Flash Back Fridays
TOBY HAY 1972
In 1972 you and Jim hired my father Ean, my brother Colin, and me as carpenters to work on a renovation of one of the guest cabins at Strathcona Lodge. We brought our schooner to the fisherman’s wharf in Campbell River and lived there, driving to the Lodge each day with Ron Woodcox who was a faller but had the summer off for some reason. Perhaps the woods were closed because of the fire danger – I do remember the summer as very hot and that we used to cool off in the lake in the mid-afternoon.
My father’s story was that you had hired two carpenters to do some work on the little cabin and then went somewhere for a month. While you were away they framed a second storey on the cabin, a four bedroom addition on its south wall, and 60 feet of two storey extension to the north. He claimed this was a surprise to you. I don’t know if the original crew snuck away in disgrace or if you fired them. If they were fired for incompetence they are unique in the early history of the Lodge where knowledge and ability were not necessary for most jobs – I speak as one who taught cross-country skiing to a Capilano College class the first time he wore cross-country skis.
We arrived and began framing the roof. There must have been a fair crowd of us but I can’t remember many of the faces or names – only Ron Woodcox and David Cloud for the first while. Pat Martin’s stepson David Williams joined us when we moved on to decks and interior work, as did Andy Vine. At some stage we found that in their haste the original carpenters had not poured foundations or even footings, using cinder blocks placed on the ground instead. This was a problem because the building was very close to the ground in places – more of a squirm space than a crawl space. Some of the crew was set to excavating topsoil and building footing boxes underneath the building and then pouring footings by dragging pails of cement under the floors.
I stayed close to the construction site that summer. We lived in town and came out to work each day. Colin and I stayed over only one weekend when our father took the schooner somewhere – probably back to Cortes Island to see our mother – and we camped on the floor in the building and ate with the Lodge staff. On Saturday we walked up the back hill and picked enough huckleberries for two pies which one of the women in the kitchen made for us. I was young and shy and don’t remember speaking to you or Jim at all. I remember seeing Elizabeth there in the kitchen as Colin and I washed dishes though we didn’t speak to each other. The person I remember best is of your father Wallace who came to the site one day and took me off to help put windows in what is now Dave and Joanne’s cabin. He had a commanding presence and it didn’t occur to me to say I was busy.
By the end of summer the building was nearly complete. A wild carpet layer from Ontario was putting down horrible orange shag through the whole place. David Boulding and John Gregg had shaked the roof with four foot shakes that are still there 37 years later. I left in early September. Peter Wright brought Friends World College to stay in the new building and so it was named the College Building, of course. Colin stayed on for the winter but had gone to live in Vancouver by the time the old Lodge caught fire and burned.
The next summer was the summer of seven Jims – Jim Boulding, Jamie Boulding, Jim Dennis, Jamie Dennis, Jim Nelson, Jim Henshaw, and Jim Krieger. Two of them were known as Big Jim to complete the confusion. During the winter you had started a building to contain stalls for the horses, and a repair shop and garage above. (This was a continuing theme during the expansionary era of the lodge history – I know that the office building and the Haig Brown building were also planned as garage/shop/store buildings until sometime during their construction.) When the Lodge burned you expanded the plans to have this serve as the main building until you built a replacement Lodge, calling it the Outdoor Center. Jim Dennis was running the job with a crew of amateurs including a group school students from Mount Douglas High in Victoria. John Caflisch, doing the plumbing, was there in a school bus with his wife Rosemary and 3 young sons. Jim Krieger was doing the wiring, though he must have had some instruction from an electrician. Garney and his wife and their dog were living in one of the guide cabins down by the water. When my father and I arrived in early summer the building had two stories above the twelve foot ceiling of the garage/shop and a kitchen on the south side with a large room over it. The roof was on and John Gregg was shaking it. My first job was to hang the cedar front door that still rattles and bangs there.
There was a sawmill up the back hill cutting a lot of lumber. We used it as framing and interior and exterior siding, and even made window frames and trim lumber out of it. Colin had told of the skidder at the Lodge the previous winter clearing the ski hill. I imagine Jim had felled and skidded the logs in to the mill. Some logs were trucked up the hill from the lake. At that time there were still millable trees floating in the lake from when the dam was built and the level raised, and other trees fell into the lake more recently and were salvaged. With slabs from the mill I built the exterior spiral staircase through the front deck of the new building. There was one poor carpenter there who shingled the entire dining room ceiling – it took him a week sitting on a chair on a scaffold nailing shingles above his head.
