Who was Peggy Helms?

18 04 2016

Yesterday was hot and sunny in the Lower Mainland. Like mid-summer hot and sunny. I gather there was a sprinkling of snow up in Whistler, but that was not where I was!

After a shaky start to the day which involved doing a bit more of the family tax returns, we were finally ready for offsky just after lunchtime. Master E. wanted to borrow my car for some odd reason (perhaps coupled to the fact that his own seemed to be totally bereft of petrol…), so Mrs E. and I headed off up the valley in his charabanc… on an adventure. We realised as we headed over the Golden Ears bridge that we hadn’t actually eaten (such is the danger of lying in at the weekend and having late breakfast), and so a brief stop at Timmy’s was felt to be prudent. I treated myself to an Ice Capp made with chocolate milk, and all was good with the world. Well – once the brain freeze had subsided a little.

Around 3pm, we arrived at the Malcolm Knapp UBC Research Forest in Maple Ridge. The weather was gorgeous and there were only a few cars in the car-park. It’s been a few years since we were last here and so we headed off to the information panels to pick up a map and see what’s what. Needless to say all the maps had gone and apart from a sign telling us not to pick mushrooms, there wasn’t a lot to be learnt from the notice boards. Noting from a sign on the office that the park closed at 8pm, we ambled off in the general direction our memories told us the trails began.

The trailhead was obvious enough and followed the usual convention of coloured blocks to mark out several trails. Unfortunately though, there was no map, so though the intent was clear enough, there was nothing to illustrate what the various trails might entail. No matter – there were apparently 3 (it later turned out there was a fourth, but that’s another story), and since the tree had all three colours, we couldn’t really go wrong.

Ted Lowe woz 'ere

Ted Lowe woz ‘ere

So, off we pootled on the very clear and well-used trail. This was a stroll rather than a hike, so neither of us were wearing boots, carrying water, waterproofs or any of the usual things I’d normally have in a small rucksack. After a few minutes we came to a decision point where one way had a blue square and the other had red and yellow. Personally, I’d have gone for the twofer (to double the chances), but Mrs E. thought the blue looked pretty and off we went into the unknown. The going remained excellent and we came to a little bridge over a bubbling beck.

The sound of fairies laughing

The sound of fairies laughing

Eventually we popped out on a logging road and as we entered the other side there was a map showing how the area was split into various test zones. To the casual eye the whole place was one large forest, but in fact each sector was testing one or other forestry technique. One area was testing for quality on a 50 year cycle, others for cost effectiveness.

You are here! But why are you here?

You are here! But why are you here?

Though the signs had a rough map, the worrying thing was that the blue route was basically shown running south to north over the mapped area… no hint of a loop. I joked that knowing our luck we’d end up popping out in Haney with a sign hoping we’d had a nice hike. Yes – this was now officially a hike. It was still only about 3:30pm and we had good daylight until around 7:30pm or even later. No hint of rain in the sky and still warm. No need to panic yet. We decided on a “turn around” time and decided to press on. The trail was very well marked and well travelled, though weirdly we’d not met a single person (or bear).

Spring was definitely here in the valley and we saw lots of fiddle-heads as the ferns were unravelling. I thought they looked like seahorses suspended in the foliage, but maybe I’d inhaled some botanicals along the way.

Sea-horses grow on bushes

Sea-horses grow on bushes

Eventually we found a “proper” map. Now this was both good and bad news. Good in that it confirmed what had hitherto only been a hope – that it was a loop trail! Bad in that we weren’t even half way around and the last 40%+ was deemed a “rough” trail.

Having the trail map as a photo in my iPhone was a boon. Right up until the battery faded...

Having the trail map as a photo in my iPhone was a boon. Right up until the battery faded…

Still – we had plenty of time, and there was no need to turn back. You may just be able to see a purple triangle at the very top of the map which is the viewpoint on a spur of the blue trail. We were already on the supposedly “rough trail”, and frankly I’ve seen worse A roads in the UK. This was still very good walking. Without really meaning to, we headed off on the spur and after a short climb we came to a little shelter tucked away in the brush. A plaque near the entrance declared that it was in memory of a Peggy Helms who had died in 1987.

In loving memory Peggy Helms who died accidentally June 2, 1987 Delta BC.

In loving memory
Peggy Helms
who died accidentally
June 2, 1987
Delta BC.

We had a quick look at the picnic bench overlooking the valley (lovely spot to have your sandwiches… if you have them!) and headed back on the trail. One patch was a little confusing as it was actually on the forest road for a couple of hundred metres but the markers implied you were to go into the wood. Eventually we figured it out and had a spot of excitement balancing on a log to cross the stream. The rest of the trail was pretty much downhill and after 2 hours 20 minutes we arrived back at the office and the old steam mule – a remnant of the area’s old logging history.

Steam mule

Steam mule

Arriving home, I did a quick search for Ms Helms but having passed away pre-Internet, she left very little in the way of clues. Her widower though – Robert – didn’t die until 2014, and so we find from the digital archives of Vancouver’s The Province:

Robert Helms
Obituary

Robert Helms July 16, 1922 – August 26, 2014

Bob passed away peacefully at the age of 92. He was predeceased by his wife Peggy in 1987 and is survived by his children Juliette ( Rick), Paul (Pat), Anita (Steve), 5 grandchildren, 8 great grandchildren and 1 great great grandchild. Born in Gludsted, Denmark, he immigrated with Peggy to Canada in 1953, settling first in Vancouver and moving to North Delta in 1957. Bob loved living in North Delta and throughout his 57 years there remained involved in community projects and politics. A celebration of Bob’s life will be held at Juliette and Rick’s home on October 5 at 2:00.

So that’s all the Internet will divulge for now – that she was Danish, had 3 kids and was outlived by her husband by nearly 30 years. How she died accidentally, why there’s a shelter in her memory, these are questions that remain opaque.

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