When I arrived in Smithers in 1977 to begin work at the Interior News, one of my tasks was to report on council meetings. Among the colourful cast of characters sitting around the table was a low-key man named Harry Kruisselbrink. Always prepared with impeccable research and clear thinking, his quiet voice cut through the bluster and impatience of larger and more powerful men.
As well as welcoming a new reporter to the community, Harry also welcomed me and my soon-to-be husband into his and Audrey’s home. I remember watching Lynn’s forehead break out in hives after he put too much oelek sambal on his nasi goreng, the Indonesian dish Audrey made for us. Oelek sambal is still a staple in our house. Audrey also gave me good advice about transplanting seedlings, and I think about her every time I pour water over the roots of a tomato plant or petunia before piling on the dirt. Harry took photographs of our family over the years, as he did for many others, and on many a New Year’s Eve we sat at their table to enjoy olie bollen, watching the children grow, the grandchildren arrive.
Harry’s partnership with Joe L’Orsa began a long connection between the locals and those of us newcomers who wanted to protect what we all valued about the Bulkley Valley. Lynn had coffee almost every morning with Harry during the years he worked at Interior Stationery and the Telkwa Foundation and we worked together on many environmental campaigns to save the Bulkley from Alcan’s plans to re-route upstream rivers, to protect the Babine Mountains, to stop Telkwa’s coal deposits from being exploited.
His keen interest in history got him to conscript Lynn to write the seminal history Smithers, From Swamp to Village to celebrate the town’s sixtieth anniversary. Harry provided many of the photographs.
Harry also played a pivotal role in my fledgling forays into writing. My first published short story featured a young man delivering telegrams, a job that gave him a window into the secret life of a small town in the fifties. I tried to create a sense of Smithers back then, how the railway and the telegraph lines it carried were at its centre. Harry’s willingness to share his own work experiences grounded that story and taught me much about place and connection, how apparently unrelated events draw people together or set them apart in ways we might never imagine.
The collection of short stories in which “Delivery” was published illustrated the environmental link further. Efforts to slow down logging in important habitat resulted in a visit from a Montana economist; he talked about how small towns were often torn apart by resource extraction projects that come and go, leaving the locals Tending the Remnant Damage. Harry took the cover photograph.
Research for more stories led to many conversations in Harry’s office in the old CN station (now Trackside Cantina) surrounded by the walls of batteries, wires and flashing lights used to run the CNCP telecommunications network he helped maintain. One of the central characters in Shafted, a mystery published in 2014, combined Harry’s love of the outdoors, his environmental ethics and that deep rootedness in the town with his past as a telegraph delivery boy.
I need to say that the characters in my stories are nothing like Harry, but his willingness to share his own past gave me a great gift to build upon. Harry never seemed to worry about people thinking he might have been thinking my characters’ thoughts. In fact, he seemed tickled by his contribution.
Over the years Harry continued as a friend and a strong voice – always willing to say what he believed with clear evidence for those beliefs. He brought that clear thinking and tolerance for disagreement to the last Creekstone Press project we worked on together. Shared Histories: Witsuwit’en-Settler Relations in Smithers, British Columbia, 1913-1973 feels like a bookend to Swamp to Village. Harry was part of a committee that worked with the author to present another kind of history by connecting Witsuwit’en stories to those of the town’s settlers. Harry’s memories of Smithers through his own long residence and his patience and understanding as we all struggled through a very difficult process was integral to the book’s completion. Plus he was the best damn proof-reader an editor could ever hope for.
It seemed especially fitting that the book’s author, Tyler McCreary, was the grandson of one of the councillors sharing the table with Harry back when I began reporting.
The people who love Harry and have benefited from his contributions come from all parts of the community. His example of how to live in a small town, how to bridge our differences, brings us all together. We will miss him terribly.
Thank you Sheila for a beautiful encapsulation of a wonderful human. Harry was an understated trailblazer and he will be greatly missed by so many. You and Lynn are missed in this community as well and I am happy to hear now and then that things are going well for you in Powell River.
Such a beautiful tribute to Harry Kruisselbrink. Always wonderful to learn of the significant contributions that individuals such as Harry have made in shaping this beautiful valley.
Thank you Sheila for this beautiful tribute to a really wonderful guy. So sorry to hear that Harry passed away, and very sorry for your and Lynn’s loss of him. Your writing shows that the people in our lives help to make us who we become. Warmly, Sita
Very nicely done Sheila.
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What a wonderful tribute to Harry. Thank you Sheila.
Thank you for sharing your lovely, thoughtful memories. They are gifts many can savour!
Beautiful kindly smart and helpful man left a wonderful footprint on our hearts and the Valley he lived in! Condolences to Audrey Charmaine and family hugs Jack and Sharin DeVries
It felt so good to explore the times we spent together – just a few of many. Thanks all for your kind words.
Sheila, that is just lovely. Thank you for taking the time and sharing. I hope you and Lynn are well.