As parts of the building were finished people moved in – you and Jim into the room over the kitchen, your children into the rooms on the top floor, and others into the rooms on the second floor. By the end of summer we’d completed most of it save for ceilings and some trim. The lodge office and radiophone were in the tiny closet under the stairs. As things wound down my father started to lay out the site of the main Lodge and a bulldozer excavated for the basement swimming pool – but that was as far as the building ever got – money ran out and Caesar Caflisch did sketches for a smaller building to serve as an office and workshop/garage.
All summer long as this was going on Jim was running west coast adventures. These were huge productions requiring countless canoes and boats and vehicles with trailers and mountains of food and equipment. This was adventure travel with real adventure and real danger too – any activity that required driving the Dodge Power Wagon to Gold River towing the Fairisle on a trailer was practically suicidal.
I stayed on that fall and winter. I remember the following people who stayed after the summer or arrived and stayed in the fall: David Boulding, Jim Nelson, Jim Krieger, Roger Podolski, David Jones and Carol, Vikki Hunter, Barbara Moon, a swarm of Shoemakers, and of course Josie.
We began work on the office building in the fall – pouring real foundations for a change. They were only on two sides of the building, but the other two sides had good substantial footings at least and we eventually built rock walls on those. We had lots of lumber and enough credit for nails and plywood so we were able to continue framing through the winter in fits and starts as the weather allowed. David Jones managed to overturn the backhoe while excavating – only one in an interminable series of accidents for the sad machine. We put rolled oats into its radiator to plug holes in the cooling system. The engine block was cracked. It never had working brakes. At one point it rolled into the boat bay until the water was up to the steering wheel and had to be towed out with the Power Wagon.
Winter at the Lodge was an experience. We fetched firewood with the ’42 Dodge dump truck (ex-Courtenay fire truck) and the Power Wagon from an active logging area in Swan Bay. Once when we were there watching Jim bucking rounds off a huge log the loggers arrived to see who was running a chainsaw in their show. Luckily one of them was a former student of Jim’s, whom Jim appeased somehow.
The winter was cold, but not as cold or snowy as the previous winter when you put in the ski hill with its little ski tow because there was so much snow. We spent far too much time keeping the water running – it lost its siphon out of the reservoir or froze in the pipes regularly. Several times we hauled the pipes down from the hillside, launched them into the lake and waited until the ice in them thawed loose, and then fitted them to the exhaust of the blue Suburban to blow them clear.
In the late afternoons when it was too dark to work outside we’d come to the dining room and sit around the Franklin fireplace telling lies. Sometimes there was a bottle of Crown Royal, which I associate with Jim Nelson though all the men except me shared it. I remember Josie on Jim Krieger’s lap by the fireplace sucking peanut butter off a spoon and licking a leftover breakfast sausage – but that must have been in the late spring because she was very young to be eating solid food.
We ate lots of soya beans because money was very short. Emily and Kathy were cooking that fall, though many of us helped in the kitchen cooking and washing dishes. Ian Forbes had done a natural history walk in the Elk River Valley and identified some mushrooms as edible, which inspired some of us to forage quite indiscriminately for fungus which ended up in our dinners and upset our stomachs. Your father Wallace brought produce from his garden in town including two monster zucchinis which were hollowed out, filled with soya beans, and baked, but never eaten.
Elizabeth and perhaps some of the other children were going to school in Campbell River several days a week, but they had lessons of one sort or another at the Lodge too. I read to them – The Sword in the Stone and Candide are the two books I remember. Heidi Caflisch came from Campbell River to teach French.
In the fall we drove to town one day with wrecking tools, chainsaws, and the biggest boat trailer. We collapsed your horse barn, cut it into sections, brought the pieces back to the Lodge, and reassembled it in the parking lot for Annie and Elizabeth’s two horses.
We all took school groups out for survival training and winter camping. We showed them how to light fires in the rain with pitch sticks, how to build a shelter, how to identify common trees and plants. Our camping gear was plastic tarps to keep us dry at night, and billycans for cooking made from large tin cans. We knew not to litter but blithely built fires and cut boughs for beds – it was a different era and we weren’t equipped for no trace camping. In the fall Elizabeth and I took a class to the top of Rogers Ridge one day, and later another class to Tlools Lake in the rain for an overnight trip. A group of Fijians arrived, as part of Canada World Youth, and stayed for weeks. We took them snow camping on Elk Mountain – they must have been very cold.
I was away with my family on Cortes Island that Christmas and so missed the Italian Army Christmas.
