............THE FOREST






‘Max’s Story – Part 1’

T here are men and there are mach-ines in the forest around us, but with an apologetic bow to the ‘Great Yellow Traktor Company,’ I prefer the people to the cold iron monsters that stalk our forests in search of the almighty fibre.
....It takes a lot of people to make a forest industry – a few of whom are familiar names and faces while the silent majority are only known to their friends and neighbours.
....Max’s story is of such a person. He has never issued lofty decisions that sent loggers scurrying to their five year plans, nor did he ever corner the cedar market when others were selling. He is not known in the cement towers on Georgia or Pender streets in Vancouver where Brazilian plantations and new soft tissue products are spoken of in hushed tones.
Max, like many others associated with this industry, has simply led a useful life, living on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island for close to seventy of his 80 years. He’s been a fisherman, boat-builder, homesteader, carpenter and logger. His story is worth telling because of his involvement in one special area of this forest around us in British Columbia. He typifies the quiet pioneer who, instead of turning to governments for help, has always made his own way and contributed in a quiet way to those about him.
....Max Botel left a farm in Germany at the age of 10. His father and step-mother, along with six children, boarded the liner President Lincoln in Hamburg on April 9th and arrived in Halifax on the 20th of April. They then boarded a train for the west and landed in Victoria 10 days later.
....Max’s father had heard of the pre-emptions being offered on northern Vancouver Island.
....“Father couldn’t buy enough farm land in Germany to make it pay and we read the C.P.R. announcements in the papers where you get 160 acres if you


clear up so much of the land. Then they gave you the title. The C.P.R. wasn’t just writing about northern Vancouver Island, they had places all over the world. You see, they gave you the tickets and the freight if you went!”
....The family stopped in Victoria only long enough to catch the tiny C.P.R. coastal boat the ‘Tees.” The journey up the west coast of Vancouver Island would take five days and they were put off at Quiet Cove – a long since disappeared whistle stop in Quatsino Sound.
....“Old Tom Sorenson took us by gasboat through the Quatsino Narrows and up to the end of the west arm of Quatsino Sound to Holberg. We got there in the middle of the night and stayed in a sort of freight shed on the dock. Next day we started walkin’.”
....The family found a settler who had a barn he let them use for two weeks while the father went off in search of their pre-emption.
....The 30 mile-square area of the northern tip of Vancouver Island is noted for its extremely dense underbrush; its up to 200 inch rainfall; its big trees and its large swampy areas. Settlers had been coming here since 1889 so that by 1913,


the better land had all been taken up. Max’s father spoke only German and had to rely on a German settler he met, to direct him to somewhere that someone else had not claimed.
....By great trial, the father found his way out to the rock-strewn beach of the west coast and to a small bay just north of Topknot Point. There were no neigh-bours for 10 miles and no trails to them, until they carved a trail out. Their chosen spot was in the lee of Topknot, from the southeasters, but right in the path of the cold north Pacific winds.
....The father finally marched his family out to their new-found homestead area and I asked Max what they did when they arrived and gazed at this very distant and rugged scene.
....“What we done, was cut brush and clear land. We cleared a patch for a garden and planted spuds and turnips. You never saw such soil. The spuds was white and the turnips were big and so juicy that syrup ran out of them. Best soil I ever saw.”
....I know this part of the coast and know that it is lined above the high-tide with huge sitka spruce and hemlock. I asked him, “What did you do about the big trees, did you fall them?

Max Botel at Winter Harbour in 1979.

