Hans Tugnum

Every June, we used to walk along the ridge above Driftwood Creek from Hans Tugnum’s gravel pit on Gilbert Road to our place—often with Gisela Mendel and Nancy Leighton. We were always on the lookout for clematis, warblers and bears; the clematis likes the brush under the spruce trees, the warblers like the sunny slopes and the bears like the anthills. We didn’t really know Hans and Emily then (though one of his foster daughters, Brenda, became friends during my writing of Canyon Creek: A Script as Elizabeth and Jack Joseph were her grandparents). But Hans is one of those neighbours you realize you can go to when you need to check the facts about local history. Since researching his story about Driftwood Creek bush mills, Lynn has spent time time with Hans and, if you’re a local history buff, you’ll recognize many of the names that come up in his story below.


Hans Tugnum

The headwaters of Driftwood Creek are located at one end of a glacier in a col high above the old mine workings in Silverking Basin. The other end of the glacier drains into the Reiseter or Twobridge Creek watershed. Within these two watersheds Hans Tugnum, who emigrated at age six from Switzerland to the Bulkley Valley with his family in 1936, has spent more than 80 of his 87 years.

Hans’ parents, Conrad and Walburga (Wally), bought property at Glentanna where the Telkwa High Road and Snake Road intersect, a site by then rich in Bulkley Valley history. Prospector Danny Moore built a roadhouse there in 1904 and George Duhamel, a Yukon Telegraph lineman, built a second roadhouse—Glacier House—about a quarter mile closer to Moricetown on the High Road.

An adjacent property, the Chapman ranch, was staked by Peavine Harvey in 1903, owned by mining promoter James Cronin (Cronin mine) and operated by Charlie Chapman for whom Chapman Lake is named. The land was later purchased by Mike Mesich, father of Emil, Tony, Tommy, Steve and Kitty Mesich.

Conrad bought his property (Lots 861 and 862) from the Lapadats and lived in the roadhouse built by Danny Moore. He dismantled that place and built a new, squared-timber home in which the Bill Brandsma family now lives. According to Stories of Swiss Settlement in the Bulkley Valley, Conrad had a mixed farming operation that included hay, grain crops, pork and dairy and beef cattle.

Other neighbours over the years at Glentanna included George Sharp, Matt Mackenzie, the Sturzeneggers, the Veenstras and Hark Vandermeulen.

Hans, along with brothers George and Florian and sister Margrit, fed or milked cows before and after school, cut firewood and helped in the kitchen. During the day they attended the Glentanna school. According to Hans, he started school in 1937 under the tutelage of Della Herman (nee Carpenter). She was followed by Florence Lundstrom and a series of other teachers including June Fletcher (Al’s wife and Della’s sister) and Anna Morris (nee Edmonds).

Some of Hans’ classmates included Johnny and Annie Lapadat, Helen and Irene Oulton, and Ernie and Otto Zust.

“Many of the kids, like the Malkows and the Lundstroms, had to walk three miles or more to school,” Hans said. “On the weekends we went exploring, hiking, squirrel hunting or horseback riding. There were very few cars then so mostly we just visited with one another.”

Hans quit school when he was 15 and stayed working on the farm until he was 25.

“Then I partnered with Hark Vandermeulen and we ran a sawmill on crown land up Twobridge Creek.”

For much of the next 10 years Hans lived either in the bush or at a property on Dieter Road and ran sawmills, one of them located off Old Babine Lake Road near what is now the Rabbit Road. He said a typical operation consisted of a bunkhouse and cookhouse, the mill and about eight employees. “Between Houston and Hazelton,” he said, “there were at least 100 bush mills.”

Just about the same time he started in the sawmilling business Hans married his wife Emily. “I met Emily in 1951,” he said. “We were on and off, mostly off, for the next five years. But I was persistent and we got married in 1956. We lived at Dad’s for about three years and then in the bush after that. She was my camp cook and a damned good woman.”

Together they raised six children—one of their own, two adopted children and three foster children.

The view from the ridge walk from Tugnum’s along Driftwood Road.

Hans quit the sawmilling business in 1966 after being injured in a car accident. In 1973 he bought his current property which borders Driftwood Creek just off Gilbert Road, spending time with his growing family and close friends such as the late Oscar Pederson, who started coming to the valley from Saskatchewan in the 1940s to work in the bush mills, and with Ronnie Gilbert, who was born in the valley.

