Spotlight on Bill Archibald

On Page 46 of the 2013 Citizens Report we published a brief article on Bill Archibald, one of Maple Ridge’s extraordinary citizens. The subject came for a two hour interview conducted earlier this year, and our writer submitted a longer form article that captures more of the oral history of Bill’s life as his journey brought him to the community and expands on some of his amazing accomplishments. We hope you enjoy this more in-depth presentation.

Spotlight on: Bill Archibald

It seems like Bill Archibald and Maple Ridge had a shared destiny. Bill and Pat Archibald officially arrived in Maple Ridge on July 16, 1963, but that was not the first time he had lived in the community. In order to understand this extraordinary citizen a little better we have to turn the clock back a few more years.

Bill Archibald was born on June 20, 1929 at a private hospital. Bill’s father worked in the logging industry, and just prior to his birth his mom left the logging camp on what was called the Queen Charlotte Islands, now known as Haida Gwaii. That camp was located in an area that Bill remembers as being called ‘Potlatch Cove.’ A logging camp is no place for a new baby, so Bill’s mom went by boat to Vancouver to give birth.

After Bill was born, his mom made the journey from Vancouver to Maple Ridge to spend some time at his uncle’s chicken farm in Maple Ridge. In those days the trip involved using parts of the old ‘Interurban Railroad’ and then connecting with the CPR train to come to either the Port Hammond or Port Haney train stations. The farm was located on what we know today as 216 Street but was called ‘Fifth Avenue’ back then. The plan was for Bill and his mother to stay with his uncle for a few months and return to the Queen Charlotte Islands for the family to reunite.

Those plans were changed because of the stock market crash in 1929. That crash had an impact all around BC and numerous logging and resource companies went out of business as working capital all but dried up. It is a coincidence that on page 42 of the 2013 Citizens Report we have an aerial photo of Maple Ridge that shows what the community looked like in 1929 when Bill arrived here.

That brief stay in Maple Ridge was extended as Bill’s father changed direction and returned to Vancouver to start fresh.

The family was reunited in 1930 where Bill’s father built a home where Bill would grow up and have many happy days. After Bill completed his primary and secondary education in Vancouver he got his teaching certificate from the ‘Model School’ a college that was located at Cambie Street and 12 Avenue in Vancouver. He also obtained his degree in Agriculture from the University of British Columbia. This education would prove to be very valuable in later years.

As an aside, Bill mentioned to us in passing that he was a member of the UBC ski jumping team while he was getting his degree.

Bill would occasionally visit Maple Ridge. He remembers the train trip to Port Hammond and has vivid memories of a horse that lived on his uncle’s farm named ‘Barney.’ Bill told us that the horse kind of had the run of the farm and was very intelligent. Apparently the hose knew how to open the gates for various pastures and when Bill’s uncle would have a wheelbarrow full of feed or his hands full, he could whistle and Barney would help by opening the gates.

One of Bill’s early careers was as a ‘pantry-man’ for the Canadian Pacific Railway on the run between Vancouver and Winnipeg. In the spring of 1948 he remembers the train stopping in Agassiz due to the enormous flood on the Fraser River. He recalls that some of the passengers were able to get across to the south side of the Fraser over the Agassiz Bridge, but that many of the passengers were placed on a legendary Fraser River paddle wheeler called the ‘Samson V’ and taken west along the river so they could get to their destinations along the North Fraser.

Bill was a sea cadet, and when he made it to Vancouver he found out that there was an activation of his unit as part of the efforts to protect as much land as possible. He was first dispatched to an area along the Queensborough dykes, near New Westminster, where sandbagging was underway to protect some of the agricultural land.

He remembers the sandbags sinking almost as fast as they could place them on the dyke as the swollen river was eroding the flood protection. He has vivid memories of seeing one breach where the water started flooding into agricultural land and the farm workers began running away from the water, however they were grabbing crates of produce they had harvested in an effort to save something from the flooding.

He also recounted being part of a work party that was sent further up the Fraser River to protect a radio tower facility in the Matsqui area. He remembers that they were transported in amphibious vehicles known as ‘Ducks’ that were developed in WWII for troops to move around as part of the liberation of Europe. From Matsqui he was transported by barge back up to Agassiz where he and his fellow cadets were trying to rescue livestock. In particular, he recounted a rescue of some horses from a farm. They were able to get the mares out of the barn, but the stallion was badly spooked and the water was rising ever higher. The cadets worked valiantly to rescue the horse, but it wouldn’t follow the mares. Reluctantly, the Lieutenant leading their group had to put down the stallion so it would not suffer being drowned. Bill had a tear in his eye and noted “for a horse guy, that was pretty hard.”

