Gordon Harvey – tenacity and transience

When we first arrived in Driftwood Canyon, Gordon Harvey had just died (December 1976) but his house, a shed, a bathhouse and a log barn were still standing.

Stories about Katherine, Peavine and their son Gordon Harvey are layered into Driftwood history. Peavine had a claim on Harvey Mountain (named after him) and any hikers going up the Harvey Mountain Road trail passes by the remnants of his cabin at one of the switchbacks. Gordon, in his memoir below, speaks of his father’s booming voice and real estate savvy. Wet’suwet’en stories speak of how he used that voice to intimidate them during the years when they were being steadily evicted from their homesites along the Bulkley Road (now the Telkwa-Moricetown Highroad).

Katherine played piano at many parties and was known to be pretty feisty. Some say the way she heated her house burned down three of them – if you’ve ever tried to saw logs into woodstove-sized lengths with a swede saw, you’ll understand her preference for opening the door to the woodbox, shoving in one end of a log, leaving the door open and just pushing it further in as it burned.

After his parents’ death, Gordon continued to live on the family property, another one of the valley’s eccentric bachelors. He told his family’s story in Bulkley Valley Stories, published in 1973.

Memories of Driftwood Canyon

My father, C.G. Harvey, arrive in Hazelton in 1907 where he entered the hotel business. He was one of the “Big Three” with “Black Jack” McDonell and Jack Sealy. He was also engaged in the land promotion business. Happy Turner wrote: “he was a good one to spy out the land and in no time, was on speaking terms with every section post in the district. He is still pushing in a tunnel on Harvey Mountain with a true prospector’s optimism.” He located, for Jack  Sealy, a large ranch in the Driftwood Creek area, which is now the even larger Bill Morris ranch. [This has since been split into several properties.]

Prior to coming to the Valley, he prospected in the Kootenays, California, Mexico and the Yukon.

My mother was born in London in 1882. In 1908, she came to  Canada, working in the law office of R. B. Bennett who was M.P. for Calgary West and later Prime Minister of Canada. On she moved to Vancouver and then north to Prince Rupert and up the Skeena by river boat to Hazelton. There she worked in the office of District Mining Recorder, S.H. Hoskins, father of the retired Ford dealer, Os Hoskins.

In 1912, she and my father were married and carried on the hotel operation until 1914. Then that summer they rode horseback to Smithers with me, their six month old son, strapped to the saddle.  When we reached the Sealy Ranch, the young foreman, Bill Kirton, recently arrived from England, took us by wagon over a rough mining road to our property on Harvey Mountain – on the way to Silver King basin. Sometime later dad broke his leg at the mine and we found him in the cabin administering his own first aid. He had taken apart a section of stovepipe and was using it as a cast. We pulled him out on a hand sleigh to receive medical help.

My mother and dad carried on mining operations under the most primitive conditions with hand drill, shovel and wheelbarrow. I worked in our mine when I was eleven. They stuck with what he described as the only “mine in the Babines” – others were only prospects.

How did my father get the name “Peavine Harvey”?

On one occasion, he was preparing exhibits of Bulkley Valley produce for the PNE at Vancouver. Included was a sheaf of our famous timothy hay and some wild huckleberries.

The night before he left, some “friends” stole into his hotel room and made some changes. In place of timothy, they put in a bundle of local peavine hay and replaced the berries with a box of rabbit manure. He didn’t discover it until he arrived at the PNE in Vancouver.

“Peavine” Harvey will be remembered for his booming voice – he was hard of hearing! A stenographer who worked for the Government Agent, Mr. Bryant, said the whole building vibrated when Peavine greeted the staff in the office. My mother, a bit of a woman about five feet tall, was an accomplished musician. She played background music on the piano for the silent movies, run by Wiggs O’Neill and held in the old town hall. We kids used to sit on hard wooden benches to view the weekly Tarzan cliffhanger.

