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M e m o r i e s  o f   H o l l y b u r n    L o d g e

                                                                                    By Tony Flower - Fall 2017                                                                            


Hollyburn Ski Lodge late 1960’s (Burfield Family Collection)

Soon after arriving on British Columbia’s southern coast, several young Scandinavian men were drawn to an old logging concern on the flank of West Vancouver’s Hollyburn Mountain.  Intent on finding a suitable site for winter recreation, by late fall a primitive skiers’ camp was set up utilizing an abandoned cookhouse as lodgings.  Adverse conditions prompted a move to higher ground where abundant snowfall augured well for whatever lay ahead.  Thus, having hauled their rustic redoubt to a rise beside First Lake, in December 1926, a jubilant group of Swedes opened Hollyburn Ski Camp, thereby establishing the first permanent venue for Nordic sports on Vancouver’s North Shore.  In response, succeeding decades witnessed skiers by the score making their way towards Hollyburn Mountain’s beckoning skyline; there to revel all day on snow-laden heights.  And just as the ski camp prospered, so too did an active mountain community.  By the late 1930s, about 300 log cabins occupied sites within a wooded area encompassed by Hollyburn Ridge.


As long as the old ski camp existed, it couldn’t conceal its past as a crudely-built cookhouse cobbled together by loggers.  Like most observers, I always thought the lodge looked a little out of kilter.  It could hardly be otherwise, for the structure was framed of logs, rough-sawn beams, heavy planks of fir or cedar, and protected by a roof of hand-split shakes later covered with battered sheets of corrugated metal.  To withstand the elements, it was reinforced by a slew of makeshift means; perhaps even plumb until aging timbers settled.  Much of the floor was rough and uneven.  Midst the dead of winter it could be drafty since heat seldom lasted long on the inside for want of adequate insulation.  The windows were small with single panes on which old Jack Frost loved to leave his tracery.  As for creature comforts, somewhere along the line, an outhouse made its way indoors to everyone’s relief.  Even after a coat of red paint adorned its weather-beaten facade, it was little changed.  But for seekers of winter’s snowy slopes and summer’s aery solitudes, that ramshackle old lodge remained a welcoming place the Swedes meant it to be; the kind where people felt at home.

When I was a regular on ‘The Ridge’ during the early 1960s, Fred and Evelyn Burfield ran Hollyburn Ski Lodge, the ‘ski camp’ having been renamed.  As folks imbued with a frontier spirit attuned to the daily rigours of their mountain home, they engaged life with constancy of purpose.  Back then, people stopping in at the Burfield’s’ establishment weren’t merely patrons, or faceless passers-by, for the lodge was more than just a place of business.  Whether cabin dwellers, or casual woodland wanderers, most folks met up at the lodge.   And therein lies a tale.  On certain dismal evenings when no one else was at our cabin, there came a mood of creeping desolation.  So, with nary a hint of irony, I’d don my “BRAND OF A MAN” Pioneer jacket, and step into an evergreen forest heading for First Lake with ‘bug light’(*) in hand.  Hastened by drenching rain, I strode along a sodden trail where shifting shadows danced about midst looming stands of timber heavily cloaked by the shroud of night.  But, once out of those gloomy woods and ensconced inside the lodge, my outlook brightened.  For I soon wrapped myself in the cheerful embrace of homespun warmth radiated so effortlessly by Evelyn.

Fred & Evelyn Burfield late 1950’s (Burfield Family Collection)

Hollyburn Lodge sits beside First Lake at an elevation of (930m/3050ft). As situated, the building’s main entrance is aligned to catch morning sunlight rising above a knoll overlooking the lake’s eastern shore.  Come late autumn, after snowfall built up a solid base, the Burfield’s ran a rope-tow dubbed Popfly on that side of the lodge.  Upon hearing a diesel engine clatter to life, converging skiers took turns grasping a rough hawser of hemp for the short uphill haul.  Once let loose, this jostling line of grappling humanity became a free-for-all of single-minded souls crisscrossing Popfly’s bumpy, rutted contours in a chaotic downhill dash before skidding to rest moments later near onlookers hobnobbing by the lodge. Meanwhile, intrepid skiers craving long, enticing runs slogged uphill through deep snow to Hollyburn’s crest before aiming their skis back towards the lodge 395m (1300ft) below.  From this summit, champions of winter’s noble sport sped along sinuous trails bearing familiar names like: Pacific Mountain Highway, Wells Gray and Mobraaten; this latter stretch named for an accomplished Hollyburn ski jumper.

Popfly ski hill & rope tow February 1965 (Alex Swanson Collection)
On a slope where competitor Harry Burfield was momentarily set free to
". . . escape the surly bonds of earth  . . . " by leaping from a ski jump once situated atop  Popfly,
during the early 1960s my friends and I merely flung ourselves off several crude moguls we'd built,
since all the ski jumps on Hollyburn were either derelict or demolished. A.G.M.F.

