Tag Archives: logging

DeBeck Letters: Life After Parkhurst

When going through accounts of life at Parkhurst one name that keeps coming up is Denis DeBeck.

Denis DeBeck poses with some ties and the dog Micky. Photo: DeBeck Collection

Denis DeBeck was the eldest of six siblings.  Two of his younger brothers, Ward and Keary, also worked a few summers at Parkhurst.  It was during those years that their mother brought the younger three children, Betsy, Nedra and Fred, to stay on Green Lake as well.

The DeBecks came from the Marpole neighbourhood of Vancouver where the children all attended school.  Denis graduated from Magee High School in 1928 and got his first job at Coast Quarries.  Over the next few years he worked various jobs, including a stint as his father’s office boy.  In 1932 he began working for B.C. Keeley (who bought Parkhurst in 1933) at his mill in Marpole.  A year later Denis was on the train bound for Parkhurst (in a snowstorm, according to his letters) where he would work on and off for the next five years.

Dorothy DeBeck outside Parkhurst. Photo: DeBeck Collection

During these years he married Dorothy, a friend of his cousin Barbara.  After the original mill burnt down in 1938 the DeBecks left Parkhurst and in 1940 Denis and his partner John Brunzen opened their own small portable mill at 43.5 Mile on the PGE Railway.  This was also the year Denis and Dorothy had their first daughter, Wilma.  Their second, Barbara May, came after they moved the mill to 48.8 Mile.

We are fortunate at the museum to have copies of letters written by Denis to his brother Keary between 1943 and 1944, when Keary was serving in the RCAF overseas.

The letters provide a glimpse into life in British Columbia during the Second World War and into the DeBeck family.  Denis provided his brother with family news and commented on the updates Keary sent about their brother Fred who was recovering from a plane crash.  When Fred returned to Canada their roles switched and Denis provided the updates.  While living at 48.8 Mile the DeBeck family appears to have communicated often through letters and visits, described once by Denis as “a three week raid on Victoria” where their parents had moved.

Wilma DeBeck and another girl on the PGE tracks. Photo: DeBeck Collection

Denis also sent his brother news of the mills in the area in his first few letters.  By November 1943 he was already looking for the next location for his portable mill, expecting to finish the timber at 48.8 Mile by the next April.  Locations mentioned were Nita Lake, D’Arcy and Squamish.

Alf Gebhart’s house in the 1930s.  The Gebharts had a mill in the valley, but weren’t necessarily having the best year. Photo: Debeck Collection

From his news, mills did not appear to be having the best year.  As Denis put it, “Poor old Parkhurst.  Same old story, out of logs.  They are only running a 7 hour day and still run out of logs.”  There was also trouble with logs at Lost Lake and for the Gebhart’s mill.

In a letter from March 1944 Denis describes the new tool being used to fell the last of the timber at 48.8 Mile.  “We bought one of those power chainsaws and it works pretty good but not as well as we thought it would.  Very good for falling but no good for bucking in the woods.”  Despite taking awhile to start up, he claimed the sawing was “4 or 5 times as fast as hand sawing.”

Despite his predictions of moving soon, the DeBeck family was still at 48.8 Mile in October of 1944.  Though the letters we have stop there, the family moved to Squamish in 1945 and Denis continued to operate his own sawmills.  He lived there until his death in 2007 at the age of 96.

Advertisements

Life at the Parkhurst Logging Camp

A season working in Whistler can mean many different things.  For some, a season means spending as much time as possible on the mountains; for others, it can mean settling for the next few decades of your life.  For those who came to work on Green Lake in the 1930s, however, a season in the area usually meant hard work on most days and recreation on Sundays.

When Parkhurst Mill opened, it offered seasonal work only since the mill could be closed for up to five months a year due to snow.  The mill continued to offer seasonal work into the 1930s.

Jack Nebel was one of the men who came to work for a season in 1937, the year before the mill burned down.  At the time he was, as he described it, “four years out of high school, living in North Vancouver, and still looking for my first steady job.”  Nebel was hired by Northern Mills as a greenhorn (meaning new and inexperienced) logger under Denis DeBeck, the “logging boss”, and his first assignment was to ride the logs down the river and keep the logs moving towards the mouth on Green Lake.

