Harry Kruisselbrink, a wonderful friend and mentor (March 31, 1941 – May 2, 2022)

Lynn (L), Harry and Sheila at the Joe L’Orsa cabin in Silverking Basin.

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, always an avid photographer, took this picture of Audrey and their kids (Leroy, Juanita and Charmaine) with us in our newly-acquired back yard in Driftwood Canyon in 1977 or 1978.

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.

Harry with our son, Michael, and Richard Overstall, another long time member of the cohort of environmental activists in the region who worked beside First Nations in their fight for justice. Pat Moss, who took this photograph at the launch of Shafted, is another.

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.

Silverking Basin

by Harry Kruisselbrink

Harry has lived in Smithers since soon after his family arrived in the Bulkley Valley in early 1951. He served on town council for many years and was a dedicated environmental activist and researcher. He is a wonderful photographer (the photos here are from his collection) and has helped record local history, working with Lynn Shervill on Smithers: From Swamp to Village and writing his own Smithers: A Railroad Town. He is also a great friend. Like many of us, he can’t help returning, year after year, to the beautiful Silverking Basin where Driftwood Creek begins its journey to the Pacific.


Harry and Juanita

By the late 1960s, Audrey and I had been to Silverking Basin quite a few times before we had the kids. Once we had them, it became a little harder. Leroy was born in 1966 and Juanita in 1969 (Charmaine was still four years down the road). It then occurred to us that we could actually take the kids into the basin and stay for more than just the day. The first time we did that was in July 1970. Leroy was a three-year-old getting close to four. Juanita was a year-and-a-half old.

When my fellow CN employ Robbie Robinson found out what we were thinking, he volunteered to drive us into the basin with his 4-wheel drive. He also offered to pick us up later on in the week. Well, that was an offer we obviously could not refuse! So on a nice summer Monday morning, Robbie drove us into the basin. In those days driving a vehicle into the basin was allowed since the Babines were not even a Recreation Area. The road was muddy and bouncy but we made it into the basin in one piece.  Robbie said he’d pick us up again sometime on Friday. And so we moved into the cookhouse that was still habitable in those days. The cabin was built in the 1920s and was formally named the LaMarr cabin – after the beautiful and famous movie star Hedy LaMarr of the early 1900s.

Audrey, Leroy and Juanita at the cookhouse. 1971.


It turned out to be a beautiful week although that is not a word that we could use to describe ourselves. We agreed that Audrey wouldn’t fuss with her hair and I wouldn’t shave. All of us wore old clothes. So you can imagine that we were a rather forlorn looking bunch by the end of the week.

Everything worked out very well although Audrey was not happy about the mice that roamed through the cookhouse at will especially at night. The floor was of two-inch lumber and, over the years, the knots had dropped out of the knotholes and they had become just plain holes allowing easy access for the mice. The kids slept on the bunk at the back of the cookhouse but Audrey and I had to sleep on the floor. This meant that at night we could feel and hear the nice running over our sleeping bags. Not a situation to Audrey’s liking.


Lynn Shervill in Silverking – the bunkhouse and the foreman’s cabin. 1978.

We had considered moving into the big bunkhouse next door but seeing all of the mouse droppings on the floor and the even easier access the mice had there, we dropped that idea. For me, it wasn’t so bad. My family lived for sometime in a decrepit old log house in Barrett Lake, a haven for mice, and we discovered there that mice will run over you at the slightest opportunity but they will not touch the face of a living human being. I told Audrey this but she was not convinced nor impressed! The solution to the problem lay in the old garbage dump in the bush just behind the cookhouse. There were dozens of old rusty tin cans laying around with lids just the right size to cover the knotholes. In the bunkhouse, we found a pair of pliers, some rusty nails and a hammer. By the end of the second day, we had closed all of the knotholes and were now looking forward to a good night’s rest. We had just barely gone to sleep when we were awakened by the sound of “thumps in the night”. You could hear, quite loudly, metallic sounding thumps. Thump, a bit of silence and then thump again. Then the process repeated itself several times. Soon we were hearing thumps in three or four places on the cabin floor. It didn’t take us long to discover the source of the thumps. It was the mice trying to come up through the knotholes. You could practically hear them thinking, “I can’t figure this out, I’ve been coming through this knothole for years! What is happening here? Let me try it again!”  Thump…..! It was really quite funny but also very effective in keeping the mice out – and Audrey was happy.


Fortunat L’Orsa 1906 – 1953

We had a truly wonderful time. We hiked over Hyland Pass into Hyland Basin, we paid a visit to Fortunat L’Orsa’s grave and planted some flowers around it, we checked out the old mining adits, etc. The weather was great all week and we got totally relaxed though rather scruffy looking. So relaxed, in fact, that one day, while I was taking a picture of my crew, little Leroy suddenly blurted out, “Dad, there’s a man….!” In those days hardly anyone came into the basin so our intruder caught us completely off guard. It turned out to be Forbes Lee who was the Secretary-Treasurer of School District 54. We had not met before but as a result of that meeting we became good friends. Forbes explained that he tried to be as obtrusive as possible so as not to scare us but Leroy caught him in the act! He was the only person we saw for the entire five days!

True to his word, Robbie picked us up on Friday afternoon and drove us back home. When we arrived in town, it seemed to us that everyone was running around in such a hurry. We had become so relaxed that even the citizens of laid-back Smithers seemed to be in a perpetual hurry!

The following year, Joe L’Orsa drove us into Silverking again for, by now, we were totally hooked on the basin. We’ve been coming back there many, many times over the years always spending five days there. Even our grandchildren are now hooked on this beautiful basin. It has added a very meaningful dimension to our lives.

Lynn and Sheila at the Joe L’Orsa cabin with Harry. 2015.

Harry Kruisselbrink and Joe L’Orsa (more on him later) were two of the most important people in our introduction to the community and the Babine Mountains. Harry likes to tell of story of how he and Joe decided to befriend Lynn when he first arrived to work at the Interior News in 1976 because he wore hiking boots. Soon after, they took him into the mountains. And Lynn took me …