Today I took a short 30-minute uphill stroll and was transported to the land of my youth. I was surrounded by the ghosts of the past - ghosts who have walked with me through all these years. Instead of this middle-aged, affluent housewife, grandmother, wife and sometime athlete, I was once again a vibrant teenager of the depression years enjoying one of the many splendours of this great city. This unique paradise came free to anyone ambitious enough to expend the necessary energy to reach it - a beautiful Shangri-La that masqueraded by the name of Hollyburn.
In the late 1930s we were one big family, we who hiked, skied, chopped wood, built log cabins and escaped each weekend to the marvellous playland, fondly referred to as “up the hill”. Only one percent of the total population of Vancouver were aware of this life at the top of the mountain. We skiers were pioneering what has become the most popular winter sport today. No fancy bindings, buckle boots, fibreglass skis for us; they were still a quarter of a century away. But Hamish Davidson and the Grimwood brothers were producing our first laminated skis and some of us were sporting steel edges! Our old equipment would make a modern day ski patroller pale at the sight. But we didn’t have ski patrollers, of course, but we did have Bus Malcolm. Accidents seemed few and far between. We were a cautious lot compared to the new breed of Hot Doggers. It has occurred to me that accidents were almost impossible to sustain in such a hardy group.
As I surveyed the scene today, the old faces I knew came back to me as dear as any family member. Jack Pratt, super skier of that era; Ed "Annie" Oakley beloved purveyor of hot dogs at the foot of Romstads; Dave Matthews, seven day bike rider and constant clown, with his homemade set of ugly false teeth he'd pop in and out for laughs; the tragic Doc Currie; aristocratic George Bury, and the oldster Chris Engh; and the Swedes, hosts of the Ski Camp (just when did it become a LODGE?). Oscar, Andrew. Steena and OIie - always to be found surrounded by ski friends and smiling broadly. Often I wondered if these natives of Sweden who chose to make the top of our mountain their home in Canada, could even ski. They WERE Hollyburn. They eventually returned to their homeland and have been visited by some of us. Their constant topic of conversation is Hollyburn! Now more than 30 years have passed since I last stood here in the Ski Camp, this warm old room with the smoky fireplace, the scene of those memorable Saturday night dances. Incredibly the floor is still intact, that heavy timber floor that took such a beating from our hiking boots and how did it withstand the punishment of hundreds of exuberant bodies jumping rhythmically to the rousing Schotlishe - one, two, three, hop? It was especially nostalgic for me to stand and reminisce within these four walls, for this is where I first met Bud Maclnnes, my husband for 31 years now. Many romances flourished in the romantic land of snow. The big transition from bulky Plus 4’s to sleek "downhills" turned everyone glamourous overnight, and I never knew a ‘lodge lounger’ in those days.
On weekends we converged on the mountain from every direction. North Vancouverites walked the long road over the Capilano River bridge to the top of 22nd Street in West Vancouver. We city dwellers caught the old Bonnabelle at the foot of Columbia Street with our packsacks full of groceries, records for the gramophone and occasionally an armchair, table or a mattress. (You haven't lived until you've, been part of the crew packing a stove or a piano up the Main Trail.) Most of us succumbed to taking the bus from Ambleside to Mathers and 22nd, unlike the few purists who continued to walk that route. Then would begin the two hour hike to the cabins - I wonder if they still make those rubber boots with cleats, white for ladies of course. And crampons for the slippery stretches. Arrival at the cabin precipitated a trip with the bucket to the water hole.
After a quick wash. brr-rr, a change of sweaty clothes by the glow of the coal oil lamp, we were off and running. A fifteen minute hike brought us to the hub of everything, the Ski Camp, where the rafters were already ringing with the music of the day. We who worked a full day Saturday really had to put on some speed to catch the action. 1 worked at the Bay which closed at 6 p.m. in those days. My pack had been carried with me on the street car in the morning and I changed into hiking: clothes in the locker room, then rushed by foot to catch the 7 p.m. ferry, Add to that the 30 minute ferry crossing, bus ride, two hour hike and final jaunt to the dance and you can see how it would be easy to miss the festivities. But we were only warming up for Sunday. In the days of no ski lifts of any kind, every downhill run meant a hike up carrying the skis on your shoulder. We took all this for granted. No one groaned about it. Uphill skiing was "as important as the downhill. In fact, when I arrived on the ski scene in the east during the war, I so impressed the easterners with my uphill climbing ability 1 was promptly put on the Canadian ladies' ski team! Later I did gain a little downhill ability and skied for Canada in the international Kate Smith Trophy event at Lake Placid, but it was my uphill climbing that put me on the map.
The weekend's fun was not over after the day's skiing. There was the great supper you prepared on the huge old cast iron, wood burning stove. And after that you repacked the pack, lit your "bug" and started the fun journey down the Main Trail, picking up tittle groups as they emerged from their cabins. And the West Van ferries will never again hear such singsongs and laughter. The sadness of the evening came at the ferry slip on the city side. We parted quietly, each one off on his appropriate streetcar taking him to his city world which he would endure for the week, until happy Saturday rolled around again. There was little socializing done among the skiers in the downtown area, or in the summertime. We did have one grand Skiers’ Picnic in the spring and the formal Skiers’ Ball at the old Commodore Cabaret in the fall. During the work week the "in" place to gather at lunch hour was the very popular “Two Skiers” sporting goods store run by Gus Johnson and Henry Sotvedt.
