Now a worn-out logging camp and sadly deceased Canadian Forces Station, this rainy, isolated Northern Vancouver Island location is remembered by countless former residents as a “special place” with its own identity and distinctive “mystique”. Many thought of it as “Happy Holberg” while others regarded it as the “armpit of British Columbia.” Regardless of anyone’s perspective, Holberg is truly unforgettable.
For those of us who had the experience of living in Holberg, BC during the late sixties and early seventies, there are plenty of memories. Some are good, some bad, and many long forgotten–but for people who experienced Holberg like I did, it’s profound that there are any memories at all!
In 2006, I had the opportunity to return to Holberg for the first time in over 35 years. I was amazed at how little the place has changed. It was easy to find the major landmarks (like Elephant Crossing, the Log Dump, the bunkhouses, etc.) But,sadly, the people I knew had long gone. There were only a couple of names in the phonebook that I recognized and none of my old friends were around any more. It was impossible to find people like Frank and Judy Szy, Mike Thurston, Joan Tidbury, Dave Tidbury, Denis Gagnon, or any of my other schoolmates. Nor could I find any trace of folks like Percy Wong, Art Jones, Fred Mantic, Neil Arthurs, Harold Yasinski, Harry Hemingway, Rick Selzer, Gabe the gas station operator, Bob Fells, French Mike, Roy Juthans, Jim Gibbons, George Anderson, Merle Humphrey, or any of the others I knew in the 70’s.
Ah well… probably just as well because, when I left, most of these people only regarded me as a rather strange young man with a bad case of acne and one of the most dysfunctional families in town. Regardless of that dark past, being able to come back to Holberg after nearly 35 years of absence was long overdue.
Before leaving for this trip, I got the bright idea of videotaping the journey with old “top 40 hits” from the 70’s playing in the background. There’s a clip of it over there on the right. Be forewarned, however–this is not a puny little 10 minute YouTube flick. A place like Holberg deserves to be remembered with something considerably more substantial, so this “epic” is about 45 minutes long and it takes you on a tour of the road to Holberg, the logging camp and the unfortunately “deceased” Canadian Forces Base.
Unfortunately, by the time I got to CFS Holberg, the battery packs for my Sony Camcorder were both completely drained. Fortunately, I was able to snap a few still images and some “better than nothin” video with my Palm PDA.
The main video starts with a quick look at Kelsey Bay and Sayward, then picks up from Port McNeill during another of the many raging rain storms that frequently hit the North Island. The reason for this is because, prior to 1979, there was no Highway 19.
Although there’s some whining and complaining about rain and washouts in the video, I’d have to say that I’m glad I went back. It’s nice to know that there are some things in this world that do not change much and that carry on despite the human changes that may take place all around them. It’s also good to know that a pimply faced teenager who had difficulty dealing with the challenges of isolation, etc., can actually become a legitimate contributor to society. That’s thanks, in large part to some great teachers and a few good friends.
I must say that it was a huge mistake for the Conservative government to cut the funding for CFS Holberg back in the late 80’s. For that part of the island, the station was like a breath of fresh air whenever loggers, hikers, or even high school students needed something different to do–something other than drinking and seeking chemical mood enhancements. I still remember good times working at the radio station in the Rec Centre – good ol’ CFHG (1490 on your dial), as shown on left – plus shopping at CANEX, working on the CE crew, going bowling, playing drums at the Sergeants’ Mess and Junior Ranks Club, catching a flick at the station theatre, and chatting with the friendly commissionaires at the gate. While deeply saddened that the station is now gone, I am most thankful for having had the opportunity to get to know some of those interesting servicemen (and women) who lived and helped protect North America there. They were a great bunch of patriotic and forward thinking Canadians (for the most part) and, from what I could now see at the neighbouring logging camp in 2006, the area is seriously missing them.
Will I ever go back again? With CFS Holberg now forever gone, the answer has to be NO. It was that thriving station–and the people serving there–who gave the region a sense of optimism and hope, who gave it life. They are all gone now. So I, too, am forever gone from that place.
While I truly am glad on one hand that I took this trip back to Holberg, I also have some “other hand” regrets: when I was a kid, I assumed that CFS Holberg was a permanent fixture in the world and that it would always exist. It was such a vibrant and vital nerve centre in such an isolated and lonely void, that it was impossible to regard it as otherwise. So, when I now think about CFS Holberg being forever gone, my “inner child” feels cheated, betrayed, and just wants to somehow bring it back. It’s like there’s a piece of me that has gone missing. And it was stolen under the watch and discredited rightwing conservative policies of the Brian Mulroney government–perhaps the most short-sighted and corrupt government this country has ever endured. (UPDATE, 11-04-15: As we now know, the other conservative government–the one controlled by Stephen Harper–turned out to be even worse than Mulroney’s mess.)
With all that being said, I just want to say one last THANK YOU to all the fantastic loggers at Rayonier who taught me how to work, the Canadian Forces personnel who gave me reason to hope, friends like Frank and Mike who helped make the best of things, and some very special NISS teachers who were great role models during a challenging and exciting time.
UPDATE (November 4, 2015)
While converting Holberg.ca into a more modern WordPress platform, I discovered that the old Pinetreeline site had all but disappeared. It was being archived on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, but it appears that many of the images are disappearing somehow. Therefore, I am updating this site with 253 images that I had downloaded from the original site back in 2009. (Some were used to make the CFS Holberg blues video, but they all flash by so quickly (with no readable information) that I thought, because WordPress technology now makes it easy, I should share them here, complete with captions from the original Pinetreeline.org site webmaster, Ren L’Ecuyer. Unfortunately, the dates that most of these were taken are unknown, but I thought some folks might enjoy seeing them anyway.
A general view showing the Chapel (foreground), the school (center), and the apartments in the background
Aboard the Nimpkish II looking towards Holberg Narrows from Coal Harbour at the end of the Inlet – April 1972
Looking up to the CO’s house and the old gate. Note the contrast from the additional photo below – June 1989
Old cabin at Brink Lake covered with the inflatable rubber that once covered one of the radomes – June 1973
Six sided cabin near old Dyke site at Cape Scott. The cabin was built by a painter from Rayonier and his Japanese wife
The change from the Hudson’s Bay Company store to the most welcomed new CANEX ribbon cutting ceremony
Trip from Holberg to Raft Cove via Quatsino Sound. Sgt. Jack Mercer (left) and WO Hank Grant (right)
This site was recently converted into a WordPress site to make it more manageable and modern. If you are nostalgic for old-fashioned HTML sites, you can find the old version here: http://garybartanus.com/oldspaces/holberg/index.html