Ronnie, Hans and friend Bev Brinkhurst built a snowmobile trail from Ronnie’s house on Dieter Road all the way to Smithers Landing on Babine Lake. According to Hans it took the “old guys” about eight hours to make the trip “but some of the younger guys could do it in five or six. We’re too old for that now and the trail is overgrown anyway.”

A director of the Bulkley Valley Credit Union for many years, Hans is now working with the Smithers Co-housing Association.

“The idea for that,” he said, “is to get back to the way it was … visiting, helping each other. To have a sense of community again.”

Thanks to Lynn Shervill and Hans for this story.

Walter Faeh – above the mouth of the creek

If you’ve ever been to Smithers, you’ll have seen the man blowing the alpenhorn at the highway end of Main Street, you’ll have seen buildings faced with white stucco, false shutters stenciled in floral motifs,  decorative balconies, and pitched roofs – all the result of an official alpine theme adopted by the town in the nineties.

Why the alpine theme? Well, the mountains, obviously.  And those picturesque dairy farms dotting the surrounding rural landscape. Sure. But, really? A little Switzerland motif smack in the middle of Wet’suwet’en territory? Seems crazy.

But I have to admit, it doesn’t seem to have ruffled any feathers. Both the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre offices follow the guidelines.




Which all goes to show that the Swiss immigrants, who mostly arrived in the mid-thirties, have maintained a strong cultural presence in the community. And a strong presence in the Driftwood watershed. A survey of the early owners of rural properties within its drainage includes the L’Orsas, the Nagelis, the Sturzeneggers, and the Tugnums. In fact, they are all still here, the Nagelis and Sturzeneggers still raising cattle. But they weren’t the first. In 2006, the Bulkley Valley Swiss Club published Stories of Swiss Settlement in the Bulkley Valley 1910-1960. The first entry tells the story of Walter Faeh – I’ve reproduced much of it below, with their permission.

Walter Faeh was the first Swiss known to have settled in the Bulkley Valley. He was born in Basel on 19 November, 1887. After attending a commercial college there, he started a career in business. However, he was not born to earn his living in an office. In 1909 he left for Canada and found a job on a farm in Saskatchewan, where he worked very long hours for $10 a month. When word reached him that railroad construction labourers were getting 15 cents an hour and only had to put in a ten-hour day, he packed his bags, walked four miles to the railway and flagged down a train. In Saskatoon, he was hired on a Grand Trunk Pacific Railway construction crew. He soon found his way to Vancouver after stops in Edmonton and Calgary.

In 1910 he took a boat from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, where he boarded the newly built sternwheeler S.S. Inlander and steamed up the Skeena River to Grand Trunk Pacific construction Camp 166, where he worked for a few months. There were still about four years of railway construction to go before the last spike was driven in April 1914, and Walter could have been employed for some time if that had been his wish, but he had heard about the excellent farm lands being made available to settlers in the Bulkley Valley and that is what really interested him.

He was soon on the move again. He walked upstream along the Skeena River, presumably on the newly surveyed rail right-of-way, to about Skeena Crossing. There he found a Native who rowed him across the river for fifty cents. The following day he walked to Sealy Landing where railway contractors Foley, Welch and Stewart had a large depot and construction camp. In the barber shop Walter mentioned his intention of taking up land in the Bulkley Valley, and the barber offered him a quarter section there that he had optioned. For $100 the barber would cancel his option and Walter could file on it. Walter decided to investigate, walked up to the mouth of the Bulkley River, crossed on the ferry to Old Hazelton and visited C.G. (Peavine) Harvey’s real estate office, where he saw that most of the best Bulkley Valley land had been preempted. He decided to take the barber’s offer. The final cost of this quarter section (Lot 1182) was $300, because Walter was obliged to pay the government one dollar per acre, plus 25 cents an acre for the legal survey. Additional conditions of the preemption required that, over three years, he had to make certain improvements to the property and reside there six months each year. When those conditions were fulfilled, he would receive a deed to the land.