Winter wore into spring and the school groups started up again. A large YMCA group came up with Les Priest and Peter Marshall amongst other instructors to do outdoor activities. I went as a hiking guide with a group of them on Elk Mountain and got lost – but there was snow on the ground so we were able to follow our footsteps back to the highway. In the late spring Les Priest came back to show us how to climb rock – which we did at Crest Crags, probably as the first people to climb there. He also led David Boulding, Jim Krieger, Roger Podolski, and me up Elkhorn to teach us a little about mountaineering and climbing. I believe we had no map with us. The first day we followed the Elk River Trail to Landslide lake, looked across at Elkhorn to find a route, then hiked back down to the valley bottom and struck up the steep hillside toward the ridge to the south of the peak. We were soon bushwhacking up through copper bush and slide alder and continued to do that until we reached snow and made camp near the ridge top in the late afternoon. We got up early the next morning and struck south along the ridge with lunch and ropes in our day packs, leaving the camp set up because we expected to be back in the afternoon. When we reached the mountain Les taught us ice axe arrests and techniques for belaying in the snow before we began to climb. We moved from the snow to rock almost immediately, climbing pitch after pitch belayed . We had two ropes for the five of us so Les would lead each section belayed by the second person with one rope while the third person top roped the last two up the previous section. It was too steep and exposed to free climb anything so the going was very slow and the day wore on. We had lunch on a ledge and then continued up. We must have been getting worried because I remember us hearing a helicopter and Roger joking that it was coming to rescue us. At dusk we reached a large flat area below the peak, prepared a bivouac, and then sat watching the sun go down beyond Colonel Foster. All afternoon we had seen clouds coming in from the west coast, filling each valley and then spilling over the ridge into the next. Finally before it got dark they filled the Elk River valley but stayed below our level (we were somewhere above 6500 feet) so that we could see only the stars above us and the surrounding mountain peaks standing through the cloud. I was cold – my bivouac preparations were to put on my jacket, hat, and gloves and put my legs into my empty daypack. At first light we found and followed a snow filled gully by rappelling and down climbing until we reached snowfields we could follow back to our camp. We had no urge to climb the last hundreds of feet to the peak that morning.
You and Jim had somehow managed to get government money for teacher’s programs in the summer. With these programs came real instructors including Brian Creer, Alice Culbert, Ray Preece, Bob Sutherland, and others I’ve forgotten. I was working on the office building still and hadn’t much to do with the summer programs, but learned to kayak with Brian Creer and his son. Elizabeth and Annie spent far more time with the teacher groups – Elizabeth learning some mountaineering and Annie learning to kayak.
I continued doing carpentry through the summer and into the fall.
I think the cook we called Harry Halva came that fall – he’ll always be remembered for his boating skills. He managed to fall out of an aluminum skiff at speed somewhere down the lake. The first we knew about it was when a motorist stopped to say that one of our boats was doing tight circles in the middle of the lake and it appeared to be empty. We called the police and organize a search for Harry who in the meantime had swum to shore and was hitchhiking back to the Lodge.
I did one last trip in the fall before returning to Cortes Island for the winter of 1973/1974. David Boulding, Jim Krieger, Jim Nelson, Roger Podolski, Michael Rewald, and I decided to climb the Hinde and set out in early September. We were dropped at Phillips Creek and found our way up to the Marble Meadows hut the first day – one of us must have been there that summer with a teacher group or we would never have found it. The next day we continued west past Morrison Spire in worsening weather, over Limestone Cap, and then had to make camp in a howling blizzard with no visibility. We had a single McBride tent in which the six of us spent a crowded and uncomfortable night. In the morning the snow and wind had stopped . We turned back and got thoroughly lost in the fog on limestone cap until the weather cleared enough to show us the way back to the hut. We spent several days waiting there for the rain to stop, climbed Mount McBride on a day of perfect weather, and then hiked back down to Phillips Creek. Because we had been dropped there from a motorboat there was no way to get across the lake. We saw a couple paddling by in a canoe and David shouted that we needed help, but they wouldn’t come near. Finally we built a small raft by tying together driftwood and I set out on an interminable paddle across the lake. As I finally stood by the highway hitchhiking back to the Lodge I saw a motorboat from the Lodge arrive and pick the others up – the canoeists had stopped at the lodge as they drove by and reported the gang of ruffians they’d encountered.
The summer of 1975 I worked with my father and brother in Campbell River building a house for Don Barker. Colin and I visited the Lodge and built a cabin for Jamie next to Cabin 1 where you and Jim were living then with Jamie and Josie. I have difficulty remembering now which summers after that I spent at the Lodge. I know I was there when the Seale House was started because I helped build the front stone foundation wall, but I wasn’t there for the construction of the house itself. I was away for all of the time that Ray Green was doing Nancy’s Cabin and the Haig Brown building, and for the arrival and installation of the annex. But I spent at least one summer doing renovations in the Office building and that year built the bar as a birthday present for Jim.
As I write this I remember more incidents and adventures but it’s hard to place them in sequence. I’m looking forward to seeing old acquaintances and sorting some of it out this June.