Red standing in the doorway of the “river rats” cabin at the logging camp. Photo (and post-it): Jack Nebel

When Nebel arrived at Parkhurst, he was taken over to the logging camp on the western side of Green Lake, which included a bunkhouse, a cookhouse, a Caterpillar shed and a small shack where Nebel and “Red”, the other “river rat”, would stay.  The camp was connected to the mill at Parkhurst via the Queen Mary, a “crude box-like cabin cruiser” with enough power to tow logs across the lake.

Conditions at the logging camp weren’t quite as comfortable as a stay at Rainbow Lodge may have been at the time.  On one occasion during Nebel’s stay, the river rose and overflowed its banks, making his morning walk to the cookhouse more like a wading trip through knee-deep water.  The water rose to the level of his cabin floorboards and he and Red discovered hundreds of insects taking refuge under their cots.  Fortunately for them, the water subsided after just a couple of days, taking the insects with it.

The Hiking Crew, including Ward DeBeck, Red and Keary DeBeck. Photo: Jack Nebel

Life at the logging camp wasn’t all work.  One evening each week, some workers would hike about 8 km (5 miles) through the woods and along the railway to Alta Lake to meet the mail train.  On Sundays, a day of recreation for those in the logging camp, a group would go hiking around the mountains and up towards the glaciers.  This group included Nebel, Red and Ward and Keary DeBeck, two younger brothers of Denis DeBeck who Nebel remembered were university students working over their summer break.

A Sunday game at the fields of the old Lineham’s mink ranch. Photo: Jack Nebel

One Sunday a baseball game was organized between members of the logging camp and members of the sawmill crew on a field near the Lineham’s old mink ranch.  As Nebel described it, “I don’t remember who won the game, so I guess the loggers lost!”

Shortly after the game Nebel was transferred from the logging camp to the sawmill at Parkhurst.  The sawmill was much livelier, housing a mix of singles and families, though it didn’t offer much more in the was of recreation than the logging camp.

Having been hired in early spring, Nebel left the mill around midsummer after working for Northern Mills for only a few months.  By the time he returned almost 50 years later the mill at Parkhurst was no longer operating and the area was well on its way to becoming the ghost town it is today.

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.

This Week In Photos: June 7

This week begins and ends with Myrtle Philip in the Myrtle Philip School gym, with quite a lot that happened in between.

1980

Myrtle Philip, the valley’s long-time resident, met Dana Parker-McLain, one of the valley’s newest, at the Community Club’s Potluck dinner.

Logging truck and cargo lies strewn along the highway after sliding over 150 yards around a corner only 1/2 mile south of the Gondola area.

Whistler Parlour Group… Beth Pipe, Diane Smith, Candy Rustad, Brenda Dunbar and Pat Beauregard.

Heather Muir and Morag Marshall with ‘Safety Bear’ Hansen at the school.

Big office… small desk! Blackcomb’s accountant Larry Osborne sits behind his temporary desk in a deserted Blackcomb trailer.

1981

Hello! Macauley Nicolls Maitland manager Debbie Teigen smiles as she finally gets her office phone after 5 months of waiting.

New Fire Chief Wayne Schepull stands with the Whistler Volunteer Fire Department at their first meeting together on June 4.

Looking down on the Village Square and some of the 70 motorcycles that were parked there on Sunday.

Craig Tomlinson playing one of his hand-crafted dulcimers.

This is the first motorist to miss the approach curve to the Culliton Creek Bailey bridge. The accident occurred on June 6.

1983

A semi-permanent abode graces the shores of Green Lake in a makeshift campground on private property. Bottles, remnants of campfires and dirty pans litter the ground in this otherwise beautiful setting.

Weigh, hey, up she rises… Cranes hoist the 18-ton concrete spans into place over 19 Mile Creek June 1 in preparation for the new bridge. December ’81 floods washed out the old wooden bridge, severing Valley Drive in Alpine Meadows.

Pause awhile in Whistler Village the next sunny day and you’ll hear this group of young musicians perform a wide variety of selections. (L-R) Jennifer Porter, Cal McConnell, Connie Carver, Dan Cushing, and Frank Mallany are a part of a federal government student employment program run by the WRA. In addition to displaying their musical talents these young people will be offering village tours, working at the new information booth and helping at special events.