Bill decided to embark on a new career, and he was hired in the oil industry to work as a land agent. When he was hired, he was told that he would be headquartered in Calgary; however, as it got close to his start date, he found out that he would, instead, be going to Regina. He admitted that he wasn’t too keen on this change as he had looked forward to being in Calgary, but he kept quiet and headed out to Regina to begin this new career. It turns out that this would be a very important move. He met a lovely lady at his new office. That woman, Pat, would become his wife and partner in a lifetime of adventures.

Bill is a people person, and his work as a land agent in the oil industry involved securing potential drilling rights on land all across Alberta and Saskatchewan. He loved chatting with the farmers and had a great reputation due to his easy manner and his sense of fairness. His job was to tie up potential drilling sites based on the overall pattern of oil exploration.

His travels around the prairies took him to Weyburn, Saskatchewan, and when he decided to get out of the oil business he decided to settle there.

He had a brief dalliance with the cattle business, when he became part of a scheme that involved shipping cattle from San Luis Obispo, in California to northern Alberta to get ready for market. There’s a huge cattle industry in California, and in 1957 there was a drought that meant that there was little pasture land for the cattle to graze to put on weight for market. Bill found some pasture land in northern Alberta, so the ranch shipped the cattle by rail and the cattle north where they gorged themselves on the prairie grass. Once they were ready for market the cattle went back to California where the ranch owner was able to get top dollar. Bill only did that for one season, but the money he made allowed him to build a home in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. He still remembers the address – 505 11 Street.

Bill did a number of things to earn a living including selling investments followed by a time selling encyclopedias.

Bill bought a set of the then famous Encyclopedia Britannica books. It turns out that if you convinced three friends to buy a set you would get yours for free. Bill’s personality was perfect for this, and in no time flat he was selling a good number of encyclopedia sets. His most adventurous sale occurred when he took three sets with him up to Inuvik, high above the Arctic Circle.

The goal was to sell the encyclopedias to the local schools, and it turned out the local residents bought the books for the schools plus a lot more. Once again, this ‘people person’ had charmed the town.

After that brief career in the encyclopedia business, Bill answered a posting for a teaching job at a school in Midale, Saskatchewan, about half way between Weyburn and Estevan. The school was built around a gymnasium and Bill taught Science to grades 8 through 12. Bill also drove the school bus on the morning run, which meant that he’d drive from Weyburn early in the morning, pick up the bus and drive around the rural area around town collecting the kids. Another fellow did the afternoon run.

Bill only recalls one really bad run-in with mother nature when a mid-winter storm (you have to appreciate how cold a prairie winter can get) the bus was forced off the road by an oncoming vehicle. The bus, and the children inside, slid down an embankment onto a sports field and right through the backstop. When it came to rest, somewhere in the infield, everyone was unhurt, and the kids still made it to school. The school bus was pulled out a few days later by a bulldozer.

The next year Bill got a job in Weyburn teaching at Weyburn Collegiate. He taught Junior Science. Bill was very involved in the community. Folks knew they could rely on him. It looked like he and Pat were settling down, but there was one more move in store.

Bill’s mom became ill, and he felt that he needed to be closer to her, so the family took a vacation to BC to look for work and a place to live. The initial place the family was looking at was Squamish, BC. Pat, Bill’s wife, grew up on the prairies, and the mountains that loom around you in Squamish were not to her liking. She did, however like Maple Ridge, which has a very lovely variety of topography and that great southern view that’s ‘mountain free.’ For a prairie girl, that was important.

Bill landed a teaching job in Maple Ridge, and the family returned to Saskatchewan to get ready for the move west. Bill confessed that he had a heavy heart leaving Weyburn. He was involved in the local Kinsmen Club and was a well-loved member of the community. Many folks tried to convince him to stay, and when the family packed up the car and a trailer, to camp their way to BC, Pat had to drive the car out of town because his eyes were full of tears. Bill hasn’t been back to Weyburn since.

Bill was coming to Maple Ridge to teach Science and English at Garibaldi Secondary. In addition, he would be a school counselor. And, if that wasn’t enough, he ended up coaching the track and trampoline team – but we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

As we noted, the family camped their way across Saskatchewan, Alberta and across the Rockies and Coast Mountains. They packed up the tent in Agassiz and made their way down the Lougheed Highway to Maple Ridge. It was July 16, 1963. As they passed 240 Street the kids spotted the fall fair, held early that year, in full swing and the kids started excitedly pointing and saying ‘horses, horses!’ Bill and Pat has to leave Pat’s horse ‘Tinki’ behind, and so Bill made a right turn onto 105 Avenue and into the fairgrounds.

The kids and Pat quickly dispersed, and Bill made his way over to the riding ring where an announcer was talking about the entries in the horse show. The announcer, a man named John Denton, then asked if there was anyone who would come up and do the announcing for the next class, as he was entered, and needed to compete. Bill had done a little Bingo calling back in Weyburn, so he walked over and volunteered.

