Oral History

Background … Index

The FHABC sponsored oral history methods workshops in 1983 and 1991.  People from forest companies and their affiliated organizations, the Truck Loggers Association, the International Woodworkers of America, UBC and the provincial government attended.  We have an ongoing oral history program, interviewing individuals involved with the forest industry.  Some interviews have been transcribed. All tapes are kept in an archival facility, mainly UBC RBSC.

We also saved the earlier recordings on archive.org for wider access, and the streamed versions linked on this website in fact are coming from archive.org, not our website.

In the 1980s, Arnold McCombs undertook a significant collection of interviews, in support of his two books on logging in the Fraser Valley. Later, between 1997 and 2003, retired forester Gerry Burch also conducted a series of 53 oral history interviews with memorable characters from the forest industry in British Columbia. The Forest History Association of British Columbia is coordinating the digitization of these tape recordings so that researchers can access them. The project is described in Newsletter #112. The first of these is the Bruce Devitt recording. We hope to release more soon and add the links on this page.

In more recent times, we have archived oral history interviews directly in digital format, such as the 2018 Tom Brown interview.

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Tom Brown interview, Mar 20, 2018, 42 minutes

David Brownstein and Juanita Russell interviewed 94-year-old Tom Brown, in Langley, about his decades in the British Columbia forest industry. 

Included are two different versions of our conversation.  The second is the full 1h 47min account, while the first file is a shortened version, at 42 minutes.  Thank you to Sarah Giesbrecht, director of the Forest History Association of BC for creating this “best of” edit. A quick index of each follows below the audio streaming links.

Tom Brown’s family sent us these photos of Tom for listeners to view:

The Tom Brown short version (42 mins):

The Tom Brown long version (107 mins):

Condensed version recording index:
0 Intro
0:23 Family background, birth, early sawmill days in Langley
3:00 Shingle Mill in Hope, called up for the Army, Second World War
4:04 Sawmill, horses
6:00 Square dances, his wife
7:17 Women in jobs at shipyards
8:02 Married after the war
8:40 Driver, mechanic, equipment
10:38 Starting a sawmill, Saturna Island
12:35 Storm dumped scow load into ocean
13:35 First job working for others
15:33 Jervis Inlet steep timber, cat and arch
22:28 M&B
23:41 Crabapple Creek
26:29 Tough road to build
27:22 Tent camp
29:15 Gold River highway
31:33 Bought a house in Wally, electric trucks
34:28 Washington equipment
38:00 Fixing equipment
38:52 Vancouver Equipment, Washington Ironworks
42:20 End.

Full interview recording index
1:00 family background on the prairies, then Langley sawmill
4:00 Shingle Mill in Hope, called up for the Army, Second World War
5:30 Grandparents
7:45 Parents
9:15 sawmill
12:45 early schooling, plough gardens
14:15 Square dances
16:45 Second World War breaks out
19:15 Married after the war
21:45 Equipment, mechanic
24:00 Friend of father owned a garage, started a sawmill
25:00 Saturna Island 1947, scow
30:00 Crabapple Creek
33:15 How to get up there?
35:45 self-taught?
38:45 How long at the float camp?
39:45 Jervis Inlet
45:00 1970ish
49:00 Tough roads to build
50:45 Tent camps
55:15 Bruce Russell
59:30 June and children
1:00:00 Gold River Highway
1:04:45 Bought house in Wally
1:05:00 Demonstrating Electric trucks, life details
1:16:30 Job in Penticton building irrigation dam, mining
1:19:00 Vancouver Equipment, Washington Equipment, then much detailed equipment talk
1:36:00 Peter Sampson bought Washington Ironworks, 1980s
1:47:15 end.  

.. index

Gerry Burch interview, Aug 13, 2009, 37 minutes. 

In the interview available below, Gerry gives David Brownstein an account of his early biography. He provides the highlights of his time at BC Forest Products, describes some personal successes, talks about inter-generational learning, and gives an account of some disappointments in BC’s forest policy. More detail is available on the archive.org website, including a 13-minute interview about what Gerry believes his generation learned from those who preceded him, and what he hopes that the next generation will learn from his experiences

Two photos of Gerry from our files

.. index

Stan Chester interview, Sept 2, 2009, 85 minutes. 