Ray Lyman, band director of Seaton Secondary School from Vernon, was pleased to present Whistler’s Molly Boyd with a band booster award for the services she rendered in bringing the group to Whistler. Band members and audiences alike braved cold winds to share a top-rated concert of big band sounds.

Chips fly where they may as Jud Forster (left) and Stan Hammond prepare red cedar logs for a carport in Whistler Cay Heights being built by Hammond and Davies Log Builders.

Mike Sweeney (seated) of Vancouver’s Whitecaps soccer team signs a few autographs at Myrtle Philip School sports banquet Thursday.

1984

Thirty-one students graduated from Pemberton Secondary Friday night, including Scott Logue of Whistler who received the Governor General’s Bronze Medal for academics from school Superintendent Trevor Harris. More than 500 people attended the commencement ceremonies at the Pemberton school, making it the second largest annual event in the town next to the Christmas concert at Signal Hill Elementary. Logue, also class valedictorian, was among three local students who received awards. Rob O’Keefe was awarded the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation bursary, and the Alta Lake Community Club picked Rob Boyd as this year’s recipient of its bursary.

Whistler’s branch of the North Shore Community Credit Union opened on Friday, just two months after it was approved. By 11 am Friday a line-up was formed, and on Saturday the credit union had 150 new members. Credit union President Susan Burdak (left) spoke to the crowd at Saturday’s official opening.

Cecile Valleau is Whistler’s newest postmistress. She was promoted to the position May 22, taking over from Debbie Cliffe, who was transferred to the Agassiz post office. Valleau has worked at the Whistler post office since 1979 and is a 15-year valley resident.

Skiing may be over for the year, but work on Whistler Mountain still continues. At the end of each season all the chairs, including those on Olive Chair, are taken off the cables, checked and then moved to a different spot to prevent metal stress. As well, the metal clamps holding the chair to the cable periodically undergo magnetic tests for cracks.

The venerable Myrtle Philip drew the winning ticket Thursday in a draw for a Molson World Downhill poster signed by the Canadian downhill team. Assisted by Glen Rustad (right), Whistler’s grandmother chose Bill Carson’s ticket. Proceeds from the draw went to the Whistler Singers, which performed Thursday at the elementary school accompanied by the students. The show, which ended in a standing ovation for orchestrator Molly Boyd, featured musical performances by kids on recorder, guitar and ukulele.

The Origins of Whistler’s Interpretive Forest

After the arrival of the Great Eastern Railway in the fall of 1914, logging and other industrial activities started to develop in and around the Whistler Valley.

Logging was a vital industry in the Whistler area throughout the 20th century and evidence of its impact can be found throughout the valley, from the abandoned Parkhurst logging town on Green Lake to various patches of forest in different states of regrowth.

The forestry industry has a long history throughout the Whistler valley and many of the valley’s early settlers worked in logging. Photo: Fairhurst Collection

The Whistler Interpretive Forest, located off Highway 99 adjacent to Cheakamus Crossing, was created in 1980 as a joint project between the British Columbia Forest Service and Pacific Forest Products Ltd. to provide forest interpretation and education opportunities while demonstrating integrated resource management.  The area is approximately 3,000 hectares.

The earliest logging in the Interpretive Forest began in 1958 and continues into present day.  The area now consists of old growth stands plus a variety of plantations of differing ages.  The Forest Service manages this area to provide benefits for large numbers of people with diverse interests.  Many things are considered in planning for human needs in the forest: hiking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, biking, as well as continued logging operations.

This photo was taken by Don MacLaurin during his time working in BC’s forestry industry. Photo: MacLaurin Collection

The Whistler Interpretive Forest became part of the Cheakamus Community Forest (33,000 hectares) in 2009.  The Community Forest is managed under an ecosystem-based management approach and run jointly by the Lil’wat and Squamish First Nations, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, and the Ministry of Forests.  This means that indigenous flora and fauna are given a chance to flourish and recreational opportunities and expand, while new sustainable forestry practices are explored and refined.  Under this management regime, an average of 40 hectare per year is harvested.

The area has become a favourite amongst locals and tourists, with many of Whistler’s most popular trails located in the area.  The trail network includes the Riverside Trail, which explores the Cheakamus River with the help of the MacLaurin Crossing suspension bridge.

