Brandywine’s Murky Origin Story

Long before Brandywine Falls was established as a provincial park in 1973 the area was a well-known destination for sightseers, hikers and campers.

Not known, or at least not confirmed, is the origin of the name Brandywine.  The most popular story of the name was reported in The Vancouver Sun in 1946 by Wallace Gillespie who in turn was quoting a man named Cliff Thorne who lived in the Squamish area beginning in the 1890s.  In this version dated to 1910, Jack Nelson and Bob Mollison, two surveyors for the Howe Sound and Northern Railway (which became part of the PGE Railway), wagered a bottle of brandy on which of them could more accurately estimate the height of the falls.  When the height was later measured using a chain Mollison had the closer estimation and Nelson bestowed the name Brandywine Falls in memory of his lost wager.

A view of Brandywine Falls taken by Leonard Frank in the 1920s. Frank, the son of one of Germany’s earliest professional photographers, moved to Vancouver in 1917 and became the leading commercial/industrial photographer in the city.

Another account of the naming of Brandywine Falls comes from a source closer to home.  Alex Philip claimed that Charles Chandler (known locally as Charlie and famous for blowing up his own outhouse) and George Mitchell were passing through the area on their way to trappers cabins and stopped at the waterfall for tea.  One had brought a bottle of wine and the other a bottle of brandy and both were mixed in with the tea in a billycan.  After drinking this concoction the two are reported to have passed out for an entire day.

Regardless of which, if either, story is true the name Brandywine stuck to the waterfall and surrounding area.

Near the beginning of the twentieth century a family from Ontario called the Conroys moved West and preempted 380 acres of land for homesteading, logging and a mill site in the area that is now the Brandywine Falls Provincial Park.  As the Permberton-Lillooet Caribou Trail passed by only about 500 feet from the falls, the area had previously been used as a way station for north-bound travelers.

The view of Brandywine Falls clearly shows the railway bridge which provided a unique view to passengers.

The opening of the PGE Railway brought sightseers in open cars and the construction of a train station meant the area became a popular spot for picnic-goers in the 1920s.  A supply road was put in by BC Electric in the 1950s followed by the construction of the highway in the 1960s, bringing more visitors.

In 1966 Brandywine Falls was featured in the film “The Trap” starring Oliver Reed as a fur trapper in the wilds of Canada who takes Eve, a mute girl played by Rita Tushingham, as his unwilling wife to his remote cabin in the woods.  In one scene a battle between Reed and a black bear is waged on the brink of Brandywine Falls.

Some time in the 1960s Charlie “Whitewater” Conroy (who, in an interesting side note recorded a ballad about the Woodfibre pulp mill called “The Ballad of Woodfibre” in 1972) sold the property around Brandywine to Ray Gallagher.  In an article Gallagher wrote for Garibaldi’s Whistler News in 1970 he expresses the hope that “instead of developing as it must to survive, Brandywine should become a Public Park for the people in all season, for all times.”  Just three years later Brandywine Falls became a provincial park and continues to attract sightseers and hikers each year.

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5 responses to “Brandywine’s Murky Origin Story

  1. Julie Gallagher

    Great article !! What was missed was the fact that Brandywine was a thriving, popular Resort back in 1961 to 1971, before my parents, Ray and Ruth Gallagher sold it as a Park. I have all the old photos from my Mom Ruth’s scrapbook, plus other photos I kept, showing the Resort in it’s heyday. It was far more than just the empty parking lot today. There was a Coffee Shop with a huge veranda and picnic tables, six A-frame cabins near where the last one stands, our small house by the highway, the warehouse, and a multitude of small cabins around. The ticket booth with a gate was near the bend to go to the bridge. The original bridge was strong enough to take R.V.’s and campers down the long winding road to the bottom of Daisy Lake, where there were 80 campsites throughout the forest beneath where the viewpoint is, and all the way around the Daisy Lake. My Dad rented 12 aluminum boats, and had a big dock at the mouth of Daisy Lake. It was a popular fishing destination, and my Mom, Ruth, would give the weekly fishing news on one of the local Vancouver Radio shows. I am organizing all the old photos to write more of a history. Terry and Susan Jacks and their family would come up to visit in the summer, as Terry loved to fish. Have a great photo of Terry, my Dad, Ray, and Charley Conroy sitting in the old wicker chairs by Charley’s cabin. I have some amazing old photos and stories for the book, and would really welcome anyone to include any memories. Thanks so much, Julie Gallagher

    • Hi Julie,
      Thanks for getting in touch with us – that’s great information to have! I heard there was a resort and cabins but was having trouble finding more information on that era and hadn’t yet explored it further. It sounds like Brandywine would have been an amazing place to be at that time!

  2. Pingback: Canadian History Roundup – Week of April 23, 2017 | Unwritten Histories

  3. Fantastic! We had such a hoot the night your parents brought Terry Jacks to dinner at our house. I am glad you still have the history to share, it was so important to your parents, good luck.

  4. Fascinating story. I grew up around there, so was exciting to read about.

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