New photos of Tumbler Ridge took 60 years to develop

Charles Helm, Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark


Of the 111 Global Geoparks in the world, Tumbler Ridge probably has the least in the way of written history (documents, reports, photographs, art, etc). The first European explorers and settlers only arrived in the first years of the 20th century, and it often astounds visitors from Europe or Asia to learn that up until then maps of our area were blank, filled only with the cryptic words “Unexplored Territory”. (This blighted view ignored a whole ten millennia of First Nations activity.)

This doesn’t make our history any less compelling, but it does mean that every fragment that we discover is precious and worthy of celebration. A few such fragments have recently emerged, and will form the nucleus of another museum exhibit in town that celebrates this history. It all has to do with a roll of film that lay undeveloped for decades.

Vic and Kathleen Peck were the first settlers in what is now the Tumbler Ridge area. Their home cabin was near the junction of the Murray and Wolverine Rivers. They arrived in 1914, and in due course moved on, having raised a family of boys in this most isolated locality.

Frank Gesler took over the trapline, and in 1927 his trapping partner was Henry Bartell. That winter they took photos of their activities—at the cabin with furs, on the frozen Murray River with their team of dogs, packing in the fruits of their labours. Somehow the film never got developed at the time, and was rediscovered and developed by Bartell’s descendants in the 1980s, who have subsequently come to Tumbler Ridge to tell us this amazing story of our history.

Scanned versions of these prints will soon be made available to the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation, and wall space will be sought to bring this almost forgotten part of our history to light. A Global Geopark is not just about our rocks, but about how the land has influenced, and been influenced by, the humans that have chosen to live on it.

A few years after these photos were taken, Frank Gesler drowned while trying to cross the Murray River on a raft. The trapline was taken over by Art Skinner (whose cabin remains are still visible beside Flatbed Creek), then by the legendary Bill Warn, and then Bill Goodwin, whom many Tumbler Ridge residents will fondly remember. This chain of events connects our past with our present. It is a story that deserves telling and celebrating, and the long-lost roll of film may be the necessary catalyst.