I went to Driftwood school where Edna Vickers, 19, taught us. I was quite in love with her and informed my parents I’d be marrying her when I grew up. I  hadn’t figured on Roland Sykes beating my time – she walked out of my life when I was 13. In August ’72, they were back in Driftwood where many of us students had a reunion.

Gordon donated the land for the park.

Driftwood Canyon now has electricity – I paid my first bill in January, ’73. If you follow Babine Road to Sealy’s corner and turn west you will see a sign by the old school that reads, “Fossils”.  About two miles up, you enter a provincial park, “Driftwood Canyon Park”, which includes the fossil beds, crown land above it and the virgin wilderness to Silver King Basin. I have owned the original “Peavine” Harvey homestead since my father’s death in 1945. I have my private park, called “Lone Pine Park” whose visitors book contains five thousand names of people who seek the quiet beauty of Driftwood Canyon.

 

 

Ten years ago, visual artist Perry Rath and I (with the wonderful help of Dorothy  Giesbrecht) collaborated to make the weather from the west, a collection of my poems and his paintings. The paintings, many of which came from his In the Skin of This Land series, layer paint, photographs, maps and other texture to create an image that reflects the complexity of the ways we inhabit the land.

Perry’s partner, Taisa Jenne, lived with her family just up the road from us for many years and so he came to know Driftwood Creek and the Babine Mountains from the first days he arrived here.

Right at the turn onto road to the Jenne house stood the remnants of the Harvey home – a tumbling down barn and a tilting bathhouse. Using the old photograph from our collection and one of his own taken at the time, layering paint over topographical maps, Perry made Driftwood Vestige.

 

When BC Parks gave Driftwood  Canyon Provincial Park a facelift, designer Tom Grasmeyer created some beautiful interpretive signs along the path to the fossil beds. One of those signs acknowledged the ways in which the creek and the canyon have been a source of inspiration for many of us. Posted on a platform above the creek, it includes an image of this painting and one of the many poems I’ve written after a walk along the creek:

still waters

under the heel of its turn
the creek
digs a hole
swallows turbulence

the current does not diminish across its surface
but some aspen leaves
september golden
pause
and spiral
slowly
down

how much
I wonder
does depth
slow you down

if the creek and leaves are right
barely

a few cool seconds to linger
over the intricate arrangement of creekbright stones
submerged in water’s endless exhalation

                                                                       one breath singing in the long song to the sea

The creek is vibrant reminder of both transience and tenacity. The Harvey house is long gone and the old log barn has finally fallen. No more space for timothy or tractors. No more room for pirate treasure hideouts. By the time this summer’s grass is fully grown, it will have all but vanished.

 

Stories looking for home

We writers are always talking about the importance of stories. Of the ways in which stories reflect a culture back to itself – for teaching, for entertainment, for the record. For thoughtful commentary. So we’re always tickled to find anyone who agrees. Especially a couple of law professors. Of course common law is really based on old stories, so I guess it makes a kind of sense.

In “Indigenous Law and Legal Pluralism”, Val Napoleon and Hadley Friedland illustrate ways in which indigenous legal traditions can be respectfully accessed by “applying legal analysis and synthesis to … stories, narratives, and oral histories.” (Napoleon and Friedland are part of a movement trying to build a bridge between indigenous and western legal traditions. Val is the director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit at UVic; Hadley was its research director until last year.)

The article opens by quoting George Blondin from When the World was New: Stories of the Sahtu Dene:

It used to be that every family with a living grandfather or grandmother possessed a storyteller from another time. The duty of storytellers was to tell stories every day. That is why Dene tradition is so complete, as far back as the days when [Naá]cho–giant now-extinct animals–roamed the world.

Over the years, we have heard many stories from the Driftwood watershed. The year Cronin mine mailman Joe Pekoe was killed in an avalanche. Other men killed in sawmill accidents. The time Katherine Harvey stole her husband Peavine’s chimney from his cabin beside his mine workings because she and their son Gordon had run out of money. Instead of coming home, he had her charged with theft and she spent the winter in jail in Vancouver (this may be apocryphal as there’s also a story about him breaking an arm and Katherine using a stove pipe for a splint). The time two women stood outside the foreman’s cabin in Silverking Basin at night at 30 below, their ski boots in their hands, ready to depart because they got the old airtight burning so hot it was a reverberating bright red.

