Looking back in history (mine)

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Hector Borthwick

Across the small lake from our wee cabin in BC’s Cariboo country there is another cabin. That one is made of logs, is still in good shape but now rarely occupied. It’s no longer visible from the water; only a small float at the shoreline marks the path up to it from the lake.

The cabin was built over a two year period between 1935 and 1937 by a tall, lanky bachelor named Hector Borthwick. He built the foundation of rocks and used a saddle-and-notch method to stack the logs. To get the upper logs in place he rolled them up poles leaned against the side of the building. The roofing was fir shakes.

Hector had moved north from the lower mainland in 1933 to join his older brother, George, who was a trapper living on ranch land near ‘our’ lake. In 1935 George decided his children needed better education, and he traded the property with a man from North Vancouver, George Ruddy. The ranch changed hands through the years, and has been owned by the Pogues, Dave Madsen, Roy Wilcox, the Ainsworths, and most recently by Rick and Arlene Booker.

When his brother moved south, Hector took over the trapline and lived with George Ruddy while he built himself a lakeside cabin.

Many years later my parents purchased property on the opposite end of that lake, and somewhere around 1949-1950 Hector helped them build a cabin that for more than a decade we used on summer holidays and annual hunting trips. I remember my mother and I were responsible for stripping the bark off each log before the men levered it into place. At my young age I’m not sure how much help I really was, but I felt important!

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Our original cabin

Hector never married. His only companion for many years was a huge grey cat he called Buster (named after Buster Hamilton, a well known guide in the area). When winter set in Hector would shoot his annual meat supply. He hung the frozen moose or deer carcass in his shed and would saw off slabs for each night’s dinner — a steak for him and an equal-sized steak for Buster. (I did say Buster was huge, didn’t I?)

Hector was a quiet man. He wasn’t overly social, but he became a very good friend to my parents. He often provided a helping hand when they moved permanently to the Cariboo and built a year-round home on the lake. He even allowed himself to be talked into accompanying them on their one and only out-of-the-country vacation — a two week trip to Mexico.

Within the 190 acres of property my parents bought, there was a dilapidated log building that has always been known as Carnegie Hall … its original owner having been a man named Albert Carnegie. It became a convenient storage place for a ragtag collection of discarded items my father could never quite part with because “someday I might need it”. My mother doubted it contained anything of potential value, but it was surprising how often a needed length of rope, a set of chains, or a bit of baling wire was located just when required. Carnegie Hall saved many an hour-long trip out to the closest store. (In those days it was probably more like a two hour trip, each way!)

Carnegie Hall

Carnegie Hall (before it totally collapsed)

I wasn’t around to know either George Ruddy or Albert Carnegie while they lived in the vicinity of our lake, but I  recall stopping with my parents to visit them some years after they had moved away from the isolation and closer to ‘civilization’, although they still lived in a very rustic cabin. My whispered question about why their metal beds had each leg stuck in a coffee tin (or maybe it was a tobacco tin), was shushed until we were on the road again, when it was explained to me that the tins kept mice from climbing the legs onto the beds.

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Albert Carnegie and George Ruddy

Hector continued to live at the lake, supplementing his trapping by occasionally going into the community of Forest Grove and helping with haying. That earned him $1.00 a day plus his board. He became a licensed big game guide in 1944, at a time when it paid a whopping $10.00 a day, with horses provided by the Forest Grove Lodge who made the arrangements with clients. In 1951 he also went to work as a faller, which earned him about $1.50 – $1.75 per hour, but after five years he returned to trapping and guiding, until 1963.

That’s when he became concerned about the impact of logging on the environment, and also reached the point where killing animals no longer felt right. His brother returned to retire on the lake and built a cluster of log buildings, but in 1969 Hector left to work for Cariboo Cedar Products in the town of Exeter. The following year he signed over the trapline to George.

Barely a week before he planned to retire from the Exeter sawmill, Hector suffered a devastating accident, losing portions of all his fingers on both hands. By then my parents had built a triplex on another piece of property they owned on the outskirts of 100 Mile House, and during Hector’s recovery he lived in a cabin on the back of that property. However, it was soon evident that he could no longer cope independently, and he moved to southern Vancouver Island to live out his years in comfort with one of George’s married sons.

In 1984 my husband was asked to officiate at his memorial service.

Hector Walter Borthwick
22 February 1915 – 19 October 1984 

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A lot of history and many memories have been stored up during the years we have been associated with this tiny sanctuary in the central Cariboo. Someone else owns my parents’ property now, but we’ve retained a few acres of our own — a little parcel across the creek where we’ve built our own cabin — and various branches of our family continue to make new memories for future generations to treasure.

Every so often I think about Hector and wonder if my parents would ever have discovered the out-of-the-way little lake if it hadn’t been for him. (Then again, conversations they had with a resident who happened to own a hardware store in 100 Mile House helped to send them in the right direction, so who knows — but that’s a story for a different blog post!)

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