Around Christmas-time Walter bought about 1,000 pounds of supplies and equipment at the Hudson’s Bay store in Hazelton and had the load transported to the Cronin ranch (Lot 859) at Glentanna for $20. He apparently accompanied his outfit and packed the supplies down to Joe Matus’ place (Lot 855) on Driftwood Creek. From there he had to find his land, which he did by following the new survey lines to the northeast corner of his Lot 1182, where he constructed a rough shelter and stored his things. After exploring his property, he chose a good place to build a cabin. After a few days, Joe Griffin came down to see if the greenhorn was frozen yet, because the temperature was about 40° below zero. Not quite, but a few days later Walter froze a big toe and had to move into Matt Malkow’s cabin on an adjacent homestead, which was empty for the winter.

In the spring of 1911 Walter built his first cabin. When he needed supplies, he had to walk to Aldermere (about 18 km) or Hazelton (about 65 km), until the railway was constructed through Smithers and the townsite was established in 1913. Snake Road, which went past his farm, was also constructed about 1913. Walter spent his summers clearing land, erecting farm buildings, haying and fencing. He eventually cleared about sixty acres of land, all by hand. He used the cleared land to grow hay, which he sold, saving only what he needed for his team of horses. When the Swiss Settlement Delegation visited him during their survey to determine the suitability of the Bulkley Valley for Swiss settlers, he is reported to have pointed to his modest hayfield and said, “There, twenty-five years of hard work.” Walter was, at times, hired on as a faller in a logging camp during the winter, and he worked underground at the Telkwa coal mine in 1943.

Walter never married. He seemed to be a perfectly contented bachelor. His only known vice was an addiction to Copenhagen brand chewing tobacco, or “snoose” as it was called. In addition to farm work, he spent much of each summer prospecting for mineral deposits, using a pendulum as a guide. He found coal along lower Driftwood Creek and did a considerable amount of work on that prospect, but he never found anything that he could sell. Walter enjoyed being out in the hills, and it is doubtful that he really cared whether he found anything of serious economic interest or not. He was quiet and unassuming, with a sparkle in his eye, a ready chuckle and a philosophical optimism that made him a well-liked and respected member of the community. He was very much a free man. He dressed very well when he went to town. He did not own a car. He walked to town or caught a ride with a neighbour or, when Wall’s Taxi used to make the Glentanna-Driftwood loop on Saturdays, he joined Bill Bruce and others and paid 50 cents to go to town that way. He had no telephone, no electricity, no running water and no debts, and that was just the way he wanted it.

In the mid-1970s Walter sold his farm to Leroy Taylor, but he still lived there during the summer. He started spending the winters in Smithers in the Bulkley Hotel, accompanied by his friend Bill Bruce. He tried one winter in Vancouver, but he did not like it enough to go back again. Eventually, he moved into the Bulkley Lodge extended care home in Smithers, where he enjoyed the companionship of many friends and the luxury of someone else doing the cooking. Walter passed away on 8 October, 1984.

Bill Metcalfe, an old friend of ours, lived in Jim Briggs Sr.’s  old farmhouse across the road from the beautiful driveway leading through pasture and aspens to Walter’s cabin. When he took us for a walk there more than 35 years ago now, we went right down to the river where the underbrush opens to the wreck of an old cabin in a clearing beside the Bulkley, between its confluence with Canyon Creek and Driftwood Creek. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of property in the valley. Leroy Taylor lets us walk or snowshoe through there every couple of years.

Just last week Leroy told me the story of a man who owned the clearing. He grew potatoes down there (it used to be land right down beside the river would have about two more frost-free weeks on either end of the growing season, Leroy says, but that seems to have changed now) and would haul them up every fall to sell. One year an early frost killed them all so he packed it in and sold the land to Walter. The property came to Leroy when he bought Walter’s place.

“Come spring Walter would go out and cut down some poplars and haul them over to his cabin. When he had enough firewood to get through the next winter, usually in May, he’d start doing his prospecting – he went all over the place doing that.”

The Briggs’ place is gone now – and Walter’s cabin is beginning to fall apart. But it’s positioned in such a way to tell the story of a man with an unerring sense of beauty, his windows looking out across a hard-won clearing to the mountain across the river. And still with plenty of space for the most restless of spirits.






