Photo Credit: Radomes by Ren L’Ecuyer
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Holberg, BC, Canada

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My old house in the logging camp, originally known as \'Rayonier\' until it was taken over by Western Forest Prooducts: 50.656423, -128.005958

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.

Above are a few of Holberg’s most memorable images.

happyholberg_border225x250For 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. In fact, it is not inconceivable that, had I actually been raised by a pack of friendly wolves, I would not have turned out quite so strange.

welcometoholberg_172x230Before 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.

Before Highway 19… If you aren’t from the same ancient era as me (late 60’s / early 70’s), here’s a quick background:  Before Highway 19 was finished, people who lived in Holberg had to commute on an old, beaten-up ferry (the North Island Princess) with uncomfortable seats, terrible food, and slow, unreliable horsepower.  A trip from Kelsey Bay to Beaver Cove could take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours to complete (depending on wind conditions) and then weHolberg types had yet another 3 to 4 hours to drive, much of it on an old pothole riddled logging road.  Unbelievably, that rusty old catamaran tub, built in 1958, is still in service! (see the video on right and thumbnail below)

A view of the North Island Princess’s luxurious interior

YouTube video by “coastalnavigator” (0:23)

From the May 13, 1976, edition of the North Island Gazette, here’s a little reminder of why so many of us felt so disadvantaged until 1979, when Highway 19 finally opened:

Summary

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.  

CFHG2r

This was the location of my first real radio station gig back in the early 70’s!

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.

UPDATE (January 8, 2016)

Not sure how, but I recently stumbled upon another archive of the old Pinetreeline.org site.

  • To see the entire site from it’s homepage, click here.  
  • To see only the Holberg part of the site, click here.

UPDATE (November 5, 2015)

While converting Holberg.ca into a more modern WordPress platform, I discoveredsome awesome YouTube videos, most of which I hadn’t seen before:

  • logging-a-frame-holberg1
  • logging-a-frame-holberg2a
  • holbergforestoperations1
  • scarletibis1
  • loggingphotosholberg1967r
  • treefallingholberg2a
  • videotourholberg1
  • offroadlogtruck1
  • trip2holberg5r

 

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

28 Comments

  1. Arlene and Harry Hemingway

    Love revisiting Holberg. We too, lived in your house on the corner of 2nd street in the early 80’s. Loved that house and did some rehab to it.

    Reply
    • Gary

      Hey I think I remember you, Harry! Didn’t you run a front-end loader or some other kind of heavy equipment on the road crew? If I remember you right, you had a very impressive beard at the time.

      Reply
      • Harry and Arlene Hemingway

        Yes Harry ran the 980 and 988 and went as asst. Road Foreman for awhile but preferred the logging. Ended up operating a hochuck until his career ended in 2005. He shaved off his beard in the in the late 70’s, I believe. I will ask him if he remembers you. We raised both our boys in Holberg and I left in 1990 when the base closed down and Harry commuted to the Comox Valley. I went back when a position opened in the engineering office and Harry and I left in 2008 to retire in the Comox Valley. We are both loving retirement. Arlene Hemingway

        Reply
        • Bob Boudreau

          Hello Arlene, Hope this e-mail finds you and Harry well. I too, have fond memories of Holberg and often reflect on the great people I met there. My name is Bob Boudreau and I am back in Richmond, B.C. Harry should remember as it is our old neighborhood that we grew up in. It has been a few years since I returned to Holberg for a visit and will probably venture that way in the future. I often wonder what happened to all those people and where their travels took them. Take care.

          Reply
        • mike broxham

          if I remember correctly While a road supervisor Harry Hemmingway had a log squash the top of his pickup truck on the passenger’s side . Was traveling back to base with my run buddy George Miller when we pasted your truck .YUP that was a bit close eh .

          Reply
  2. joan barton (tidbury)

    loved my time in holberg great place to be brought up in lots of great memories thank you living in the wilderness no modern day items lived in the bushes before moving to base

    Reply
    • Gary

      Hi Joan! I remember you! We used to ride the Holberg Limousine every week to and from the NISS dormitory. It’s great to see you here!

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        yes remember those days a niss

        Reply
    • Stu Montgomery

      Joan, I was in Holberg in the mid 60’s and your name is familiar to me. Was your dad in the RCAF?
      Stu

      Reply
    • Cindy Wingert (Morgan)

      I cherish the memories I have of growing up in Holberg; it truly was an incredible childhood.
      Love these photos; I used to be on pinetree.org all the time – very happy to come across this site.

      Mum and Dad (Hilda and Bud Morgan) sadly, have passed on now so I always scour any Holberg site I can find in the hopes of finding photos or mention of them.

      Reply
      • Ray Hoilund

        Hi Cindy, I to spent a few years in Holberg and I often wonder what came of your brother. Last time I saw him was in North Bay in the mid 70’s.