Coming off Popfly heading for the source of food, I often ambled through a back room at Hollyburn Lodge.  Ever since the ski camp opened, boisterous locals convened their weekend frolics there.  By my time however, Saturday night soirees wound up in the much newer Hi-View Lodge (beside the upper terminus of the Hollyburn Aerial Tramway).  The former party room at Hollyburn Lodge had regressed to a cheerless enclosure lit by a few bare light bulbs illuminating a storage area used for keeping rental skiis.  As I recall, the only colourful object in that entire space was an old, disused Wurlitzer juke box full of 78 rpm records issued during the 1940s or early 1950s. The skiis I refer to were not the technically superior, gaudily-painted wonders of today.  These were conspicuously well-used, vintage slats - clearly predating me by years - stained an earthy brown, some worn down to bare wood, and fitted with rigid metal bindings.  But for guys like me who yearned to ski yet lacked sufficient funds for gear, this equipment enabled us to have all the affordable fun there was to be had…or could stand at any one time.  As per usual, wet jeans and light winter-wear were no match for creeping hypothermia.  After hours spent perfecting the ‘headlong sprawl’, acute cold had me shivering convulsively.  So I withdrew to thaw out inside and fill up on homemade grub at Burfield’s bustling snack bar.  Once fed, my thoughts drifted to our cabin’s ‘airtight’ stove, dry clothes and a hot toddy.

Looking back on the days when I stood in that lifeless storeroom at Hollyburn Lodge so long ago, I surely sensed a final epitaph had been written for all those free-spirited social occasions once hosted there.  If time could be reversed, I’d make that old jukebox light up like a Christmas tree, drop a quarter in the slot, then stand back as records played and a crowd danced around this gathering place. Over the ensuing years, chances of such mountain-style merriment ever returning seemed unlikely.  Happily, I was wrong.   After years of intermittent silence, that part of the old lodge once alive with Hollyburn’s exuberant nightlife witnessed a make-over.  Owners at Cypress Mountain - aware an opportunity existed to enhance their cross-country ski interests - re-imagined the place I knew.  A small café serving basic fare opened for business on an ad hoc basis.  Thus revived, that storeroom became a contemporary retreat where younger generations and stalwarts alike could shed their gear, find sheltering warmth, and spend time recollecting sights and sounds encountered while roaming along woodland trails.  As well, new cross-country routes were laid out around the lodge, thus adding many more names to each skier’s lexicon including: Five Lakes, Burfield, Jack Pratt and Russell.

“Five Lakes” refers to shallow tarns on Hollyburn’s plateau.  “Burfield Trail” honours the family who operated Hollyburn Lodge from 1946 until 1984.  “Jack Pratt Trail” was named after a local skier and professional competitor who excelled at ski-racing during the 1950s, when this daring Nordic contest was still a popular pastime and engrossing spectator sport.  Lastly, “Russell Trail” acknowledges Ted Russell, long-serving resident forest ranger, whose amiable sense of authority and skills as a woodsman were much admired by my three cabin-building schoolmates and I.  Nowadays, hikers and skiers are able to trace some aspect of Hollyburn Mountain’s history wherever they go.

(L - R) Jack Pratt & Harry Burfield , Hollyburn Ski Lodge, 1940’s (Pratt Family Collection)

Whatever good times conjure memories- be it skiing’s ‘golden years’, or modern-day runs at state-of-the-art resorts - one vital aspect of mountain life endures: ‘apres ski’ festivities.  During the 1980s, Saturday nights at Hollyburn Lodge became ‘Music Nights’; an integral component of ski season ever since.  Given its popularity, future weekends will likely feature Music Nights’ melodious mingling of instrumental styles echoing over a moonlit First Lake.  And to my mind, if the old ski camp’s historic past holds sway, Hollyburn’s cultural heart will brim anew with conviviality, magical moments, and dare it be said, ample libations: happily harkening back to its celebratory traditions. 


Like other landmark structures once located on Hollyburn Ridge, the ‘old red lodge’ no longer exists.  However, as crews demolished its decrepit framework, they preserved a vestige of the past by retrieving artifacts meant to recreate a rustic ambiance within its replacement.  Henceforth, thanks to the concerted efforts of all those contributing to the Hollyburn Lodge Renewal Project, folks will once again head for the verdant woodlands of Cypress Provincial Park to celebrate a memorable past and new beginnings in a rebuilt Hollyburn Lodge.  Ninety years ago, when those hopeful Swedish men hung a sign of welcome over the doorway of their Hollyburn Ski Camp, an uncertain future awaited them.  How pleased they would be to know that a modern lodge in the image of its predecessor has risen from the dust of days gone by to occupy this heritage site beside First Lake.

Hollyburn Lodge – January 15, 2017 (Don Grant Collection)

 (*) A ‘bug light’ is typically an empty metal coffee can with ‘baling wire’ for a handle, and a candle inserted through the bottom, so when lit it serves as a flashlight to find one’s way through the woods.


The renewed Hollyburn Lodge - December 5, 2017