As the clothes progressed from the bulky to the streamlined, so did there come a change in the hikers’ portable lights. "The old "bugs" were standard equipment - “remember the 5 lb. jam can with a wire handle and a paraffin candle burning brightly through rain and wind'? For better or for worse came the foul smelling carbide lamp. a heritage from the miners. They were efficient for sure. On one occasion while I was using a tall-standing outhouse (curiously dubbed a Hoo Hoo) my carbide accidentally fell down the hole. It glowed through the gaps in the boards like a grinning jack-o- lantern for two days and two nights!
I sometimes reflect on my bravado during those days. I once caught the midnight ferry from Vancouver and doggedly proceeded to climb that lonely trail entirely alone. I wasn't oblivious to the dangers of the undertaking and the eerie sound of two tall trees rubbing against each other in the otherwise silent darkness is an experience I will never forget. The reason behind this midnight hike? I had interrupted a ski holiday with friends up top to come to the city the day before to do two days work, and not wanting to miss any of the fun I took the first ferry available after work. Such courage!
My mother was a great little lady, not young or athletic but interested in this “other world” of mine. My good friend Bobby Glover gave Mother a lift back to the ski camp on the back of his skis - quite a feat for them both.
First Lake today was a shocking revelation. The "Popfly" where I first tried my wings under the able tutelage of Gus Johnson, looked so terribly small! And the jump trestle was gone. I have two vivid memories of happenings at First Lake, Before the snow fell each season and made skiing a reality, we had sometimes a few weekends of freezing weather that turned First Lake into a magnificent skating rink. On one of these marvellous moonlight nights a handsome and graceful young man's strong arm guided me over the ice and this clumsy novice became a Sonja Heini for the moment. And on December 7 one year, with no snow in sight, the impatient skiers trying to pass the time dared Ted Yard and I to swim the lake. We accepted the challenge, we swam and we reaped the reward which was an apple pie handmade by the famous pie maker of the mountain, Vic Wilts. Vic was a budding pilot and along with the pie went a 'flip' in the plane for Ted and me. A worthwhile prize for what must have been the coldest swim anyone ever had. The lake froze over the next week. Incidentally Vic is now an Air Canada pilot in charge of a Jumbo Jet and Ted Yard has a boys’ camp in Ontario which he calls Hollyburn.
Later with the advent of war, a good many of us joined the services and left the scene. I had the pleasure of meeting up with many mountain friends in other provinces and it was always like meeting a relative, we were so close.
After the war on several occasions we made the journey via Hy's Halftrack to the old haunts but it was never quite the same. Those were a few magic years in my lifetime, a never-to-be-forgotten period in my growing up that made a lasting impression on me and actually shaped my future. I have never stopped skiing and I have a constant love affair with the mountains, I married a skier, we both have patrolled and instructed and our four children ski. Between us we have amassed a total of 7S years of skiing and we plan to make it 100.
No doubt I shall take this 30-minute walk again and I’ll see just what all the Sunday tourists are seeing; a rather shabby looking rambling "lodge" where Fred Burfield and his wife pleasantly dispense the soft drinks, some old looking log cabins scattered amongst the trees, their quaint outhouses at odd angles on their way to their final resting places on the ground. A few signs attached to the trees, illegible with age and weather. A brownish pond with diving platform at the foot of this overgrown hill. But today for me it lived! The signs read Two Mug Inn, Rooster's Coop, Plus Fours. 7 UP, Pair-0-Dice, Whisky Jacks, Holmenkollen, Pak-Em-lnn, The Igloo, Stone Haven, Dun Worklnn, The Billies. And the nonexistent faces at the nonexistent windows were Ruth and Erik Larsen, Winnie Marsden, Harry and Fred Burfield, Elsie Kelly, the Kennedy brothers, John, Alex and Charlie, Les May, Einar Ellingrud, Chris Engh, Two Ton Tony, Roy Raymer, Mel Murray, Bud James, Brownie Morris, Peggy and Herb Woods, Thelma and Jack Hutchison, Vic and Robin Stevens, June and Eddie Williams, Queenie and Bea Stacey, Nan and Wilt Roberts, Hugh "Torchy" Aikens, Vi Vittery. Ken Arnott, Daisy Borden, Jeff Bullen, Bill Macey, Alma Urcuhart, Abey Knight, Mush Smith, Claude Hoodspith, Brownie Cleary, George Garrish, June Leslie, Olive and Henry Pavey, Clem Russell, Chuck Gillespie, Marg Grieve, Chuck Gillrie, Norm Deacon and so on, and on and on, ghosts of the past.
(Sentimental Journey" was first published in the "WV Times" on Wednesday, May 12, 1976. I had read the article long before I had the opportunity to meet Naomi and her husband, Bud, in their home just north of Nanaimo. What a memorable afternoon that was! A special treat was watching a video of their last ski run down Blackcomb Mountain. I left with new insights about Hollyburn during its' golden' age and a considerable number of photos to add to the HHS archives. DG)