By Robyn Rexin
The year 2015 marks the 100th birthday of Birch Island. The town celebrated the anniversary on Aug. 8 and 9 at the Birch Island Community Park. The park used to be the school grounds. A large number of people attended.
Historical pictures were placed on the side of the concession booth and on the fence, across from the registration table.
There was also a map of the old Birch Island. The map was divided into sections and numbers were placed throughout. On the table beside the map there was a paper with the numbers on it. The names of residents, businesses, the church, post office, hotel, etc., were placed beside them. There were blanks and people were asked to fill them in if they knew what the numbers stood for. Work on the map was done by Linda Moss.
Throughout the day there was a slideshow of early pictures found and put together by Norman Treseng. He added music and put the names of Birch Island and its former buildings to the music.
There were pictures of tombstones, the old school, the church, early residents, and many more. There was also a video about the Birch Island homecoming of 1991, done by Debbie Hay.
The anniversary held a silent auction with 16 items to vote on. These included an original Birch Island ball uniform, a painting of the Birch Island church done by Mrs. Oxenham (a Birch Island resident), and a photo of an ice jam at the bridge, taken by Margie Johnson.
The morning was spent in socializing and getting caught up with those who had returned to Birch Island for the anniversary. Lunch was available. The concession was run by the Clearwater Vavenby Lions.
After lunch, master of ceremonies Erna Stassen welcomed everyone to the anniversary.
She immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands in 1999 and has not lived long in Birch Island. She has found it interesting to go into the history of the town a bit and to hear some of the residents’ stories. She was sure she’d heard only a fraction of the stories and invited people with any more to come up and share them.
Stassen also told everybody about the forms at the registration desk that they could write their stories on. There was a box provided to drop the forms in or they could be given to Linda Moss, who is writing a book on the history of the town.
Next, Stassen introduced Hazel Wadlegger, who gave greetings from Thompson Nicola Regional District Area A director Carol Schaffer.
Schaffer could not be present. Wadlegger told about some memories of Birch Island that she had.
After the speeches there was a softball game for the children and parents. Marie Dee led the children’s games. Yahtze, Twister, bubbles, a basketball, colouring books and paper, sand toys, a slide, and swings were available.
At 3 p.m. Willy Rens, a Clearwater resident who is originally from Belgium, para-glided into the property next to the park. It looked so graceful and easy. At 4:50 four more para-gliders floated in – the Rens brothers did a repeat appearance along with Mark Tulloch and Al Tillman.
Musicians Peter, Jeannie, and Peter Junior Spooner performed for the large crowd. Next on the schedule, dinner was served by the Lions. There was beef on a bun, Greek salad, Caesar salad, and cupcakes for dessert. Wells Gray Hotel donated a lot of the food.
Dinner was the time for a weather change. It had been sunny and warm all day and then the wind started blowing and the rain came down. People were grateful for the covered areas, first for shade and then to get out of the rain, but the wind still managed to blow dinner plates away. However, the weather didn’t stop people from enjoying themselves.
Birch Island has a long and rich history.
The coming of the railroad really marked the beginning of Birch Island.
The first freight train went through in 1914 and the first passenger train in 1915. There were ranchers, prospectors and miners already in the area.
In 1915 Sarah Holt was asked by railway officials to name the station. She was given the honour as she was the only woman living on the flat.
The community had had several different names already, three being Wynne’s Flat, Umbrella Flat, and Butcher’s Island. Butcher’s Island came from the fact that the cattle and pigs that were raised on the island were butchered in the community.
Sarah Holt named the station Birch Island because of the island by the bridge with the birch trees on it.
Birch Island was a booming community in its day, with a train station, Western Telegraph office, a hotel, a water tower, a coal depot for the steam engines, a forestry station, a school (all the children loved teacher Mrs. Moss, who had also been a role model), the school board office, the Anglican church (built in 1938), section houses, the ferry, a community hall, the Department of Highways, a repeater station, a post office, the Super Stud sawmill, the Birch Island Lumber Yard, a stock yard, Noranda Mines, and a general store that was first opened by Bob Alexander in 1917 and then sold to the McCrackens. The original store burned down. Dees now own and operate the store in Birch Island.
Winnona Rothwell, a former Birch Island resident present for the anniversary, has fond memories of the adult drama club’s plays that were put on every year.
Another memory is of standing outside the school and watching her house burn down in 1967.
A big thank you should go out to everyone who helped plan and put on this special community event. The youngest person there was two-week-old Evelyn Charles/Ruttan.