Let’s pause and reflect on that, Bill had been in town for under a half hour, and there he was stepping up to volunteer. John told him what was required and then headed over to get his palomino for the competition. Bill made some announcements, and John rode over to him on his horse and said, you better introduce yourself, people are wondering who you are. Bill then announced “Hi, I’m Bill Archibald from Weyburn Saskatchewan.” The crowd gave him a nice round of applause and he handled the announcements until John Denton came back. These two men would forge a great friendship and that stop at the fair led to many great things.

That palomino horse was named Biento, and Bill’s wife and John’s wife became great friends. Before the school year started the families were hanging out at Allco Park, and Bill remembers that the Alouette River was very low, as the kids could easily wade across it. He also became aware of the old rail beds that snaked through the area that were built as part of the old Abernethy & Lougheed railway logging operation. Allco Park is named after the acronym for that company ALLCO, Abernethy & Lougheed Logging Company. The 1929 photo on page 42 of the 2013 Citizens Report shows you the extent of logging that was done.

Bill, John and some other folks got busy and built a trail to connect ALLCO Park with the old railway trestle and the network of old rail beds, which were ideal for horses. That was the beginning of a lifelong project that is Bill’s legacy. Now the equestrian community could access trails right up into Golden Ears Provincial Park.

Bill started to work as a teacher, and over the Thanksgiving weekend he borrowed a horse trailer with the intent of reclaiming pat’s horse, Tinki, in Edmonton. They set out on their journey and made it safely to Edmonton and loaded the horse. Getting back would prove to be one more adventure in Bill’s life. A winter storm blew in, and the journey through the Rockies back to the coast was an arduous and dangerous trip. They eventually made it back intact, but Bill confessed there were a few times they were pretty scared.

Tinki was boarded at the Denton property, which for a time, was the home for the local therapeutic riding association, and Bill’s wife Pat would ride with John Denton’s wife Doreen along the trail network that they had built.

By 1964 the Golden Ears Park manager had noticed all the new users of the park arriving by horse and worried that he’d need to set aside trails for this new group of users. Bill quickly agreed to maintain the trails in the park, and the Haney Horsemen solidified a relationship with our local trails that would endure for half a century.

This proved to be a lot of work for Bill and his volunteers, and so they acted on an idea to use labour from the Corrections Institute and every Saturday Bill would get a work crew to help create new trails. In 1964 this crew built the “Dunning Trail” that created a better way to get around the Incline Trail that was very steep.

Then the Corrections work crew created the Pony Creek Trail. In our discussion Bill talked with great passion about the techniques they used to build the trails, making sure there was a good foundation so the trails would last.

The number of trails grew every year. The equestrian community held a giant ride in 1967 as part of Canada’s Centennial, with riders heading from downtown out to an overnight camp in Golden Ears Park. Many families still speak about this.

Bill became part of the BC Recreation Association as a trail advisor and his expertise was tapped to help create trails in the Victoria Area, Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni, just to name a few. That’s where he got the nickname ‘Trail Boss.’

Bill was a member of the Planning and Parks Boards, and he decided to run for Council at the end of the 70s and served a two year term as a Councillor. His Council was the first to meet in the brand new Council Chambers that are used today.

In the 80s, Bill moved from his teaching duties at Garibaldi to Pitt Meadows Secondary and he was much admired by his students for his ability to challenge them and make the subject matter interesting.

Bill served on a number of boards and associations relating to park development and equestrian issues. Bill was part of the team that brought Kanaka Regional Park into being with the trail network connecting to allow both foot and equestrian access. He is passionate about the environment, and has many friends among the stewardship groups.

Bill played a national role in the development of the Trans Canada Trail and has a wall full of plaques that recognize him for his outstanding service.

In between all this hard work Bill met a lot of amazing local citizens. He spoke of a trip with George Mussallem, a legendary local political leader, who loved to fly his private plane. It was on one of these flights that Bill spotted the property that would eventually become his home on 228 Street at 125 Avenue.

Bill continues to lend his voice and passion to the community. He told us that volunteering has given him a sense of belonging and satisfaction. He told us that he was a ‘people person’ and that he really feeds off the energy of people. In his whole life he has valued his personal relationships highly.

He approaches his work from the perspective of ‘what’s my legacy.’ He thinks long term and he is passionate about the local environment that he has helped provide access to with his leadership in the development of our trail network.

50 years ago he pulled into town and within a few minutes he started establishing his legacy. His accomplishments are the network of trails in our community that is second to none. He shared his expertise in other communities to help create trail networks for their citizens. He also has a legacy of connecting citizens in our community, through his projects and passions. There is a trail called ‘Archibald Way’ in the Thornhill area of east Maple Ridge that is a permanent reminder of the half century legacy of a remarkable citizen, Bill Archibald.