Tag Archives: Ruth Gallagher

Rocking Howe Sound

You wouldn’t expect a pulp mill, a pop-rock band and 20th century settlers to have a lot in common, but in the Sea to Sky corridor you can find the unlikeliest of connections.

In 1909, the Conroy family moved west from Ontario and preempted 380 acres of land in the area around Brandywine Falls, including the falls themselves.  The area had previously been used as a rest stop for northbound mule drivers on their way to settlements and gold fields.  Charles Conroy, one of the Conroy sons, made a reputation working 30 to 60 string muletrains.

Brandywine Falls, now a provincial park, was once the Conroy family homestead and then a bustling resort. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

The Conroy family saw the area through the arrival of the PGE Railway and the construction of a supply road by BC Electric in the 1950s.  Before the highway was finished in the 1960s, Charlie Conroy sold the property to Ray Gallagher but remained close to Brandywine until his death in February 1972.

The Poppy Family was a Vancouver-based music group formed by Terry Jacks and Susan Pesklevits in the mid 1960s.  According to Garibaldi’s Whistler News, February 1968, the group got together “almost by chance.”  Susan needed an accompanist for a performance in Hope and asked Terry.  The Hope show went well and the two decided to form their own group and brought in lead guitarist Craig McCaw to complete the group.  In 1967 Terry and Susan married and through 1968 the Poppy Family performed regularly at Whistler Mountain.  Satwant Singh later joined the group on tablas and they put out their first album, Which Way You Goin’ Billy? in 1969.

The Poppy Family as they appeared in 1968 when featured in Garibaldi’s Whistler News.

Terry and Susan Jacks stayed regularly at the Brandywine Falls Resort.  This is presumably where they met Charlie “Whitewater” Conroy.  Despite an almost 60-year age difference, Terry and Charlie became close friends and fishing buddies.

Sixty years earlier, in 1912, the Woodfibre pulp mill opened a little south of Squamish on the western shore of the Howe Sound.  Accessible only by boat, the remote town site built around the mill housed workers and their families until the 1960s when they began commuting to work by ferry from nearby Squamish and Britannia Beach.  Woodfibre was one of the oldest pulp mills in British Columbia before it closed in 2006.

The Conroy family, the Poppy Family and Woodfibre have a surprising connection – a song, released in 1972 and only just over two minutes long, named “The Ballad of Woodfibre”.

Terry provided the music and the vocals were performed by 82-year-old Charlie.  “The Ballad of Woodfibre” was a comment on the pollution caused by the Woodfibre pulp mill and the smell that lingered along the Howe Sound from Lions Bay to Squamish.  The first verse encourages visitors to Woodfibre by claiming, “If you don’t mind the smell you can have a good time.”  The chorus begins “Woodfibre, Woodfibre, our little town/You’re turning the water all brown in Howe Sound,” and forecasts the mill’s closure due to the pollution of the water. (You can hear the recording of “The Ballad of Woodfibre” here)

This evening (Saturday, April 28) Julie Gallagher, whose parents Ray and Ruth Gallagher bought the land around Brandywine Falls from Charlie Conroy, will be at the museum for Growing Up at Brandywine Falls: From Resort to Provincial Park.  Doors open at 6 and the talk begins at 7.  Tickets are $10 or $5 for museum and Club Shred members.  Julie will also be hosting guided walks through Brandywine at noon both today and tomorrow (Sunday, April 29).  For more information check here.

The Boom and Bust of McGuire

1992 William Jack Biggin-Pound was asked by Ruth Gallagher to write down what he know of the history around McGuire, Brandywine Falls and Alta Lake.

Ruth and Ray Gallagher had owned and operated the Brandywine Falls Resort until 1973 (keep an eye out for more announcements on this subject in the New Year!) and Ruth was collecting information on the history of the area.

McGuire, located about 7km south of Whistler, had its own station on the PGE Railway and has been settled for as long as the area that is now Whistler.  After the construction of the railway, McGuire was the site of several small sawmills until the logging industry began moving out towards the end of the 1930s.  A mall shake mill began operating after the Second World War, employing up to 100 people in the 1950s, but by the time Jack Biggin-Pound and a friend staked some crown land in 1961 McGuire was again a quiet settlement.

“Picnic lunch at McGuire” from the Myrtle Philip Collection. Though probably taken in the 1930s, well before Jack Biggin-Pound lived there, this is believed to be the only photograph of McGuire at the Whistler Museum.

Though most of the old mills were no longer operational, the buildings and machinery (including and “A” frame crane type machine with a large engine and winch, all bolted to tree trunks as skids) were still there, if only for a short while.

Jack recalled, “One weekend I was surprised to find a large flat bed railcar on the mill site siding.  A workman arrived and started up the winch diesel and within two hours had persuaded the “A” frame contraption to ensconce itself on the flatbed railcar, and by the next weekend it was gone.”

Over the next couple of years the machinery left at the mill disappeared piece by piece and the buildings were neglected to the point where a winter storm was able to flatten what was left.

Staking crown land required that $600 in improvements be made to the property over five years.  For years Jack and his sons, Tony and Dennis, travelled to McGuire on weekends, constructing a cabin before moving in full-time in 1963.

Construction did not always go smoothly.  They finished the floor just before winter and left the timber for the walls and roof stacked and covered on the floor.  When they returned in May they discovered someone had used their building materials as firewood.  The timbers had been crisscrossed and burnt in the middle, leaving pieces “about three feet long with one burnt end.”  Not the most useful of building materials.

Jack remembered exploring the area, finding old trails and the remains of an old bridge that once spanned the Cheakamus River.  He also spent time visiting neighbours; during the winters he was invited down to the McKenzie homestead to listen to Hockey Night in Canada on their radio on Saturday nights and would visit Ken and Edna Stockdale who lived near the water tank between Brandywine and Garibaldi.

Santa used to put in appearances at Myrtle Philip Elementary around Christmas time each year. Photo: Whistler Question, Week of December 20, 1978

When Whistler Mountain opened in 1966 Jack worked providing refreshments on the mountain (Jack’s son Tony also worked on Whistler Mountain and was the one to push out the first gondola on opening day).

Jack played a very important role in the area: Santa.  Jack closed his recollections of the area with the seasonally appropriate words: “Never again will Myrtle Philip undo my flies, to the great amusement of everyone, to stuff a pillow in to make me a more portly Santa Claus for the school children.  They all tried hard but I don’t think the children ever found out who Santa was.”