Christine Holland Buchholz – Ggunek (Hummingbird) Dec. 24. 1931 – January 20, 2017

Joe L’Orsa used to tell us we lived in Upper Driftwood, a joke to make sure we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. But I have to admit, it’s when I turn off the Telkwa Highroad onto Driftwood Road, onto the section of road that follows the creek from the schoolhouse right into Silver King Basin, that’s when I feel most at home. Of the nine families that lived along Driftwood Road when we arrived, four are still here. One of the most recent departures was that of Christine and Herb Buchholtz; they moved out of their small cabin into their granddaughter Cinamon’s house at Moricetown. I think of all of us, they were here first. Which makes sense in a way because Christine, who passed away in January, was Wet’suwet’en and her people have been here for thousands of years.

The family prepared a wonderfully detailed biography of Christine and I have, with their permission, excerpted much of it here.

Christine was born in Smithers, the oldest of five children. Her mother was Esther Baptiste of the Laksilyu (small frog) clan; her father was Joshua Holland of the Tsayu (beaver) clan. Her grandparents, Jean Paul and Sarah Baptiste refused to be relocated to Moricetown; the reserve established at their homesite on Babine Lake Road is named after them. Christine did not have any formal education. Her grandmother chased the priest away with a stick and did not allow her to attend any residential schools. She received the best education a person can ever have – to be taught by her parents and grandparents. They taught her how to carry herself with confidence in the feast hall, how to care for her children and husband.

She met Herb Buchholz in 1957. They married in 1962 and were together until her death this winter. They made their home in Driftwood Canyon where they raised their eight children and three of their grandchildren.

Daughter-in-law Heather Buchholz told me that in the very early seventies, Herb had heard there was a cheap cabin for rent out there, by a guy named Gerry Langen. Eventually Langen sold the property to Hans Tugnum [who still lives across the creek], and moved back to Saskatchewan. Their original neighbours, before Sonja and Richard Lester, were a young hippy guy named Thor (who dad used to get quite a kick out of), and Andrew George, who ran for mayor one year, also rented a cabin on some adjacent property.

I remember seeing the grandkids, Cinamon and David, walking to the school bus stop; later Herb and Christine would drive up to the corner to get another grandchild, Damian, off to school. They’d be there waiting for the bus in the afternoon. We’d often chat when we stopped to pick up our mail.

Their cabin had no running water or electricity. Christine helped haul water and kept the house nice and cozy. She always had big meals prepared for her children. Her routine was grocery shopping on Fridays and laundry on Saturdays. She would wash the clothes at a laundromat and bring them back to hang on her clothes line.

Christine loved nature. They had a huge fire pit and every evening the family would gather, telling stories until late at night. Herb would tell stories and Christine really loved that. Herb was German. Two of his sisters came and fell in love with the family and to this day exchange letters and pictures.

Both Christine and Herb always made Christmas beautiful at the cabin. They never forgot birthday parties and all of the other festivities throughout the year. Christine loved to travel, take weekend trips, take the kids camping, even to go out for a load of wood. She just loved to be outside.

They would take trips to Vancouver to visit family. Her favorite places were Stewart, Cook Lake, Telkwa Highroad area, Barkerville and Hankin Lake. They would go to Hankin Lake every year as a memorial trip in celebration of life of their late son Werner. She loved going to Barkerville hotel to play the slots and have breakfast. She always won their meat draws and enjoyed their clam chowder at the Barkerville Legion.

When their son, Lester, started playing hockey, they built a huge outside rink so the boys could play and practice hockey. Christine was the loudest fan when Lester played for the Smithers Totems and Moricetown Canyon Bears. They followed the Smithers Totems when they travelled to Kitimaat, Houston and other tournaments. They were proud number one fans.

Christine worked at the cannery in Prince Rupert. She also worked with the nuns at the Smithers hospital. She would sterilize the surgical instruments, wash and re-roll the gauzes. She also worked at the nursery in Telkwa. She liked to sketch native art work, kind of primitive bows and arrows, warrior figures. A couple of years ago, she joined the moccasins-making workshop at the Friendship Center. She made two pairs and gave them to her daughters-in-law.

Cinamon recalls Freda Huson’s drumming group with Molly Wickham singing the Grouse song, which was Christine’s favorite song; she started crying and told her story about how her grandmother used to sing that song for her. Christine was a firm believer in traditional food such as bear grease, ooligan grease, wildlife food. She thought that people would be healthier if they ate more traditionally. She taught Heather how to pick soap berries.