Stan is now a past president of the Forest History Assn of BC.  In this 2009 interview, Stan talks about his career and forestry and forest history in general. More info on the archive.org site. Photos from John Parminter’s collection.

0 – 4:18 Youth in Vancouver (Kerrisdale).
4:09 – 15:30 Jobs, fire protection, Canfor Englewood, divisional forester, life in Vancouver Island camp.
15:30 – 19:05 Vancouver Canfor office, stumpage.
19:06 – 26:19 Cofi fire control group, 1980s.
26:20 – 27:52 What is stumpage?
29:28 – 37:10 Public opinions, changing approaches to fire.
51:46 – 1:07 What have you learned from those who preceded you?
1:08-1:14 What can the upcoming generation learn from your experiences?
1:14 – end. Forestry is changing, the role of forest history, concluding remarks.

.. index

George Dashwood interview, Sept 18, 2009, 48 minutes.  

George Dashwood attended the annual meeting of the Forest History Association of British Columbia in Prince George, Sept 2009. While on the fieldtrip, the 97-year-old Dashwood was able to share his memories with those on the bus. The next day, David Brownstein sat down with George for a more extended conversation centred on George’s experiences growing up in B.C. during the 1920s, and looking for work as a woodsman in the 1930s. Before the interview, George had recently suffered a stroke that impaired his ability to communicate numbers, but his memory of events remained unaffected.

Index for this recording:

  • 0-5:24 Early life, time as a Boy Scout in Mission.
  • 5:24-6:00 Description of Mission, B.C.
  • 6:00-7:25 Description of looking for work during the Depression.
  • 7:25-8:30 Relief Camps and the violent march to Vancouver.
  • 8:30-14:53 The Journey to Aleza Lake.
  • 14:35-21:20 Aleza Lake classes and instruction.
  • 21:20-25:00 Travels from Aleza Lake to Sinclair Mills and Hansard.
  • 25:00-26:50 Dances and Social Life at Hansard.
  • 26:50-30:50 Attempting to join the Rocky Mountain Rangers at the beginning of the Second World War.
  • 30:50-34:59 Working in logging camps and Scaling around the province.
  • 34:59-36:19 Interest in tree planting in the late 1930s.
  • 39:10-40:45 Working with convicts in the Queen Charlottes.
  • 40:45-end. Encounters with bears, including a face to face meeting.
    “You wouldn’t been any closer if you were gonna kiss a girl!”

.. index

Mike Apsey – Stan Chester interview May 23, 2012, 38 minutes

From a selection of 2012 eLectures hosted by NiCHE and the CIF, you can find two interesting talks by FHABC Past President Stan Chester (“BC Forest History – Past, Present and Future.”), and former director Mike Apsey (“The BC Forest Service Centenary”). More information is on the archive.org site right here. Photos from John Parminter’s collection.

.. index

Bruce Devitt interview 2001, 24 minutes

Between 1997 and 2003, retired forester Gerry Burch conducted a series of 53 oral history interviews with memorable characters from the forest industry in British Columbia. The Forest History Association of British Columbia is coordinating the digitization of these recordings so that researchers can access them. The project is described in Newsletter #112. The first of these is the Bruce Devitt recording, which was launched at the first FHABC Listening Party, held on Sept 28, 2022 at the FHABC online AGM. FHABC Secretary Dave Lang created a 24 minute condensed version, which can be heard on Youtube below. The full interview is held by UBC RCSC.

Links to more recordings will be added when available.

Our other current projects

  • Bibligography Two public online databases for real-time searching, sorting and exporting of citations
  • Oral History FHABC has several oral histories of interest available with plans to present more.
  • Archival Donations Our ongoing task to keep forest history available for future generations
  • ABCFP Book Prize Prizes awarded each year to the valedictorians of the ABCFP Inductee Class