Hadley and Val conclude “Indigenous Law” with a reference to a statement in Harold Norman’s article, “Crow Ducks and Other Wandering Talk”. Creek elder John Rains saw ten dead and mangled crows on the snow in the bush: “Some story will come along and find those crows, and use them,” he said.

Norman continues:

To the Cree, stories are animate beings. One could tell a biography of a single Cree story (which would be a story in itself) just as one could tell the natural history of an animal.  In this respect, one could ask, What do stories do when they are not being told? Do they live in villages? Some Cree say they do. Do they tell each other to each other? Some Cree say this is true as well. Certain stories live out in the world, looking for episodes to add to themselves. Therefore, we can understand John Rains’ belief that eventually a story would find the torn crows. Later that story would find a Cree person, inhabit that person awhile, and be told back out into the world again.

What a tantalizing concept for a writer! Stories do seem to find themselves, to create themselves and some of us are lucky enough (or not) to be inhabited by them. Think of the possibilities.

Now think of all that stories that might find their way into the creek: the water running, slipping and sliding down, down, down as it always does, some splashed up into the air, some going down your thirsty throat, some pausing in a back eddy or a quiet pool. It parts and connects, parts and connects in a most lively manner. Think of the stories swirling down its path to find their way out into the world.

The time our neighbour, in the wild spring freshet, launched his canoe, paddled down to the fossil beds, and survived. You’ve heard that expression, three sheets to the wind? Years later, we found a half-crushed canoe beside the creek. Not his, he swears. I still have a piece of it my office. Now I know why I’ve kept it all these years. I’m waiting for its story to stop by and pick it up.

Think of the gossip in every back eddy.

Did you see the moose stumble and fall? Ah yes, that moose is nothing but bones now and see, here comes a trickle of its blood. Did you see us tear that bridge right off its footings? Oh yes, we shoved it right up against that house, they were all asleep and we scared them silly. Remember those kids throwing rocks for the big red dog, how he scrabbled to retrieve them? The mud he churned up? Well, here he comes, look out!

And swoosh, those molecules of hydrogen and oxygen are thrown back into the melee, molecules that held shape and form in three dimensions, snow that held a preening whiskey jack, snow that was eaten and pissed out by goats, by moose, by thirsty skiers and sawyers.

Remember, says the muddy stream, thick with memories, carrying a spruce branch drunken with sorrow, travelling together long enough to tell about the mittens snagged on the branch, the smell of wet wool bringing back the spruce’s memory of the sawyer stripping off his shirt in the heat of the work and tossing it down on top of the tree when it was barely bigger than a twig, and now the branch is useless, no needles, no purpose, a forgotten vestige broken off in a skier’s passing, dropped onto the snow on top of the ice and here it is telling the creek about the smell of horses, of diesel and the cries of working men.

Around and around it all goes until something – a pebble tossed, a rubber boot slipping off a stone, a fox bending to drink – sends it all off again, the water and the stories together.

And this time of year, the whole world, it seems, is dripping and melting and water is trickling, burbling, sending little creeks running through the woodshed, under the deck, down into the garden, into the pond, under the road and into the still half-frozen creek. Past the old spruce tree where raucous crows are nesting. Everywhere, winter stories looking for a home.

 

The stories I miss – the ones I hear only as rumours – are Wet’suwet’en stories: rumours of sacred places, of marmot hunts, of goats, of the vanished caribou. C’ide’ Yïkwah or Driftwood Creek marks the division between two territories, that of Wos of the Gidimt’en Clan and that of Ut’akhgit of the Likhsilyu Clan, a name currently held by Henry Alfred. You know it carries many stories. It’s time to listen up.

“Indigenous Law and Legal Pluralism” appears in a special issue of the McGill Law Journal, 61:4.