Forest History Association of British Columbia. Exploring Our Roots: Forest History in Our Communities

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At the end of September, the Forest History Association of BC organized a very successful annual meeting. What follows is an illustrated description of the various field trips and sessions for those who could not attend. Thanks to the conference organizers for compiling this detailed account. Photos by Erica Hernandez and David Brownstein.


  • Thursday, 17 September, 2009 – Tour of the Upper Fraser Valley and Aleza Lake Research Forest
  • Friday, 18 September 2009 – Annual General Meeting, Guided Tour, Banquet and Keynote Presentation
  • Saturday, 19 September 2009 – Conference Presentations

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Tour of the Upper Fraser Valley and the Aleza Lake Research Forest. 
Participants attended a highly informative tour along the famous ‘East Line’ between Willow River and Hansard, through the Upper Fraser Valley profiling the history of the region over the past century. The tour was led by Mike Jull, MF, RPF and Manager of the Aleza Lake Research Forest, and Dr. Greg Halseth, Professor of Geography at University of Northern British Columbia. The tour highlighted the interconnected evolution of forestry, research, transportation systems, communities, and land use. Of special note was Mr. George Dashwood who shared his stories of working in the area during the 1930s as a twenty-something.
Field Trip Photos:


Friday, 18 September 2009

Annual General Meeting, Lunch, and Guided Tour (Prince George Railway and Forestry Museum)
The Annual General Meeting of the Forest History Association of BC was followed by a catered lunch and slide show narrated by local storyteller Mel McConaghy. Participants were then given a tour of the Prince George Railway and Forestry Museum’s forestry exhibit in the temporary exhibits gallery, and an introduction to more than sixty artifact items of rolling stock, nine historical buildings, and smaller artifacts.

“How to Conduct an Oral History Interview” Workshop (Geoffrey R. Weller Library, UNBC)
Dr. Theresa Healy, Regional Manager for Healthy Community Development with Northern Health, Adjunct Professor with UNBC, and founding member of the Prince George Oral History Group led an informative and interactive session on the methods and techniques of conducting oral histories.

Conference Banquet (Bentley Centre, UNBC)
Film Presentation: Mr. Harry Miller, retired employee of Northwood Pulp & Timber Ltd., narrated the silent short film, The Eagle Lake Sawmill (Wally West Productions, 1963) which was donated to the Northern BC Archives at UNBC by Northwood. The film depicted the entire process of sawmill operations at Eagle Lake, from the harvesting of trees to the finished lumber products.


Keynote Presentation: Mr. Harry Gairns, former President and Manager of Industrial Forestry Service Limited (1969-1992) gave the banquet’s keynote presentation on the history of forestry in the central and northern interior of BC in the 1950s and 1960s. He recounted stories and characters associated with the forest industry, the technology, the policies, and the general trends of forestry throughout the period. Mr. Gairns focused throughout his talk on developments in transportation, from horse logging to dirt bikes and early snowmobiles. The centrality of water was similarly a key theme: he recounted towing logs in lakes and rivers, and emphasized the contemporary belief that a mill was nothing without a lake or a pond out of which to run a jackladder. Camp life was described in lively detail: the resourcefulness of early foresters and industrialists was demonstrated by accounts of winter camping and the year-round lack of communication. Mill owners and workers alike dealt with other challenges and disasters such as fires. During this period, many operations consisted of portable mills and mills owned by seasonal migrants, who contributed to the dynamism of industry in the region. In particular, the evolution of forestry policies was illustrated by the changes in the measurement and scaling of trees. The Cariboo Section of the Canadian Institute of Forestry was remembered for both its innovation and its systematic rigor: in hosting meetings and conferences, the group was instrumental in the introduction of both pulp mills and reforestation. Early on, the region had the foresight to promote a sustainable industry.

Pat Bell, Minister of Forests and Range
Pat Bell, Minister of Forests and Range
Harry Gairns speaks at the banquet
Harry Gairns speaks at the banquet.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Conference Sessions, University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC)

1) Keynote Address by Dr. Mike Apsey
(Lecture Theatre 7-158, UNBC)

Dr. Mike Apsey, keynote speaker for the conference, graduated from UBC in forestry. His career started out with the Council of Forest Industries (COFI). After serving for a number of years as Deputy Minister of Forests, he joined COFI as President and CEO and became the lead man in a series of battles with the USA during the timber wars. Following retirement, Dr. Apsey continues to be active in forestry through his involvement in numerous national and international business, academic, research, environmental, and service organizations and initiatives. He was appointed Member of the Order of Canada in 2002, and became an Honourary Doctor of Laws at the University of British Columbia in 2009.