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....“We didn’t fall them because they were so big – some six, seven feet in diameter. We burned them down. We lit fires under the roots and we kept the fire going for maybe two weeks and then the tree would fall down. Then we had a little bow saw that father brought from old country and we bucked up the limbs with it and burned the tree up with the limbs.”
....A piece of land was cleared and for the next five years, their diet was what-ever they could grow, plus beach mussels and clams and fish and game. It’s a very rugged area for home-steading, and looking at it today, one would wonder how they ever survived. But that they did, along with hundreds of other German, Danish and Nor-wegian families
....That were attracted by the thought of owning their own land and living off it. The Topknot area is particularly a very rugged area and it would be a rare day in fall, winter or spring, that a small boat could be launched from shore into the Pacific swells.
....Ten miles or more north of the Botel family, near Cape Scott, there were several hundred settlers scattered about. A few were well established with nice homes and well cleared land – but even they found the going too tough and all the settlers abandoned their places between the mid-twenties and the mid-thirties. To this day no one has returned to take up farming, even though there are now roads leading close to most areas.
....The area is now a provincial park and as such, attracts campers and hikers throughout the summer months, to the sandy beaches of Cape Scott and San Josef Bay.
....Max talked of the hardships – and there were many. “The wolves were bad – packs of them howling at night – make your hair stand on end. The deer were wiped out, there was just no game left except ducks and we ate those whether they were fishy or not.
....“Many of the settlers had a cow or two and some had small herds. The wolves killed them one after the other. We could all raise pretty good vege-tables, but we had nowhere to sell them – and even if we could, you’d get ninety cents for a hundred pound sack of spuds.
....“Because we came out here just before World War I, father only got a small down-payment on the little farm in Germany and we never saw the rest of the money.”
....The west coast of Vancouver Island is noted for the large number of shipwrecks it has accumulated over the years. These are very rough Pacific waters. It is not therefore uncommon for ships to lose deck cargos of lumber or other goods – to be washed ashore on the rocky or sandy beaches of the coastline.
....“We built a small house at Topknot for the nine of us, out of driftwood planks and boards we found on the beaches. We never bought a stick cause there was nowhere to buy it! We
split cedar blocks into shakes and into long boards too and that built our house.
....“About the third year, a whole load of California redwood railroad ties washed ashore right near us. We gathered them up and we built a sort of square log cabin with them and some of us kids lived in it.”
....I mentioned that there were nine in the family now but eight when they left Germany. As Max tells it – when the train from Halifax to Vancouver was going through Wenatchee, Wash. A baby girl was born to Mrs. Botel. She was therefore called Wenatchee Botel.
....We have become so used to instant communication and quick movement from place to place. To illustrate the difference in the times of then and now, Max tells this account of an incident in his young life on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island in 1914.
....“After the house was built, father decided to buy a boat so we could get around a bit and fish too. He took me and my sister Helen with him and we walked out the trail to Holberg (20 miles). Then I guess he borrowed a rowboat and we rowed down the inlet; through the Quatsino Narrows and out to the open Pacific Ocean and into Winter Harbour to a place where there was a 20 foot cannery skiff for sale.”
....The distance of this rowing effort
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would be about 60 miles. Bad weather set in so they had to wait at Winter Harbour until the winds and waves died down, as their home was north and the journey was in exposed Pacific waters. Finally, after several days of waiting, they took off in the heavy cannery skiff
with a small sail to help the rowing. They were several miles from home when the wind suddenly changed and a strong off-shore westerly developed.
....“We were tossed around like a cork in the big seas and we were scared, as the wind pushed us off-shore and south. We wound up finally, just off Cape Cook, about 40 miles away from home – and we managed to get into the lee of Cape Cook and land on a rocky shore.
....It was an abandoned Indian encampment and there was an old shack there that had been built a long time ago for shipwrecked sailors. We had a little bit of food and we ate mussels and clams so we was all right. I guess we stayed there for nearly three weeks till the Indians came.
....That scared us when we saw the big cedar canoe with several Indians in it. We didn’t know if they would kill us or not – but they were OK and they took us south with them to their village, where there was a store and a white man gave us grub and a shed to sleep in for two weeks. Oh, yes, we had lost our cannery skiff at the old Indian reserve when a southeast storm came and smashed it all to bits in front of our eyes. It was too heavy to pull up the beach to safety.”
....Eventually, the C.P.R. boat, Tees, arrived on its trip north, and they boarded her and sailed back to Quatsino Sound and on to Holberg. Then they walked the last 20 miles through the woods to their homestead.
....I asked Max how long they were gone and he figured about two months. The thought of not knowing whether they were drowned or lost or hurt must have preyed on the family’s minds as they waited the two months without a word. It was not an era for the faint-hearted.
....Next month I’d like to continue Max’s story and try to show how these very quiet, hard-working people sur-vived the ordeals of the pioneer in a very inhospitable forest around them on northern Vancouver Island many years ago. Till then –

Keep out of the bight,

Bill Moore