Don MacLaurin, Isobel MacLaurin and friends hiking in the mountains. Photo: MacLaurin Collection

The bridge was named after Don MacLaurin, a local forester who helped develop, map and design the area to help people understand the forest and its importance.  Other popular trails include the Loggers Lake Trail, which climbs a rock bluff to a hidden lake and a wooden pier, and the Cheakamus Trail, which wanders through the forest to the glacier-fed Cheakamus Lake.

Scattered amongst the roads and trails in the area are interpretive displays about the local flora, fauna, geology and logging history, along with details about the forest types of the region and the replanting techniques used in the Interpretive Forest.

Peter Ackhurst and John Hammons at work in the Whistler Interpretive Forest.

The Whistler Rotary Club, with financial help from the Community Foundation of Whistler, have been updating the interpretation displays and signs in the Whistler Interpretive Forest over the past two years, as many have fallen into disrepair.  The Whistler Museum has been a supportive partner in this project, helping with the design and, at times, installation of these new signs.

More information on this project can be found at: cheakamuscommunityforest.com.

Postcards of the Whistler Museum Archives – Pt.1

There’s something undeniably intriguing about old postcards and the stories behind them. This week and next we will be featuring some of the postcards found in our archives, and we invite you to comment and offer your own interpretations of their contents. Next week’s post will cover correspondance between members of the Tapley and Philip families.

First up is this fascinating postcard with a bit of a mysterious background we like to call “One big tree!”

A 117-year-old mystery

Although this photograph doesn’t show a tree near Whistler (and possibly not even a tree near Vancouver), it is in the Philip collection, and was given to either Myrtle or Alex at some point.

The photograph in this postcard is purportedly from 1895, and shows several people posing on a giant felled fir tree (again, according to the postcard). The caption reads, “This fir giant measured 417 ft. in height with a clear 300 ft. to the first limb. At the butt it was 25 ft. through with bark 16 in. thick. Its circumference being 77 ft.; 207 ft. from the ground its diameter was 9 feet. Felled near Vancouver in August ’95 by George Cary, who is seen upon the ladder.”

This is one mysterious image – there appears to be a great deal of folklore surrounding the “Cary Fir” which even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. Read this article and response for yourself and decide what you believe: http://www.spirasolaris.ca/DouglasFir.pdf.

Our next postcard is a bit out of season, but we thought we’d share it regardless…

Leonard Frank’s Vancouver

This Christmas postcard showing an early view of Vancouver (sans skyscrapers) reads, “Wishing you a Merry Xmas and a happy and victorious 1943.” The card itself is signed by Leonard Frank, and the photograph is likely his, as he was a well-known photographer in British Columbia in the early half of the 20th century.

When this card was produced, World War II was in full swing, and wishing for a victorious year was a common sentiment.

Frank originally hailed from Germany, and was the son of one of Germany’s earliest professional photographers. Struck by gold fever in 1892, he traveled to North America – living first in San Francisco and then Port Alberni on Vancouver Island.

A camera won as a raffle prize shifted his direction entirely, and he moved to Vancouver in 1917, quickly becoming the leading commercial/industrial photographer in the city.

Frank also spent quite a bit of time at Alta Lake, and several of his photographs of the surrounding area can be found in the Museum archives. A frequent guest of Rainbow Lodge, he was also a friend of Myrtle and Alex Philip, to whom he sent this postcard.

For more information on Leonard Frank, see www.vpl.ca/frank/biography.html

This Sunday, keep an eye out for the Museum staff in the Canada Day Parade dressed as postcards from around the world! 

Hard Times in Whistler: the Jardine-Neiland Family – (pt.2)

This is part two of a post on the Jardine-Neiland family. For part one, please click here.

In early July 1922 the export log prices of cedar logs collapsed and so did Thomas Neiland’s business – he had to file for bankruptcy. The family pulled up stakes and went back to North Vancouver. Later that month, Lizzie gave birth to their son, Thomas Neiland Jr. at the age of 40. For three months, Thomas looked for work in Vancouver. Eventually persuaded by both a lack of employment and his wife’s desire to return to Alta Lake, he gained financing under her name.

The Jardine-Neiland family, posing for a portrait in 1924. From left to right: Jack Jardine, Lizzie Neiland, Jenny Jardine (standing), Thomas Neiland Sr., Thomas Neiland Jr., and Bob Jardine.