In his keynote address, Dr. Apsey attempted to answer the question: ‘why is forest history important?’ The history of forests, he argued, is critical in shaping our understanding and guiding our decisions. He summarized the mandates of the BC Forest Service Centenary Society and the Forest History Association of British Columbia. As President of the BC Forest Service Centenary Society, Dr. Apsey explained that the planning process for celebrations of the Forest Service’s hundredth anniversary in 2012 is well underway. The Society has launched an interactive website and plans to publish both a book and a DVD. Theme papers, artifacts, and oral histories will all be collected. Sponsorship is currently being solicited, and displays and presentations have been made to raise awareness of this centenary. Various events including informal group parties and formal dinners will be held in 2012, and trees will be planted to make the celebrations carbon neutral. Overall, this centenary will generate interest in the past and present roles of the BC Forest Service and the forest sector; Dr. Apsey states that it will “celebrate past accomplishments and inspire optimism for the future.”

Dr. Mike Apsey
Dr. Mike Apsey

2) Looking to the Past to Inform the Future? Forest History within a Contemporary Context
(Lecture Theatre 7-158, UNBC) Moderated by Dr. Mike Apsey,

Dr. Greg Halseth is a professor in the Geography program at the University of Northern British Columbia, where he is also the Canada Research Chair in Rural and Small Town Studies, and the Acting Director of UNBC’s Community Development Institute. His research examines rural and small town community development, and the community strategies for coping with social and economic change, all with a focus upon Northern BC’s resource-based towns.

Dr. Halseth outlined some of the findings of the Upper Fraser Historical Geography Project. He recounts the general trends and recovery of the history of communities in the Upper Fraser area through photographs, company records, and oral histories. He argues that the area is a ‘critical location’ in the history of forestry, the economy, and the province, and explains that recapturing the histories of the people and communities tied to the regional forest industry is thus of intrinsic value. Innovation, he says, emerged in small industry in small communities as a response to external pressure. Studying the area’s history, then, provides insight into the future of forestry: remembering what has been tried and how small industry has adapted will allow us to better face today’s challenges.

Dr. Darwyn Coxson is a professor in the Ecosystem, Science, and Management program. His research examines the impact of forest harvesting practices on the conservation biology of canopy lichen communities, and the landscape-level distribution of rare and endangered plant communities.

Dr. Coxson discussed the history of how we think about the forest. In exploring the gaps in our knowledge and communication of information about the forest, he traced the various attitudes, perspectives, and terms relating to forestry in BC, Canada, and the world. He outlined how these views have been ensconced in forest practice and policy, and noted in particular how the paradigm of agriculture was applied to the forests. He emphasized the need to understand forests and climates on a small scale in order to address climate change and move into the future.

Mr. Russ Clinton has forty years’ experience in the BC forest industry. For over twenty years, he was the Vice President of West Fraser Timber. He also served as a member of the Interim Governing Council at UNBC.

Mr. Clinton explored Fraser Lake Sawmills as a case study which illustrates larger forestry trends in product change, transportation, and the international market. He talked about his personal history with Fraser Lake Sawmills, as well as his predictions for the future. When he arrived at Fraser Lake in the 1960s, some of the old-timers still remembered hacking ties for the railway. Transportation of resources had shifted from horses and rivers to arch trucks. When the Fraser Lake Mill was purchased by West Fraser, Mr. Clinton recalled its rapid turn around into a profitable and efficient mill. Increasingly, he noted, the British Columbian and Canadian forest industries are faced with international competition for access to capital from nations. In order to continue using our productive forest base and our expertise, Mr. Clinton argued, BC and Canada will simply have to respond to current and future challenges with dynamism, as we have in the past.

Dr. Lorne Hammond is the Curator of History at the Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation, where he works with collections and exhibits. He was a sawmill worker at BC Forests Products Youbou Mill, where he earned a lumber grading, tallymans, and A1, and an A-level industrial first aid ticket many years ago. His academic qualifications include a doctorate on the emergence of the forest industry on the Ottawa Valley and its social and economic dimensions, including banking. He has been active in forest and environmental history, and most recently in assisting the Canada-US Fulbright Program. His current BC research is on the historical impact of changing energy systems.

