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Hollyburn Cabin ‘North Plus Fours’ Through the Generations
Don Grant

Article originally published in "The Beacon", January/February 2019

Jack & Thelma Hutchinson in their "North Plus Fours" cabin in 1940.

The cabins on Hollyburn Ridge form the only remaining cabin community1 on the North Shore mountains. One cabin, ‘North Plus Fours’ 2, is unique in that the same family has owned the cabin since it was built in 1936. ‘North Plus Fours’ connects us with a time, a place and a way of life only a few can remember today.

What was it like to be a Hollyburner in the early days? In his 1927 article, “The Ski Hill”, Pollough Pogue gives us a glimpse. “The hikers who climb the Hollyburn trail to the ski camp now show the real spirit of outdoor sport; the snow lies deep on the trail and the hiking is not easy. Hundreds of enthusiasts, mushing in single file have ploughed a narrow furrow difficult to walk in. But after three hours of slipping and staggering up the trail, you arrive at last on the top of the mountain, a very beautiful and fascinating place. Before you reach the ski camp you hear wild yells and loud laughter ringing through the sedate fir woods. This hilarity tells you that the ski hill is not far away.”

Four decades later, Naomi Wilson MacInnes described Hollyburn as it was during its ‘golden age’ (1927-1939). “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. 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.”

Among the many Hollyburn friends who came to Naomi’s mind that day were Thelma and Jack Hutchinson, both mentioned in her memoir. Thelma and Jack were the first to occupy ‘North Plus Fours’. More recently, their daughter, Ruth Alsemgeest shared these thoughts. “My parents were very active on Hollyburn in the 1930's and 40's. Thelma was secretary for the Vancouver Ski Club, a competitive skier, and an accomplished amateur photographer. She took hundreds of photos on Hollyburn during the 1930’s and ‘40’s which survive with detailed captions in her albums to this day. Jack served for many years in various capacities, including a judge at ski jumping tournaments, an official at cross-country, downhill, and slalom competitions, president of the Vancouver Ski Club, and chairman of the Vancouver Ski Zone. He also foresaw the creation of a park on Hollyburn Mountain.  In his role as chairman of the Hollyburn Ridge Ski Promotion Committee, Jack petitioned the provincial governments of the day at least twice, in 1938 and 1944, and possibly also in 1946 for the protection and preservation of the Cypress Bowl area for downhill skiing. In his 1944 letter to Premier Hart he predicts the ability of then hosting a "major skiing event" in future, and states that, "...If located near any Eastern Canadian, American, or European city, (Cypress Bowl's) slopes in winter would be black with skiers and its woods and trails thronged by hikers and nature lovers in summer." Unfortunately, his attempts were rejected.

My parents spent much of their free time up on the mountain during those years before my brothers and I arrived. They even celebrated ten straight Christmas seasons at the cabin, backpacking a turkey for roasting and all the trimmings for several guests from their Vancouver home by the usual route - streetcar through downtown, ferry across Burrard Inlet, and a hike straight up the mountain from the foot of 22nd Street!

The original ‘Plus Fours’ cabin was located a short way south on the mountain and burned down many years ago. Its clearing, though more overgrown each year, is still visible and a great berry- picking spot in summer. That cabin belonged to Vic Stevens (Thelma's brother), and Les May, two more pioneer names from those early days, while they were still ‘bachelors’. Along with their wives, our auntie Molly, daughter of Pollough Pogue, and Leila May, they were very much a part of Hollyburn’s vibrant social scene.

Jack passed away in 1975, and so never witnessed the eventual realization of the vision that he and his executive teams, including Fred Hudson and Thelma, worked so hard to achieve. And yet, today, perhaps due in some small way to the inspiration of his long-ago leadership, Cypress Provincial Park is a permanent West Coast treasure, Cypress Bowl excelled as a 2010 Winter Olympics venue, and our Hollyburn-Strachan-Black Mountain paradise attracts winter and summer sports enthusiasts from around the world. 

The Hutchinson Alsemgeest family cabin, ‘North Plus Fours’, was built by master carpenter, Joseph Braithwaite, my father’s beloved stepfather, as a wedding gift for his only child and new daughter-in-law. It continues to be much loved and appreciated by his grandchildren and their spouses, and his greatgrandchildren. Now, if only those old log walls could talk...”

1 The Hollyburn Ridge Cabin Community is now included in the West Vancouver District, British Columbia Provincial and National Heritage Registries.
2 "Plus Fours" are breeches or trousers that extend 10 cm below the knee. In the interior cabin photo at the top of the page, Jack and Thelma are wearing plus fours.