For three years in the 1950s, I was the luckiest child alive. From the ages of five to eight, I lived where eagles dared, where huckleberries clung to the hills, where white Mayflowers splashed over the roots of old-growth forests, and ‘bleeding heart’ flowers poked out of trail moss. This was the Pacific Northwest, but for me, life centered around a remote logging camp in the north-central part of Vancouver Island. From 1954 to 1957, my family lived in a vast, old-growth forest which was being logged off without a murmur then. We lived in the remote logging community of Woss Camp, a tiny inland settlement an hour’s “crummy” ride south of Nimpkish Lake.
My mother hated it.
“There’s no doctor! The nearest hospital is in Alert Bay. We’ll have to fly by float plane, bleeding!”
My father loved it. So did we kids; my mother was outnumbered. I can understand now how she felt; she later told me she had anxiety attacks the whole three years we lived there, fearing for the lives of her children. Who could blame her?
The Nimpkish Valley had known loggers since about 1917. Woss sprang up in 1954 for one purpose alone: to act as the centre for Canadian Forest Product’s locomotives, the “lokies” which pulled endless rail cars piled with logs from the virgin forest north to the lake. CANFOR monopolized logging on the Island, harvesting the fir, hemlock, spruce and yellow cedar that covered the vast mountainous terrain. With no road access anywhere, they ran their own dedicated railroad about 32 miles into the heart of the wilderness from their log dump at Englewood in Beaver Cove, a small settlement southeast of Port McNeill on the Queen Charlotte Strait, at the very northern edge of Vancouver Island. Across a short stretch of water lay Alert Bay, an island community containing the hospital so valued by my mother.
Besides massive log loads on flatcars, pulled by Seattle-built Shay locomotives, makeshift “speeders” and crummies ran back and forth from Woss – and other small camps – to Englewood twice a day, carryingshipped-in goods, new arrivals, or weary residents keen to escape to the bright lights of Vancouver. The mimeographed local newsletter – which my father edited – kept track of the comings and goings. Bulletins such as the following regularly appeared:
“The Patton family will be visiting family in Prince George in May.” or “The Holosney family are expecting a new baby soon. Chuck and Rita Holosney will travel to Alert Bay next week to await the delivery.”
After our family left Woss in 1957, Englewood was abandoned as a log dump, though naturally the two events were not related. In fact, I don’t recall being aware of the closure, so excited were we all to resume our lives in Vancouver. However, I do remember Englewood well, as it made a stunning impression on my arriving five-year-old brain. That oil-slicked pier filled with crates and barrels and discarded spar trees; those crazy loggers in the deep water with their peaveys, risking life and limb as they hopped around, unjamming logs in the booms and setting them right. Englewood was a madhouse of activity. Today’s Cirque de Soleil performance can barely compare.
I would give anything to revisit Englewood in its original glory, the way I remember it. I did revisit Woss twice as an adult, but it had changed almost beyond recognition, being now accessible by road. This rather spoiled the dream for me, though the old Woss will always lie like a once-discovered kingdom in my mind. It’s my own Secret Garden, my Narnia, where magical things happen and life excited me to the very marrow. In trying times now, I call up Woss and relive old adventures, meet wonderful friends and walk with them the dusty roads of our former happiness. Woss was the place where kids ran free, reveling in dirt roads, building rafts on ponds, and gathering buckets of huckleberries and salmonberries for pies. It was where we climbed on discarded trucks, rolled on empty oil barrels, and risked death just by crossing the busy railway tracks. We visited the dispatch tower and picked wild strawberries on a hill above the school. The fun was endless, with not a television or a Game Boy in sight.
As I said, I was the luckiest kid alive.