Dr. Hammond discussed the promises and challenges of the preservation of forest history. He stated the need to ‘plan a future for the past,’ and encouraged everyone to work from within communities to gather, record, and properly store forest history. He outlined the resources and support available for forest historians at the BC Archives. Interestingly, he observed that a young, mature tree lasts longer than the average company in the sector, describing archives as a ‘collective memory’ that should thus be utilized and supported. When faced with the changing environment, forest historians should ‘think outside of the box, using new technologies to better convey the diversity of forest history. The future of the forests, he stated, will be best approached by studying historical examples of disaster and unsustainability, as well as trends outside of forestry that impacted its history.

Hammond, Clinton and Coxon
Hammond, Clinton and Coxon

3) Applying Traditional Knowledge to Future Initiatives: First Nations Historical and Future Relationships with the Forests
(Lecture Theatre 7-158, UNBC) Moderated by Melanie Karjala, Programs Coordinator, Aleza Lake Research Forest Society

Dr. Pamela Wright is an associate professor at UNBC in the Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management program, and she’s also Chair of the Outdoor Recreational Tourism Management and Geography programs. Her research interests are sustainable forest management and monitoring, conservation design and planning, and aboriginal tourism. For the last five years, she’s been working with Tl’azt’en First Nation on a number of related research initiatives, capacity building, training, and workshops, and, most notably, the joint Tl’azt’en Nation/UNBC research project, which is the Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) project.

Dr. Wright discussed the Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) project between the Tl’azt’en Nation and UNBC. She outlined the different approaches to research taken to lead to a better understanding of traditional uses of forests. Co-research–determined, performed, and shared equally–is seen as a way to integrate Western and traditional knowledge systems together in order to best manage the forest. Despite geographical and cultural challenges, much Tl’azt’en traditional ecological knowledge was recorded for perpetuity through the traditional ecological knowledge research stream and the science and environmental education stream. The development of a community-based environmental monitoring system is an excellent example: the research project used photographs and direct participation out on the land, as well as oral history, and is being made accessible in both publications (academic journal articles, books) and videos.

Dr. Antonia Mills was adopted by the Beaver Indians in 1964. She has her PhD from Harvard in Anthropology and Child Development. She was hired by the Gitxsan- Wet’suwet’en Tribal Council to work on their Delgamuukw land claims court case, and is the author of “Eagle Down is Our Law: Wet’suwet’en Law, Peace, and Land Claims”. Mills is co-editor of “Amerindian Rebirth: Reincarnation Beliefs Among North American Indians and Inuit”, and editor of “Hang On To These Words: Johnny David’s Delgamuukw Evidence”, published in 2005.

Dr. Mills discussed Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en attitudes toward forestry, specifically their rejection of clear-cutting. Historically, First Nations have been involved in the logging of their territories, but when clear-cut logging was introduced in Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en territories, they protested, which, along with other their other land rights claims, led to the landmark case Delgamuukw vs. the Queen. According to Dr. Mills, clear-cutting concerns Indigenous People because of its impact on all aspects of the environment. Hwagwis, the Gitxsan-Wet’suwet’en worldview in which all aspects of the environment are alive and need to be respected, is violated by indiscriminate clear-cut logging, leading these people to speak up for the land they have been stewards of since time immemorial.

Ms. Karyn Sharp is Dene from Northern Saskatchewan. She is a Lecturer in First Nations Studies at UNBC and is currently completing her PhD at Simon Fraser University in Archaeology. She earned her BA from Radford University, and her MA from the University of Utah. Her current research interests include First Nations resource planning, traditional environmental knowledge, traditional subsistence in the modern world, and land use studies.

Ms. Sharp discussed the history of traditional environmental knowledge and explored how its principles and methodologies might be made use of in the related field of forest history. Indigenous peoples’ evolving knowledge of their local environments provides an important template for forest management, as do their adaptations to and oral transmission of such knowledge. Local, sustainable, small-scale models of aboriginal land management should be extended to forestry, although there are difficulties in adapting the principles of traditional environmental knowledge to modern business practices. Still, the promise of such a framework is demonstrated by specific Dakelh examples of forest management, including the keyoh, culturally modified trees, and controlled burns.

