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
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
Crossing" & "Unexpected"
(Two of Holberg's most famous images:)
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
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
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
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.
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.
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"
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
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
Holberg survivor? Did we go to school or work
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
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
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.