04/01/2013 07:16 EDT | Updated 06/01/2013 05:12 EDT

Vancouver: The Way We Were


Sometimes, when I'm waiting for the 99 B-Line to ferry me along Broadway, it's easy to quickly forget our connection to nature. We are intensely lucky in Vancouver in that we have mountains, the ocean, everything. However, it tends to lead to quite a bit of human density given that we are locked in by said mountains and ocean.

On the bus, when I'm removing my foot from under someone else's and getting bopped with a University of British Columbia student's backpack, it's important to take a deep breath, relax and remember two key things: we are still a city in the throes of growing pains and also that Daniel Boone was a twit.

A brilliant writer once described Boone's tendency to pick up and move homesteads whenever he could see smoke in the distance. Coming from a man who routinely sported a dead raccoon as headwear, you can imagine he'd have a few eccentricities. Evidently, one of these was the desire to be as far from people as possible.

While I might be somewhat miserable packed into a crowded bus and accidentally dry-humping the ridership, Boone might have become suicidal. Or homicidal. However, had Daniel Boone visited our city and province of British Columbia in the '50s and '60s, he might have found a world better to his liking.

I'd like to point out I've spent a lot of time driving around B.C. doing everything from performing to taking family holidays. The scale of B.C. is impressive and still remains a very wild place. It was not always so civilized, developed, and full of people, as Mr. Boone would say. Even in the '50s this was wild territory, and the stories that accompany it rival those told about our U.S. frontiersmen, but aren't classic folk tales just yet.


This is kind of a shame, since B.C. was for Canada the true Wild West. The last province to be somewhat tamed, and even then it was still undomesticated at large by her European invaders. The majority of my best stories that I've collected from her come from my grandfather who traveled for BC Hydro laying cable throughout the province in the '50s. The people reflected their wild surrounding, living with this tough frontiersman mindset, because one bad winter in these places could easily chew up an unsuspecting buttercup with no idea what life in a northern town meant. These stories stories told by my granddad became the stuff of legends, equal in my mind to Annie Oakley and Davy Crockett.

In 1959, my grandfather's crew were using the town as a base of operations since it was one of the bigger northern towns. Originally established during the Gold Rush the town managed to survive after the gold ran out. It instead found a richness in other things like forestry that prevented it from becoming a ghost town like many other gold rush towns at the time. The miners became loggers, and no matter what the profession, the gentlemen who undertook these tasks were tough. They had to be.

Granddad told me about some of the toughest ladies I'd ever heard about from Dawson Creek. They were barmaids named Black Betty, for her raven locks, and Red Betty who had auburn hair. Both were tough as nails and didn't cotton to any guff-taking from their clientele which wasn't exactly what I would call progressive or liberal-minded.

One evening, when one of the guys had too much beer and was getting rowdy, Black Betty, the taller of the two women, told him to calm down. "Or you'll what?" he sneered, "You'll call the Mounties on me?" Black Betty didn't hesitate to come around the bar, grab him by the scruff of his neck and the back of his belt and pick him up and throw him out the door. She came back in muttering, "I don't need any Mounties to help me run my bar."


People who lived in these remote areas just got tough. It was the only way that they could be self reliant when they were so far away from other human beings. Mother Beatty, who lived and worked the Beatty Ranch til she was well into her 80s, was one of these folks. The Beatty Ranch was off of the beaten track so while her sons were coming and going to and from town, Mother Beatty was often alone and found companionship in an orphaned calf.

Whether it was necessity or empty nest syndrome, Mother Beatty nursed the calf back to health. When it was strong enough, she kept it in the yard near the house in a small paddock where she could keep an eye over it. One day while in the kitchen, she heard it lowing in distress, and saw there was a grizzly bear snuffling around the fence. Mother Beatty grabbed the shotgun and put two into the bear's head, point-blank. "I nursed that calf back from death," she told my granddad. "I did not do that so some damn bear could make a snack of it."

Thinking of these stories while standing in line at Whole Foods makes you feel far removed from tough, gritty places. It's humbling to remember that only a few generations ago, Vancouver, one of the largest cities in B.C., was closer to that wild world than its current reputation as Glass City. Less than 100 years ago, Granville Street was a swathe cut through the forest on the south side of False Creek. The "jungles" of Vancouver were shanty towns along the waterfront occupied by men looking for work, and with that we were still a mecca of cosmopolitan sophistication in our province.

Now, black bears occasionally amble into North Vancouver yards to pick through garbage or eat a small yappy dog and the only cougars you see downtown gather at The Sandbar in Granville Island. But cast an eye to the mountains, kids and remember that no matter how much glass and concrete we've got now, we are still very much still frontiers people at nature's mercy, and interlopers in that world. I'm fairly certain Daniel Boone would agree.

B.C. Ghost Towns