Mills, Sharp and Wright
Mills, Sharp and Wright

4) Forestry History in Our Communities: Robson Valley and Prince George
(Lecture Theatre 7-158, UNBC) Moderated by Melanie Karjala, Programs Coordinator, Aleza Lake Research Forest Society

Mrs. Marilyn Wheeler is a McBride historian, researcher, and health activist. In 1955 Marilyn Wheeler came to Canada from England for two years to teach in Saskatchewan – and never went back. She and her husband moved to McBride in the Robson Valley and since then Marilyn has taught school from kindergarten to grade twelve, farmed, raised a family, and become a writer. Ms. Wheeler was elected for many years to the Robson Valley Regional District and several health and hospital boards; was appointed a justice of the peace, and has been involved in many local organizations including the local museum society, farmers’ institute, public library and health association. Ms. Wheeler’s book “The Robson Valley Story: a century of dreams” was first published in 1979 and has since been updated and re-published in 2008.

In her presentation, Ms. Wheeler discussed the history of the railway and early settlement in the Robson Valley area from the turn of the twentieth century to the present. After situating the area geographically, she described the trajectory of logging in the area, from tie cutting and pole logging for the railway to small scale, local mills and eventually to big industry. In the course of this history, she talked about the geographic and communicative challenges of building the railway and communities, fire, and the cyclical markets of the lumber industry. Today, she sees the renewed interest in ‘little specialty mills’ as a recognition of the past and a way into the future.

Mrs. Wheeler
Mrs. Wheeler

Dr. Valerie Giles is a history enthusiast who has had extensive experience conducting historical research, and is the author of various historical papers, an annotated bibliography, reports, and books. She has a Master’s degree in Educational Administration from Simon Fraser University, and in 1994, she graduated from the University of British Columbia, with a PhD in Policy Studies. She currently resides in Prince George, and has served as a sessional instructor in the Master of Education program at UNBC, teaching the history of curriculum development in Canada.

Dr. Giles situated forest history in the twentieth century in a provincial context. She estimates that, in the early twentieth century, there was somewhere around six hundred sawmill companies in the area surrounding Prince George. Though a local pulp industry was considered as early as 1921, the famous $200 Industrial Forest Services Report concluding that a pulp mill using industrial wastewood was viable, was not commissioned by Minister Ray Williston until the end of the 1950s. As a result of this report, both Northwood Pulp Mill and Prince George Pulp and Paper Mill were built by 1964. Technological and research innovations across the province paralleled the consolidation of small companies in the late 1960s and the corresponding decline in market prices. Most of those involved in forestry who she quotes recalled a resourcefulness that was necessary, given the remote and occasionally harsh conditions, but also exciting and character forming.

Dr. Giles
Dr. Giles

5) Exploring Our Roots: Forest History Research Methodology
(Lecture Theatre 7-158, UNBC) Moderated by Dr. Ted Binnema, UNBC History Program

Dr. Tracey Summerville is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science department at the University of Northern British Columbia. She earned her PhD at Laval University. She has published various papers on natural resources and on the environment particularly, as they relate to sustainability. She also serves as a member of the BC Studies editorial board, and is past president of the British Columbia Political Studies Association.

Dr. Summerville outlined the methodology and approaches of the Upper Fraser Historical Geography Project, on which she worked with Dr. Greg Halseth, Dr. Gail Fondahl, Dr. Aileen Espiritu, and Mr. Kent Sedgwick. The announcement of the closure of the Upper Fraser community propelled the group to collect the stories of the sawmill communities along the Upper Fraser. Though she was interested especially in forest policy, the research team was fascinated by the story of technology and change in these industries and communities. Through open houses, oral histories, and photographs, goals and content of the project were determined through the communities themselves. Maps and collective histories were created by the communities, but within an academic framework. The project itself is ongoing.

Mr. Mike Jull is a registered professional forester who has been working in the interior of British Columbia in public, private, and university sectors for over twenty-five years. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in forest resource management from University of British Columbia and has a Master’s degree in silviculture. His interests in long-term silviculture research led him to the north in 1990 and became manager the Aleza Lake Research Forest in 2001. He has been here ever since.

