Tag Archives: sawmill

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.

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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.”