One day I was driving to work very early in the morning. Just at the curve of the road near their driveway, I saw a deer had been killed by a car. It was still warm. Not wanting to leave it there, I went down to the cabin and knocked on the door, thinking Herb and Christine might be able to salvage its meat. Herb opened the door and, as I explained about the deer, the warmth from the cabin rolled out around me and I saw Christine sitting up in bed, like a sleepy queen. I’ve never forgotten the warmth I felt there and was reminded of it when I read this:

Her granddaughter Cinamon recalls how she would start putting on her makeup and put on perfume and nice clothes every day. Cinamon asked her, “Are we going somewhere, Grandma?” Christine told her no, Daddy will be home soon and I want to be beautiful for him. She taught her children all the wisdom she received from her home schooling. She always told them to never leave the children alone and always try to look their best. Christine loved to buy expensive jewelry and beautiful things. If she couldn’t afford them, she would arrange payment plans and pay for all of her items. She was a devoted Avon customer.

Elvis Presley was her idol. She loved his music and passed that love onto her children and grandchildren. She would attend any Elvis impersonators whenever she could.

When her daughter-in-law Darlene took her name at the feast hall she was very supportive and helped her with the preparations. She was proud of her accomplishments and how she carried herself at the feast hall.

We were always impressed with the family’s resilience through many losses; the children’s and grandchildren’s testimonials at Christine’s funeral speak to the warmth and generosity she provided and how she and Herb made their tiny cabin an oasis of stability in a complicated world.



We love to tell a story that reflects Herb’s ability with the internal combustion engine. The number of cars, trucks and buses on the property finally became a bit of a concern and Hans Tugnum had many of them hauled away when Christine and Herb moved to Moricetown. But Herb always seemed like a wizard to us: one evening in the depth of a 1980s winter, when we were still driving an old Scout, the thing just died and we barely managed to coast over to the side of the road on the hill heading down to Canyon Creek. Lynn struck a few matches under the hood but couldn’t see anything in the brief sputtering light. Herb drove up beside us and felt around under the hood – alakazam! the Scout started right up. Herb remembers the night, Heather says. something about a wire to the distributor. Many of our neighbours helped us out over the years, but that night was something special.


I also need to mention Christine’s Wet’suwet’en name: Ggunek, which means hummingbird. Her grandchildren mentioned its significance in their remembrances of her. Milan told the story of catching a trapped bird in a cloth and bringing it to her: When we opened the cloth that lil bird sat there while she pet it…always wondered why it didn’t just fly away…out on its way it beeped twice, spread its wings and was gone. We laughed so hard…

Jenni’s discovery of her grandmother’s name solved a few mysteries about my grandma, but … also created a few new ones. Watching the hummingbird over the summer since, it seemed that – though small – they could be fierce when defending themselves, their homes, and their children, and they were beautiful, proud little creatures. Like her namesake, grandma was never – ever – afraid to fight for her loved ones and strength hidden amongst dignity and beauty, is a long and ancient legacy of our people. This was my grandma in so many ways…proud, beautiful and strong.


Thanks to Birdy Markert for giving me the biography prepared for Christine’s funeral, and to Cinamon for putting me in touch with Heather who sent photos and memories:

I tried to send something of mom and dad from when they were a younger, to an older couple. The creek pictures are significant, because they represented a lifetime supply of good drinking water, a place to clean their fish, water to clean themselves, and their home year-round. The solitude and peaceful atmosphere of Driftwood lent something good, not only to mom and dad, but also to the rest of us who visited or lived there. 

Driftwood Creek Bush Mills

Thanks to Lynn Shervill and Hans Tugnum for putting this piece of history together.

Today folks accessing the Babine Mountains via Driftwood Creek can be forgiven if they fail to notice the several log-hauling roads branching off the creek below Sunny Point. Alder thickets, devil’s club and wind falls have obliterated them. But 40 years ago, when my wife and I moved into Driftwood Canyon, they were obvious and each ended in a sawdust pile and a story of enterprise, hardship and, sometimes, tragedy.