        Ray

        Reply
    • Wendy (Mercer) Goodwin

      MERCER FAMILY …. Wendy here!! (Powell River, BC)
      5 brothers: John, Jim, Jerry, Tom, Bob.
      parents : Jack and Jeannie

      PS…have been in touch with David

      Reply
  3. Stu MONTGOMERY

    Trying to locate Debbie Small

    trying to locate an old friend from RCAF Stn Holberg. Her father was a cook there in the mid 60’s. Lost contact after transfer. Debbie was in her late teens and I was 21 at the time. We formed a friendship which derailed after my transfer to Senneterre, PQ in 1968. Would love to reconnect!

    Reply
  4. Brian Gibbons

    You mentioned no sign of Jim Gibbons. My parents left Holberg in mid 80’s. My dad has since passed away but was responsible for starting several businesses in the camp including Trails End Motel, Holberg Limousine Service, Fuel delivery and Gibbons Trucking

    Reply
    • Gary

      I remember you Dad very well! He was really nice to all of us and kept us safe on those long, difficult drives between Rayonier and the NISS Dormitory. My friends and I all had the highest respect for him!

      Reply
    • Joe Barker

      During my post to CFS Holberg I used to the Holberg Limo for Jim Gibbson during my days off from the base. I enjoyed the break very much. Also worked with Bud Morgan for several years.

      Reply
  5. Rebecca

    My dad was there in the early 60.I was born in Holberg in 1962.left while i was a few months old. Dad was a radar man while stationed there

    Reply
    • Wendy Goodwin

      Rebecca…my youngest brother BOB MERCER was born
      in Holberg in 1962! My father Sgt. Jack Mercer was a Radar
      Technician. we were there 1960-65 aprx.

      Reply
  6. Dave tidbury

    Holberg is a special place, It was my home from 1959 to 1971 so I literally grew up there. Many great memories and like Gary, when they closed the base, it leaves a small hole in the heart. Kind of feels like your childhood has been taken, but then I realized,also like Gary, it is the friends that have been taken, because you can’t grow old with everyone. Made many friends during that time but only still friends with one (Jim McDowell) from that time. All others seem to have disappeared, just like the base itself. My brother John and I went there last summer and walked the “road” from where the rec centre was, past where the ball diamond was to the end where the road circled around. There is still a wide open spot there. Kind of wired standing there, looking at the spot where Dee Murray lived on one side and later Mickey Smith on the other. I think the Bohoziks (Nimpkish skipper) lived in between). Memories are all that are left of a great place

    Reply
    • Wendy (Mercer) Foodwin

      hey there….. still have email address? carch up :). Wendy

      Reply
  7. Graham Ackeral

    I am sitting here remembering the most favorite station in my childhood life. My dad was Corporal Dennis Ackeral and we were there in 1970-74 I saw a picture of the PMQ’s and in the bottom left corner is the one we lived in. There is a black spot there that might be my dad’s boat. It never saw water other than to capture inside and the water never leaked out. We hiked up to San Josef bay before the road was pushed thru. Remember having to trek thru the woods because dad screwed up on the high tide time. We also trekked up the Cape Scott trail and only got to the Search and Rescue cabin but it was a wonderful time. Dad wanted to do the West Coast Trail before it was refurbished.

    If anyone reads this, I ask for your help. I am searching for a childhood friend, her dad was Sgt Denis and she had a younger sister named Monique, also a younger brother. my email addy is [email protected].

    Reply
    • Graham Ackeral

      Forgot to mention that her name is Michelle.

      Reply
  8. Roger Rourke

    Hi, I lived my first 5 years in Holberg 66-72. My Dad was Ted Rourke and he worked for Ranier. I had two older brothers Ted and Brad and we lived in a green duplex. Our neighbors in the duplex was the Checks (sp?) I think. My folks taught Sunday school in our downstairs. I don’t remember much but recall a bear climbed a tree across the road from our place and some dude came by and blasted it with what I thought at the time was a cannon. I went back there in the mid 90s and discovered a young mom with 3 young boys in the same house.

    Reply
  9. Tom Cheverie

    Was in holberg when it just opened in 1954. Left there in 56 for Metz. We swam in tent town, had no rec hall or any of that stuff. There was no road anywhere.
    except from Hardy to coal Harbour tho ..

    Reply
  10. Tom Cheverie

    Is me again, I am in the picture you have flashing by at warp speed. In fact I am standing on the stump. Ken Murphy took this shot in 55. Ray Papineau is sitting on a stump just to my right. Think Tom Mac Kay crawled up that hill with us. I submitted a lot of photos to Ray along with Logie. Tom Cheverie Pictou Nova Scotia

    Reply
  11. Joyce Murray

    Lived on RCAF Base 1957-1959 and 1965 -1968 – good memories of a carefree childhood – have not been back – wonder where all the people I grew up with are. Enjoyed this web site.

    Reply
  12. Hammond

    hi holberg could be seniors greatest cottage town.i would like start Norwegian Lutheran fraternal seniors free breakfast and tea Harry Harold Hammond port hardy 2509498899

    Reply
  13. Hammond

    Seeking house or apartment to rent in Holberg Harold Hammond Ex Military Police Reserve .Major T. Oldfield Military Police might have visited Holberg in 1950’s (My great Grandfather).I do run Military Police Seniors TV and Cottage Thank You

    Reply

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