Holberg Base & Logging Camp
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Now a worn-out logging camp and sadly deceased Canadian Forces Base,
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.
 

 "Elephant Crossing" & "Unexpected"
(Two of Holberg's most famous images:)

CFS Holberg was situated a few kilometres away from the logging camp, on the gravel road shown exiting  the upper left corner. Holberg logging camp is located at the end of Holberg Inlet, on the northwest corner of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada  

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. 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. 

 

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.

 


Click here to see full 45 minute video
 

 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 we Holberg 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:
 

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 base 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 (CFHG, 1490 on your dial), 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 base 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 the base now forever gone, the answer has to be NO.  It was the base--and the people serving there--who gave that place 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 the base as otherwise.  So, when I now think about it 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. 

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.  

 

Are you a Holberg survivor?  Did we go to school or work together?

If so, I'd sure love to hear from you!  Email me and let me know when you were there, any mutual acquaintances we might have (see above list), what you've been doing since leaving Holberg, and/or anything else you might want to share.  

If you're one of my former classmates from NISS, you may want to check out my "director's cut" of the video featured at the top of this page.  It includes footage that's never been seen before and is about 15 minutes longer than the public version. (How's that for hype?)  To view it, grab yourself a beer (or any other tasty beverage) and click here. Oh, and if you want the password, send me an email!  I'll send it to you as soon as I remember it.  ;-)

 

Images & videos: I'm just one aging "Holberg survivor" who is still working full-time and a very long way from retirement.  I built this non-commercial, not-for-profit memorabilia site simply because I wanted to give some recognition to a little known place where I and many other good people once lived.  As my wife would verify, I barely had enough time to do this in the first place, but I did it anyway because Holberg, the people who once lived there, and the good folks who are still residing there deserve to be recognized. 

Not all of the images and videos on this site are mine. If you happen to be the originator of an image that is posted on this site, please accept my heartfelt appreciation for originally posting it and making it available for the world to see.  It was re-posted here simply because the memories it rekindles are precious--to both myself and many other North Islanders--and such memories should be shared and celebrated, rather than put into boxes (literal or figurative).  Wherever and whenever possible, I have done everything possible to give photo credit where credit is due; however, if there has been an inadvertent error or omission for any of your images (or videos), please accept my apologies and feel free to contact me so I can try to verify and, if possible, make the appropriate correction(s).  Thank you, again.

 

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Email: holbergsurvivor@garybartanus.com