Working up the creek from the winter parking lot (just above the third bridge crossing of the creek on Driftwood Road), there were a couple of mills on the bench above the true right side of the creek. One was owned by George Sharpe and Louis Wick and the other by Emil and Steve Mesich.

bush-mill-one-2The next mill, owned by Bill Hickmore, was located between the third and fourth bridges,  and there was another one, again to the north of the creek,  just above the fourth bridge.

We often roamed through these old sites, cutting firewood and wondering what life must have been like for the people who lived and worked here. Maybe not so bad, we thought, having once found a decaying piano at the site near the fourth bridge. It was at this same location we managed to bury a neighbour’s borrowed pickup to the axles at the edge of a sawdust pile, sawdust we wanted as mulch for our hand-watered garden.

bush-mill-2-2Smithers rancher Bill Morris had a mill just above Driftwood Creek on the Lyon Creek Trail, the remnants of which are still visible, and Onie Leighton ran mills part way up the Harvey Mountain Road, just past the fifth bridge, and at Sunny Point.


Between the end of World War Two and the mid to late 1950s there were almost a dozen bush mills along the creek, each cutting from 2,000 to 10,000 board feet of lumber a day.

According to Hans Tugnum, whose family emigrated from Switzerland to the Bulkley Valley in 1936, there could be six sawmills operating along the creek at any given time, employing 40 to 50 people.  A typical mill crew consisted of one or two fallers, a skidder using horses or a cat, a sawyer, a slab packer, who disposed of the outside cuts in a fire pit, a swamper (labourer) and a cook.


Gordon Jewell

Top price was $35 per 1,000 board feet of prime spruce or pine two by 12s or two by 10s, according to Tugnum.  Two by fours and two by sixes went for about $30 per 1,000 board feet. Mill owners – men like the Lubbers brothers, Jake Zust, Ralph Dieter, Al Fletcher, Jack Thomas and Danny Lemire – sold their lumber to a local buyer such as Gordon Jewel of Northern Interior Forest Products in Smithers where it was planed before being shipped out by rail.

Mill employees were often paid according to daily production, say $3 per 1,000 board feet. If the mill was producing 5,000 board feet a day, the employee would get $15 a day.

Tugnum, who owned a mill located between the Driftwood Creek corridor and Old Babine Lake Road, said employees lived on site in bunkhouses and worked from 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. “Supper,” said Tugnum, “was served in the cookhouse about 6:30 or 7 and then the guys would return to the bunkhouse to BS or play a little poker.  About 8:30 or 9:00 cook would leave a fresh pot of coffee or tea on the stove.”

On Saturday the crew worked until noon and then headed for home and their families. “And yes,” said Tugnum, “some of them headed for the bar. But they were on their way back to camp on Sunday afternoon or evening.”

It was good work, according to Tugnum, that paid reasonably well. But it could be dangerous. “George Sharpe was killed when a slab flipped the wrong way, was kicked back by the saw and hit him in the head.  A cat driver working for Onie Leighton was killed at Sunny Point when his machine rolled on him and another guy, working for Bill Morris, was killed when a tree fell on him.”

Safety standards, according to Tugnum, were non-existent. “You took what you got,” he said. “The mill owners paid into the workers’ compensation but there were no safety rules.”


Harry Haywood (l) and Ben Miller.

Tugnum said there were probably 100 small bush mills in the valley like the ones on Driftwood Creek during the ten years after the war. But then it slowly came to an end. More restrictive BC Forest Service regulations and big industrial mills, like the one in Houston, made it impossible for the little guys to keep their books in the black.

“Bowater & Bathurst bought Harry Hagman’s big mill in Houston,” Tugnum said. “And after that all the timber started going to Houston.


Ralph Dieter contributed to many a musical evening all up and down Driftwood Creek, including at our place. This was taken in 1983.

Another mill owner, the late Ralph Dieter, who operated three different mills during the 40s and 50s, said the big mill owners bought up all the quotas held by the independents. “They spent millions just buying people out. They’d offer almost anything to get rid of you.”

The last logging operation on Driftwood Creek – a small clear cut in the fifth bridge area – was done by Tony Mesich in  the mid-1970s, just about the time work started on creating the Babine Mountains Provincial Park. For many years, we could still drive up the road and happily picked huckleberries there, often meeting the Yeker family. Like many of the other roads, it too is long lost to sight.