I had to put 3/4" steel bars in our window in addition to the heavy shutter. The entrance to our cabin was another vulnerable area which we secured with the door made from the the old flume planks. The bears resorted to actually tearing off shakes to get into the cabin. Once in, the bears would puncture the tins of food we had stored there but in the end get very little out of them.
I never did see a cougar in my early days up there but I came across a cougar when I was coming down the mountain on my little motorbike not too many years ago. This cougar bounded across the highway in front of me and then slowly waved his tail when I stopped and shone my bike light back at him. But there were cougars there and there were a number of deaths that I remember - people getting lost and frozen to death or maybe attacked by animals - I don’t know.
I note in my diary of February 29, 1933, we had seven and a half feet of snow at our cabin. Higher up at First Lake, there was twelve feet of snow. As I have already mentioned, I struggling more than once - many times I think - when I went up the mountain alone Friday night after school and my friend, Don, would join me there the next day. I would struggle waist deep in new snow, for that half mile particularly, from the "Old Mill" trail to our cabin. This was, of course, after dark and in retrospect, terribly dangerous really. What we used to light our way was not a nice acetylene headlamp but a "bug" as we called it. A "bug" was made from a five pound Empress jam can. We punched holes in the bottom of the can so that air from the front (as we carried it) would be able to circulate through the can. We then attached a wire handle on what became the top side of the can. On the opposite side (or bottom side) we punched a ragged hole into which we screwed a candle. The candle would have to be moved up as it started to burn down. The bug was very efficient. The darn thing was that you would forget to push the candle up as it started to consume itself and as a consequence it might just fall down into the snow and go out, leaving you in the dark trying to find the blank blank thing. However, that was a way of making you more aware that you had to take care of yourself.
Our other equipment was primitive too. There was really no such thing as hiking gear. I had bought a pair of logger's boots with hobnails for $4.55 at Head's Store on Hastings Street. They were good boots and I used them also for skiing. My pants were made of heavy cotton. Every week, all over them, I would rub a heavy coat of just plain candle wax. Then I would iron in that candle wax with my mother's hot iron and in retrospect what a thing to for my mom - use her hot iron with wax - which she would then use to iron her blouses and shirts for me and my dad, but I don't remember complaining even once.
I had a good warm sweater and a leather jacket that was particularly good for cold winds. I don't think I ever owned a hat until I married in the late thirties.
I refer a lot to my diaries that I kept in those days - seventy plus years ago - and I am astonished at the heavy loads we carried most of the time all the way from the ferry wharf at Ambleside. They were forty-five to eighty-five pounds and I was only thirteen to eighteen years of age through that period. I was six feet tall and one hundred forty-five pounds - I wish I were that again today! How we change, how we fade away.
We lived in Kerrisdale in those days at 41st and MacDonald, the 2800 block, always traveling by street car from Columbia and Powell to get home, almost let off at our door, and it only took 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours from cabin to house. 41st was a dirt road in those days with very little traffic. That's a remarkably short time to travel that distance by hiking, ferry, and streetcar.
When heading for the mountain, I would leave home as late as 8:00 p.m. on a Friday night, often, and I would other times leave home as early as 5:30 a.m. with the first street car. To hike up the mountain in the wintertime, it would generally take one and a half to two hours, depending on the load and the amount of snow.
My friends up the mountain, particularly close friends that Hollyburn oldtimers or their descendants just might know or remember were Don Fraser, Mac Thompson, Noel Craig, George and Charlie Pope, Cliff Lout, Art Alex, Jack Tucker, Eddie Burton, Don Steeves, Dave Baine, Jim Francum and others that are long since gone.
I did know Jim and his daughter, Sadie, who built their little cabin - restaurant really, that became a resting place at "The Forks". They started there, I think, in 1935 as a little bakery where they made wonderful bread, buns, cookies, jam, coffee, and so on. We seldom had the money to buy their baked goods or coffee, but it was a great spot and we did sometimes store our skis there for a week or so for, I think 50¢.
From "The Forks", we would take the the left trail to the "Old Mill" site at "The Forks". As mentioned in my earlier description of the Hollyburn Trail, we still had lots of evidence in those years of the shake and shinglebolt operation. Skidder logs had been used to haul the logs to the mill and these were still embedded in the trail. The "Old Mill" pond and dam were still a reality then. There was quite a big sawdust pile from the cutting of the logs and a big acreage of stumps that was the "Old Mill" clearing. There was a cabin just a hundred or so yards into the forest north of the clearing. They had a little electric generator on the stream for generating their own electricity.
Nasmyth, in connection with the "Old Mill", was a name I knew. I knew his partner, Johnstone, very well, and his family, who were my age. The two remaining widowed daughters, Ruth Harrison and Marion Appleton are good friends to whom I gave a brick I salvaged from the pond area of the "Old Mill" just a few years ago. This brick has now been donated to the Hollyburn Heritage Society.
I went to school with the son of Mr. Heaps, who was also very much a Hollyburn oldtimer prior to Naysmyth and Johnstone. The Heaps also owned and operated a very large and successful engineering firm at the very east end of Lulu Island in Queensboro.
