It’s known in Hedley as “the Miner’s Cabin,” and we speak of it with considerable respect, almost reverence. Who the miner was, nobody appears to know. He vanished many years ago without leaving a trace, other than the cabin. Not even Hedley historian Jennifer Douglass, my usually well informed and reliable source, could enlighten me.
The lack of knowledge about the phantom human being who built this cabin niggled at me. I wondered what sort of man he might have been, and what had drawn him to this remote, mountainous area? I decided to record my best guess as to his character, history, ambitions, values, and eventual demise. He deserved a solid name, so I called him Bert. No one locally ever learned his last name.
I’d heard of men being sent by their family from England to Canada because their unruliness embarrassed them. Bert may have been such a man.
Considered a “Black Sheep” by his wealthy English family, Bert might have been shipped to Canada in the hope a new beginning in a young nation would enable him to grow in maturity. The family supplied him with a living allowance initially and he was therefore known as a “remittance man.” I’d heard my father speak of such a man in an Ontario lumbering camp.
Stung by rejection and abuse and apprehensive of intimate relationships, Bert made his way to British Columbia. Wanting to redeem himself in the eyes of his family, he became a lone wolf prospector, tramping in unexplored areas in hope of coming upon a yet undiscovered rich vein. It would be understandable if a strong willed man with gold fever decided to take his chances and work independently. In Hedley, six hotels, a red light district and a number of flourishing businesses had sprung up to service the miners working deep underground on Nickel Plate Mountain. Certainly a man could believe that by working alone he might stumble across an undiscovered vein that would make him incredibly wealthy.
Exploring the difficult mountainous terrain he lost the fat and flabby muscles of his previous decadent lifestyle. He became determined, rugged and resourceful. With the help and advice of a friendly trapper, he constructed the cabin near the base of Nickel Plate Mountain.
If Bert was indeed an independent prospector, his quest for the mother lode was almost certainly in vain. Had he struck it rich, even his secretive, private nature could hardly have prevented the strike becoming known. Maybe it didn’t matter to him at the end of his days though. An old bearded man, lying on his hard bunk at night, he could find ample satisfaction in knowing he had not frittered away his life with self-indulgence and dissolution.
While Linda and I were in the Museum last week scouring the albums for early pictures of the cabin, Gerry Wilkins came in. He’s pretty computer savvy and has devoted hundreds of hours to researching Hedley’s past. I said, “Gerry, do you know anything about the Miner’s cabin?”
He replied, “It was moved to the Museum from the corner lot where the motel is. I was involved in moving it. Before that it was on Vince and Audrey Flynn’s property, next to the motel.”
He then led me into the bowels of the Museum where there is a computer in a cramped office I didn’t know existed. Examining Fire Insurance Map records, Gerry concluded there was a record of the Miner’s Cabin in 1908 and also 1937. He discovered one photo of a cabin that has similar windows and also logs of similar dimensions.
Since those early days, the cabin has endured the ravages of cold winters and hot summers. Two years ago the Museum Society had the roof replaced. This summer the walls were repaired. Wide cracks had developed between the logs. These were covered with 2 inch wood strips and sealed with caulking, inside and out. Windows were also either repaired or replaced, and the door was rebuilt. The work was done by Red Seal carpenter Terry Sawiuk, with the assistance of Bill Day and Josh Carter. These three local men put in many hours of volunteer time. The cabin will long remind present and future citizens of Hedley’s once vibrant, swashbuckling past. I’m sure Bert would be pleased at the now spiffy appearance of his erstwhile home.