Holberg’s heyday preserved

J.R. Rardon

Black Press


PORT HARDY—The heyday of Holberg may have passed, but visitors here can step back into its history in the newest exhibit at Port Hardy Museum — “Changing Times in Holberg.”

Holberg, located on the far northwestern end of Vancouver Island, still exists, primarily as a Western Forest Products logging camp.

But, as the summer-long museum display documents, the West Coast location has a settlement history spanning more than 100 years, starting with early homesteaders and continuing as a logging camp and home to a major Canadian military radar station in the 1950s, in the early years of the Cold War.

“There are a surprising number of people who still live around here who grew up as kids in Holberg because their fathers served at the military base,” said Jane Hutton, curator and manager of the museum. “There were over 400 people stationed there at one point.”

Changing Times in Holberg, which will be on exhibit through September, tells the community’s story in photos, journals, contemporary articles, slideshows, video and numerous artifacts. The artifacts range from household items of early homesteaders to military uniforms and equipment to logging gear and tools.

“The idea is to show people what’s been going on there over the years,” said Hutton.

The stories of the memorable characters who populated the Holberg-San Josef region in its early days are particularly entertaining, and are found in bound volumes atop the long, glass display case containing many of the artifacts.

Among them are Bernt Ronning, whose original homestead serves today as a popular tourist destination, Bernt Ronning Gardens. Another is Jim Cordry, who lived in isolation in the area into his 90s and whose tale was documented in a 1970s era short film The Ballad of Jim Cordry, produced by the Rayonier pulp and paper company.

A third is Earle R. Lincoln, an MIT-educated scholar who arrived in the 1930s and took menial jobs during the depression. Lincoln kept a meticulous ledger that included lists of every possession he owned, including an extensive book collection, all cards and gifts he had sent and received, and work performed with columns noting the employer, the dates, job duties (“ditch digging” was a recurring notation) and payment.

“The woods were full of these men on their own,” said Hutton. “They weren’t necessarily hermits, but they were quiet guys. And there were a lot of them.”

Almost as interesting is the story of how some of the exhibits came to the museum. Andy and Gwen Hansen of Quatsino supplied the bulk of the homesteading artifacts, which were collected by Andy’s grandfather, who ran the Holberg general store before leaving the area in 1937. And Ruth Botel provided photos and articles of the area’s first physician, Erik Fiedler of Denmark, who arrived in 1910. Botel got the material from Fiedler’s son, who traveled from Denmark to Port Hardy several years ago and was surprised to find few locals knew anything about his father.

“He said his father talked constantly about the time he spent on Vancouver Island,” Hutton said of the younger Fielder. “It seemed to be his fondest memory.”

You can take in the memories of Holberg — and many other exhibits — from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through the summer at Port Hardy Museum, 7110 Market St. For info, call 250-949-8143.

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