One must remember everyone knew almost everyone else in little Vancouver in those days. The population of Greater Vancouver was probably a paltry 300,000.
The Fred Burfield era was an excellent era and to have a destination like his coffee shop inside the Hollyburn Lodge at First Lake was a great welcome and a great asset in those years.
It seemed to me the whole of Black Mountain was ablaze in the summer of 1925/1926. There were, of course, many terrible forest fires in those days, costly, particularly, in terms of the loss of wonderful timber. In the thirties, some supposedly were deliberately set by unemployed individuals who felt they might get some weeks of work in those terrible depression years fighting fires.
In April, 1935, a group of friends and I climbed up Black Mountain from Horseshoe Bay. The gully near the top was still filled with treacherous ice and snow. At the top we had good views of Bowen Island and the mountains rising above the western shore of Howe Sound. On the descent we had a "close shave" when two in our party slid down a steep slope into a snow hole. It was our good fortune that we were able to pull them out.
Often, summer hiking took us over Strachan Mountain and down the rocky and somewhat dangerous north gully to the meadows and far beyond - a fabulous mountain area.
Perhaps I should mention that I bought my second hand skis for $10.50. In 1934, a friend of mine made his own skis from maple wood. as actually quite a few people did in those days. The prices were abysmally low in those days. Snow glasses - I paid $1 for new ones, workpants - $1.60, a haircut - 25¢, gasoline - a dollar a gallon,a streetcar anywhere in Vancouver - 6¢. Of course wages if one could get work during the Depression were much lower too. It was just a different period of time.
In 1931, the District of West Vancouver sold 3952 acres of prime real estate extending from the Capilano Valley to beyond Horseshoe Bay to the United Kingdom's Guinness family for $75,200 or $19.03 per acre. Since then, this land has been known as the British Pacific Properties.
I should also mention that to rent skis from the Ski Camp you paid 25¢ for an hour or a dollar for the whole day. The ferry was 20¢ one way, 35¢ return, and the only accident I remember was on February 4th, 1925, when a West Vancouver Ferry #5 was rammed by the CPR Princess Alice on a very foggy evening and sunk. One woman was unfortunately drowned.
Much later in my life, I became very active on Hollyburn at the expense of losing some friends who thought otherwise than I. I worked hard as a member of the West Vancouver Hollyburn Society to prevent a golf course from being built up there, actually right in the area where we built our second cabin. It would have been a crummy place for a golf course. Now it is dedicated parkland and will be preserved forever as such in its native state. There were a lot of yellow cedars and red cedars up there in those days and some of these still stand. I've walked through the area many times. BC Parks has done nothing with the land yet. They haven't put in any pathways or duckboards yet but they will in time, no doubt and the park will be a lovely little jewel just up the hill from where I sit. (EDITOR'S NOTE: In 2005 the District of West Vancouver formally established the "Old Growth Conservancy" on Hollyburn Ridge.)
In my many years of semiretirement, I have also been privileged to to enjoy and test myself on most of the local mountains, Crown, the Lions, Cheam, and so forth, but also some of the great mountains of the world such as Mt. Fuji in Japan, Kinabalu in Borneo, Kilimanjaro in Africa, Kala Pattar just next to Everest in Nepal, Vesuvius in Italy, and so forth. I'm so very fortunate to have done all of these things.
I will say in closing that these reflections may be of some interest to the Hollyburn pioneers of long ago and to future generations as well. I feel very privileged to have had such a love affair with our local mountains. Of course I'm sorry to see them now so very developed and busy. However I keep reminding myself they aren't really just my mountains, they are part of what makes Vancouver the special city that it is.
My last few words are both tragically interesting, almost prophetic, in that they cover world events during the period often referred to as "the good old days" on the mountain. The dreadful Great Depression lasted from the Fall of '29 really up until the start of World War II in '39. As I read my precious, personal diaries I'm reminded of the blood baths in China resulting from the Japanese invasions and the raping of the country and the people. I am reminded of the fearsome Spanish Civil War involving Germany and Italy backing one side and Russia backing the other. I note in my diary that I was very fearful that this conflict was going to escalate into a full world war. Also at that time was the unprovoked invasion of Ethiopia by Italy, a bloody war in itself. And then ultimately Hitler's rise to power and the incredible butchery and and destruction involving really the whole world. All the years I speak of involved one tragic event after another.
The young today are fearful and burdened by the present Iraqi War, the escalating East/West Muslim/Christian terrorism, and responsibility of protecting the future. All the more reason, I think that we should continue working hard to preserve our immense gift from God, our Hollyburn, our North Shore Mountains.
Jim Graham spent many hours preparing and recording his "Reflections of Hollyburn" for the Hollyburn Heritage Society. We are truly grateful for his efforts.
In 1983, Queen Elizabeth II came to open the Graham Amazon Gallery. Here is Dr. Murray A. Newman's account of the occasion from Life in a Fishbowl: As we approached the marmoset exhibit, the queen took in the beautifully created scene. .... tree branches extended along the side of the exhibit, enabling the animals to come to the glass. This our two perfectly matched marmosets did, leaping up to perch side by side and peer at the queen, who peered back.