The family returned to their Alpha Lake cabin, and in 1923 they moved into an old loggers cabin at 34 ½ mile that was being sold by the crown, and this became their home for the next 20 or more years. The house came with cases of milk, bags of dried beans, and slabs of bacon – according to Jenny, “the latter very much like a bit of leather.” Today, 34 1/2 mile is Whistler’s Function Junction.

Jardine-Neiland property at 34 1/2 mile (Function Junction)

Life for the Jardine-Neiland family was precarious. The children remember their mother saying, “It’s a case of feast or famine.” Sometimes business was booming, but at other times, particularly during the Great Depression, the family would have to survive on the damages payments paid to the children from the death of their father.

Jenny and Jack never went to school again after they left North Vancouver in 1921 – Jenny was eight and her brother was only six. They began working in the logging industry at the ages of twelve and ten. Although they did do lessons by correspondence, they rarely had the time or energy left to study. In her memoirs, Jenny recalls:

“I started to work out in the woods when I was 12, driving a horse – a big Clyde with a white face. Pa [Thomas Neiland] got a portable saw mill and set it up on the lower field…that meant log so many days and cut ties and lumber so many days. I lifted the slabs off as the circular saw slabbed them…We had correspondence school lessons to work on but somehow there was too many other things to do, so lessons were only done at night or if it rained.”

Life was somewhat easier for the younger children, Bob and Tom, as the school at Alta Lake opened in 1932, affording them a proper education.

The Jardine/Neiland children hauling logs to the portable sawmill at 34 1/2 mile with the aid of horses, 1926. From left to right: Jenny, Jack, Bob and Tom Jr.

They had their mother to thank, as she instigated the building of the first school in the area. In 1931, a school assessment appeared on the tax notice even though there was no school. Lizzie had three sons and one daughter of school age. Bob recalled: “When she got the tax notice of $7.50 she got real worked up as money in those days was tight. She started a movement to look into the possibility of building a school.”

Left to right: Jenny Jardine, Flossie the dog, Jack Jardine, Tom Neiland Jr. and Bob Jardine in Lizzie Neiland's garden at 34 1/2 mile, about 1930.

In order to keep themselves fed, the family sometimes had to resort to shooting a “government cow” – the tongue-in-cheek name for a deer poached out of season. According to an interview with Bob Jardine in 1991, they weren’t the only ones – other Whistler pioneers, including Bill Bailiff and Charlie Chandler, went after “government cow” in times of desperation. It certainly didn’t make for a tasty meal out of season. In that interview with her brother, Jenny conceded, “…to tell you the truth, when I shot a deer, it was awful tasting.”

When Jenny got married in 1937 and had children of her own, life remained challenging. Her husband, Wallace, also worked in the logging industry and the couple moved around from place to place on various contracts – many of them in Alta Lake. They spent a winter in a “…tar paper shack with two rooms” at Parkhurst, with their year-old daughter, Louise. For more on the community of Parkhurst, see these earlier posts: “Family Life at Parkhurst Mill” and “Exploring Parkhurst: Whistler’s ‘Ghost Town’.”

Tom Neiland senior lived at 34 ½ mile until his death in 1949. Lizzie stayed on in Alta Lake for a few more years until it became too much for her, and she sold the property and moved on. She lived to be 102, passing away in 1984.

Jack Jardine left the Whistler area about 1940, and logged in various places. By the late 1940s he married a woman named Irma and built a cabin across the tracks from where his mother was living on her own. When Lizzie sold her property, Jack and Irma settled in Squamish.

Bob and Tom Jr. both served in the Air Force. Tom went on to marry a British woman, and eventually retired in Calgary. As for Bob, he married a woman from the Air Force after asking for her hand in marriage on their very first date (that story is truly worth a read, and can be found here). Bob and his wife Stella retired to Kelowna.

Bob Jardine standing next to a large felled tree on Harry Horstman's property, 1940

In spite of the many difficulties faced by the family, life was not all hardship at Alta Lake – the children have many fond memories of the valley. When Jenny permanently moved away from the area she was terribly homesick for the mountains and wildflowers, while Bob recounted many stories of being a cheeky little boy. At the age of 71, he still recalled neighbor Mrs. Wood’s horror when her daughter Helen arrived home with hair saturated with lamp black after a friendly “hand grenade” battle