As a historian of the Aleza Lake Research Forest, Mr. Jull attempts to understand the broad connections between ecological and historical narratives. The 9,000 hectare Research Forest was established in 1924 to look into sustainable forest practices in the sub- boreal spruce zone where logging had already occurred. The records are typically administrative and organizational, but also include reports, photographs, maps, and timber sale documents. Significantly, they allow for the creation of a history of the landscape and emphasize the importance of geographical context. In the future, Mr. Jull plans to continue collecting oral histories and to use these to understand the interactions between communities, First Nations, and the Research Forest.

Ms. Barb Coupé has a Bachelor of Science in Forestry from the University of British Columbia. She has been a registered professional forester since 1980; owns a consulting firm, Arboreal Communications Services, and is the editor of the Forest History Association of British Columbia newsletter. She is now a Master’s student at the University of Northern British Columbia in Interdisciplinary Studies, taking all kinds of interdisciplinary approaches to her research.

Ms. Coupé outlined the forest legacies left by Dr. Vladimir Josef Krajina. She described the story of his life, from his precocious academic career in Czechoslovakia through his contributions to the Biogeoclimatic Ecosystem Classification. She argued that his experience in the Czech underground resistance during World War II and then as an elected official in the opposition party uniquely prepared him to resist conventional forestry policies and to link ecosystems to forest management. Ultimately, his development of a more rigorous method based on ecosystem classification allowed forestry to become more sustainable. As a professor at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Krajina influenced generations of foresters, many of whom Ms. Coupé has interviewed.

6) From Exploration to Development: Bringing Forest History Forward
(Lecture Theatre 7-158, UNBC) Moderated by Dr. Ted Binnema, UNBC History Program

Mr. Stan Chester, RPF (retired) and president of the Forest History Association of British Columbia since 1999, graduated from UBC with a Bachelor of Science in Forestry in 1956. Mr. Chester joined the Protection Division of the BC Forest Service after graduation and then the Federal Fire Research Branch in Ottawa. In 1966 he returned to British Columbia joining the Englewood Logging Division of Canadian Forest Product as a Fire Control Officer. He then moved to the CFP Vancouver Office in 1976 where he worked until he retired in 1997.

Mr. Chester spoke of the pivotal nature of forestry in the development of British Columbia. As a result, preserving the documentary, oral, and photographic records is crucial in present and future understanding of the culture, economy, ecology, and policy. The anomalous growth in the industry in the past sixty years must be remembered through the location and recording of oral histories, the preservation of artifacts, and through the support and patronage of local museums and archives. The internet and computers should be used as tools to become active in local forest history organizations and projects, but they should not become substitutes for paper records. In the end, the quality of our collective memory of the forests will depend on the individual.

Ms. Emily Jane Davis is a PhD candidate in UBC’s Geography department. Her research is a comparative project about the multiple changes and challenges that forested landscapes and communities in interior BC and eastern Oregon are experiencing. She has also served as the inaugural coordinator for NiCHE’s Forest History group, and thereby met and learnt from forest history enthusiasts across BC.

Ms. Davis discussed the role of remembering and preserving historical records in today’s data-rich age. Though we are inundated daily with information through the internet and digital networks like the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE), the very abundance challenges the historical practice of close readings, offering instead a constant stream of new sources and new ways of conducting research. Comprehensiveness, then, threatens to replace expertise in the face of an essentially unknown audience. Despite these challenges and ever shifting measures, however, Ms. Davis argues that we should continue to save and collect, ultimately using the digital world as but one of many tools for communication. People and the relationships between them thus become the most important resources in the preservation and maintenance of vitality in forest history.

Dr. Anne Marie Goodfellow is the network manager for THEN-HiER (The History Education Network). She has a PhD in Anthropology from the University of British Columbia. She has managed a number of projects related to social studies teaching and the curriculum, and has written several publications on the topic. Her research interests include early relations between colonists and Indigenous People in North America, and the history and consequences of the language contact on this continent.

Dr. Goodfellow overviewed The History Education Network, THEN-HiER, a collaborative network bringing together historians and history educators across Canada. She explained in detail THEN-HiER’s interactive website (, discussing how becoming a member will benefit forest historians. The website collects and presents research and resources, offers sources of funding, and displays curriculum and policy documents, organized by region. Dr. Goodfellow encouraged members of the Forest History Association to post resources on the website which educators might make use of in those sections of educational curriculum that leave space for forest history.

Chester and Davis
Chester and Davis
Feature Image: “British Columbia Forest Service” by Sam Beebe is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


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