In the early 1900s, there were several log flumes around North Vancouver. These were long wooden chutes filled with running water. Loggers used them like conveyor belts, to float cedar shingle bolts from the hills above to the mills below. Built in 1905, the Capilano River flume was the longest, running for about 12.5 km from Sisters Creek (north of today’s Capilano Reservoir) to a mill at the foot of Pemberton. The flume had a narrow catwalk attached to it, which enabled crews to do maintenance.
By this time, Capilano Canyon was already a popular attraction. Contrary to today’s standards of health and safety, the catwalk was open to the public.
Walking the flume through the First and Second Canyons was exhilarating, but not for the faint of heart. John Newton Walden was an Englishman who visited North Vancouver and took the catwalk one January day in 1908 from the Capilano Suspension Bridge to the site of today’s Cleveland Dam. He recorded his impressions.
“We walk along a plank path carried on the supports that carry the flume. It is a novel pathway none too safe, being never more than 12 in. wide and often less, while many of the older planks are worn thin & bend beneath one’s weight in an unpleasant manner… The steep slope on which the flume is laid is one of great beauty, though wild in the extreme… Following the tortuous windings of the caňon, we catch superb views of rushing, swirling water & tree-clothed bank, as the caňon narrows…
The timber-flume & its accompanying pathway is carried right along this perpendicular cliff, held up by slight-looking struts of timber where-ever a footing could be obtained. As one walks over the planks, here protected by a slight handrail, & looks down at the raging torrent below, one hopes that the pathway is ‘quite all right.’ It is, however, safe beyond a doubt, and a little further on we strike the bridge of rough timber which here spans the caňon at a narrow part. Here our walk up the caňon ends.”
Walden’s confidence in the infrastructure is as breathtaking as the views. While his record reminds us what different times we live in now, more than 100 years later, his description of the canyon is familiar to anyone who walks there today:
“Then we reach…the Second Caňon, where the cliff is precipitous & in places perpendicular, great masses of rock standing sheer out of the water, which here rushes through a narrow throat, tearing & raging at the great rocks that have fallen in & would impede its course. But even here on these rocky walls, there are small trees…perched on the ledges, & even one or two good-sized trees in places when it would seem there is no earth at all to nourish them. In places, the face of the rock is shrouded with great masses of moss, out of which grows the polypody & other ferns, while in places are masses of what appears to be the dead fronds of maidenhair fern. Other Alpine plants nestle on tiny ledges & crevices, so that in the spring this rock-face must be a garden of loveliness.
Many thanks to Frank Walden of Surrey for letting us read and copy his grandfather’s journal.
Written by staff of the North Vancouver Museum and Archives, “The Past is a Prologue” is a series of articles exploring the history and heritage of North Shore.
Visit the Archives of North Vancouver at 3203 Institute Road in Lynn Valley (currently by appointment only). Contact: email@example.com.