Parkhurst Before the Ghost Town

Parkhurst may now be known primarily as a ghost town, but it was once the site of the first large and permanent mill operations in the valley.

Mr. and Mrs. Parkhurst pre-empted the land on Green Lake in 1902 and built a small house where they lived with their family.  It is unclear whether they ever operated a sawmill on the property, which was sold in 1926 after the death of Mr. Parkhurst.

The property was purchased by the Barr brothers of Mission who had been looking for a new source of timber.  William, Malcolm and Ross Barr built a mill and a camp for their workers and began operating Parkhurst Mill, named for the previous owners.

A mill at Parkhurst operated on the shores of Green Lake from 1926 to about 1956. Barr Collection

In 1928 Malcolm drowned after falling into Green Lake and then, due to the effects of the Depression, the mill went into receivership in 1930.  William moved on from the valley while Ross and his wife Alison stayed on at Parkhurst as watchmen hired by the bank until the property could be sold.

Logging operation at Parkhurst, late 1920s. This photograph shows a railcar, a spar tree and the steam donkey. The man standing on a log in the foreground is Ross Barr. Barr Collection

In 1932 Parkhurst was sold to B.C. Keeley and Byron Smith who reopened the mill under the name Northern Mills in 1933.  Ross Barr and Denis DeBeck were hired by Keeley to manage the mill and worked together until it burnt down in 1938.

Norm Barr and neighbour Jack Findlay in 1936. Barr Collection

The museum recorded two oral histories in 2011 that include many stories and a lot of information about Parkhurst during this time: one with Norm Barr, the son of Ross and Alison Barr, and another with Betsy Henderson, sister of Denis DeBeck.

Betsy Henderson had a very different experience at Parkhurst than those who worked and live there.  She, her mother and two more of her siblings stayed near Parkhurst at what had been the Lineham’s mink ranch during the summers of 1936 and ’37.  Her three older brothers, Denis, Ward and Keary, were all working for Northern Mills and, as Betsy recalled, their mother decided she’d like to stay with all six of her children for the summer.

As she was not working, Betsy was able to explore the area around Parkhurst and got into some rather potentially dangerous situations, such as taking a dip in fast-running Fitzsimmons Creek and crossing the Blackcomb glacier with her brother Keary.

The glacier was full of chasms and on one crossing, Keary asked her to take a picture of him on the upper side of a huge crevasse.  Betsy maneuvered around to set up the photo and, as she remembered, “when I looked up to take the picture I found that Keary was sitting on just a shelf of ice.”  Needless to say, the picture did not get taken.

The Northern Mills operation on Green Lake before it burned down in 1938. It was later rebuilt at the same site. DeBeck Collection

After the fire Northern Mills moved to Lost Lake for a year before deciding to rebuild at Parkhurst.  Though the mill would continue to operate into the 1950s, neither the Barrs nor the DeBecks went back to the mill.  This was not the end of the DeBecks’ association with the area, however, as Denis DeBeck continued working in what is today Whistler until 1945, when he followed the Barrs to settle permanently in Squamish.

Over the next few weeks we hope to bring you more stories from the DeBecks, the Barrs and others who worked in forestry in the valley.

5 responses to “Parkhurst Before the Ghost Town

  1. I first got to Parkhurst by canoe, and at other times on foot, bike, and combinations of the two. Fascinating bit of local history. Imagine how the valley would look now if the mill had kept operating.

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  3. I stayed in one of the Parkhurst cabins a the top of the settlement one winter in the late 70s. It had a natural spring so there was running water! We would walk down the railroad tracks from Mons, a long walk! Or cross Green Lake when it was frozen. Brian Scott was the one to first start living there.

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  5. I think this is where my grandmother lived when she was a child…she’s in her 80s now and she was telling me when she lived up this way (Town started with a P) before there was a highway. The only way in and out of town was by the railroad, so if someone was hurt you needed to pump a trolley by hand to get them to the hospital!! I’m not 100% if this was the town but I remember thinking ‘i dont know a town thats called that today’. Her father was a logger, and she eventually worked in logging too and scaled logs. She told me a story about a rockslide that happened near the settlement. They had to leave in a hurry and left everything behind. She had a dog and she was so worried about what might have happened to her and her puppies, as they would sleep under the porch. They called out for the dog but she was nowhere to be found, and they had to leave. After the slide they went back to see what they could gather, and my great grandfather told my grandmother to come along and see if they could find the dog. My grandma was wandering around calling for the dog, and eventually saw down the road, there was her dog! She went over to hug her, but when she got closer the dog walked away. She was leading her down the embankment, into the forest to this rotten log, where all the puppies were safe and sound. The day of the slide the dog must have sensed it and spent all night moving the puppies to safety! I’m not sure if this settlement had a rockslide, but it’s a sweet story nontheless 🙂

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