The Pioneers of Hollyburn Ridge

West Vancouver council members on Hollyburn Ridge, towed by Fred Burfield on the John Deere tractor. To identify individuals, see Bas Collins DOC 04.tif. (Bas Collins Collection
West Vancouver council members on Hollyburn Ridge, towed by Fred Burfield on the John Deere tractor. (Bas Collins Collection)

 

At the height of the Great Depression, as the storm clouds of war gathered over the world, Gordon Knight, my father, and some fellow Kitsilano High School students (and one teacher) went up to visit Hollyburn Ridge on Vancouver’s North Shore. Lions Gate Bridge was still under construction then, so they took the ferry from the foot of Columbia Street and carried just a few cans of pork and beans for provisions. They disembarked the ferry at Lawson Park in West Van and walked up the mountain from there.

By Tami Knight

This trip fired Dad’s imagination and love for the mountains so much that he bought himself a pair of skis. To him, winter was the best time to be in the mountains and skiing was the obvious mode of mountain travel. This certainly did not impress his Newfoundland-born mother during those lean times. Dad recalled one night when the ‘chicken’ dinner had very strange bones and my grandmother finally admitted she had fed the family a rabbit bought from a hobo for a dime.

article continues below

 

Hollyburncollage
Clockwise from top left: The Hollyburn Lodge in recent days. Hugh Aikens, Hollyburn Mountain, mid-1930s (Hugh Aikens Collection). Bud MacInnes & friend beside the Vancouver Ski Club cabin, First Lake, at the beginning of their “Trip to the Lions”, 1937 (Bud & Naomi MacInnes Collection). Sun bathing beside one of the Vancouver Ski Club cabins on the west side of First Lake in April 1947. Chris Engh’s nice jump, Hollyburn, 1930s. Fred Burfield’s restored Bombardier in Manning Park in 1983. Entertaining a visitor at the Lodge, June 17, 1928 (Buddy Barker Collection). PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE HOLLYBURN HERITAGE SOCIETY

 

By the 1930s when Dad first visited, Hollyburn Ridge already had a vibrant cabin and ski community. It was in the autumn of 1924 that Rudolph Verne, Eilif Haxthow and other Scandinavian immigrants fixed up the abandoned Nasmyth mill cookhouse and some small cabins to establish the first commercial ski camp on the North Shore Mountains. In addition to skiing and hiking trails, these chaps constructed large ski jumps – five different ones over the course of three decades.

“The Great Depression was a time of productive cabin building, simply because there wasn’t paid work to be done and the joy of being in the mountains took people’s minds off the Dirty Thirties.”

The Great Depression was a time of productive cabin building, simply because there wasn’t paid work to be done and the joy of being in the mountains took people’s minds off the Dirty Thirties. People had a more rugged attitude towards food— a rogue black bear, shot for cabin raiding, was made into burgers and shared by all. Eventually, the community grew to 300 cabins, although most ultimately ended up reclaimed by the forest over the passing decades.

 

Hollyburn3
Taking a break at Hollyburn, date unknown. Gordon and Iola on Grouse Mountain peak in the Spring of 1948. Gordon and Lola on top of Romstad, Hollyburn Mountain in the Spring of 1999. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE HOLLYBURN HERITAGE SOCIETY.

 

My father’s second cousin, Dick Maltby, had a cabin on Hollyburn and the boys dubbed it “Hellzapoppin.” While Dad wasn’t quite up to the ski jumping that the Scandinavians loved so much, he was certainly rather keen on learning the “Arlberg” technique introduced to America in 1936 by Austrian, Hannes Schneider and still in use today. Dad became a competent skier and, over the next few years, he took to skiing Grouse and Seymour mountains. But his favourite was always Hollyburn.

Post World War II, Hollyburn Ridge, as a summer and winter recreational area, passed into the very capable hands of the Burfield family; Joseph Harry “Pop”, his wife Emma Jane “Mrs. Burfield” and their sons Harry and Fred. Although it was the parents who established themselves at the old ski lodge, Fred Burfield became the long-term squire of the ridge and purveyor of homemade soups, sandwiches and pies.

Born in 1918, Fred Burfield was a skilled woodsman; the sort of pioneering man capable of skinning and dressing a deer, baking a pie from scratch or wrenching a tractor. Although he and his wife Evy lived on the mountain with their daughter Peggy, Evy passed away young from cancer, leaving Fred a single dad. From 1946 to 1984, Fred taught skiing, ran the rope tow, the concession and ski rentals at Hollyburn Lodge before moving to Vancouver Island for a well-deserved retirement.

 

Cross-country ski racers near the Hollyburn Pacific Ski Camp Lodge at First Lake, Hollyburn Ridge, circa 1931/1932. Margaret Kippan is racer Number 19. (Margaret Ommundsen Collection)
Cross-country ski racers near the Hollyburn Pacific Ski Camp Lodge at First Lake, Hollyburn Ridge, circa 1931/1932. Margaret Kippan is racer Number 19. (Margaret Ommundsen Collection)

 

To Vancouver locals, each of the three North Shore ski mountains is distinctive in their development and recreation potential and, therefore, each have a unique culture all their own. They are homespun in a way larger resorts like Whistler are not. But without the deliberate fanciness of ski lifts or restaurants, Hollyburn Ridge remains anachronistically unstuck on itself; the cross-country and backcountry area with the old lodge still serving soup and sandwiches, as has been done for the past eight decades.

Hollyburn Ski Lodge has sadly deteriorated beyond restoration. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it will be rebuilt in its present image. Funds have been committed both privately and publicly, but about $300,000 is still needed for this to happen.

In the fall of 1997, my parents, along with a dedicated group of ancient skiers, met for their annual get-together, the Pioneer Skiers Reunion. The lodge, where they took their lunch, became a focus of their concern; it was – in my father’s engineering mind – becoming very derelict. They decided it was worthwhile saving and were inspired to start the Hollyburn Heritage Society, with a primary goal of restoring the Hollyburn Ski Lodge. A secondary goal was to “collect, assemble, catalogue and share the history of Vancouver’s North Shore mountains; in particular, Hollyburn, Black and Strachan.”

Hollyburn Ski Lodge has sadly deteriorated beyond restoration. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it will be rebuilt in its present image. Funds have been committed both privately and publicly, but about $300,000 is still needed for this to happen.

Dad died in May of 2014 as the snow melted on the North Shore Mountains. At age 92, he had hung up his skis a few years previous and given away his bike. He was ready, he said, “to close the book on this story.” Of course, some of his ashes will be scattered at First Lake in that place that was so very near to his heart; the ski and hiking trails of Hollyburn Ridge.

 

The Hollyburn Heritage Society has extensive photos, stories and more. hollyburnheritage.ca

Comments