Brookbank Through Time: This Good Land

We’ve been told that a local geologist determined our area was once a lake bottom. We believe it. Since the last Ice Age, I suppose, two feet of gorgeous, silty topsoil now sits on an undulating subsoil bed of blue clay. Where most folks in our region wrestle with rocky soil on BC style slopes, we have no rocks, and only the gentlest drop to the southwest. There is a year round creek, and an abundance of surface water. All of this spells the word: PERFECT.

But for millennia it was first, and foremost, a magnificent forest primarily of the giants, Red Cedar and Douglas Fir, with a canopy reaching above 200 feet. The first known inhabitants of the land in this area were the Squamish First Peoples. They honoured the cedar tree and lived with virtually ‘no footprint.’

In 1792 Captain George Vancouver surveyed this area, alighting at Chaster Creek (the creek that runs through our property). In 1862 over 90% of the indigenous peoples on the Coast were killed by small pox. The Shishalh band population fell from 5,000 to 167.

In 1889 the land that would eventually become Brookbank Farm was preempted by J. White. Similar to ‘squatters rights’, preemption was a settler’s right to purchase public land at a governmentally set minimum price (a ruse to in fact to wrest land from the indigenous inhabits). It is unlikely Mr. White ever set foot on the actual site. Instead, the area was logged for its coveted ancient trees. Many great stumps still exist on Brookbank today, reminders to us of what was, and what someday may again become.

In about 1918 Sydney Holland purchased two acres on the corner of Henry and Highway 101. He lived with his family in the homestead there, possibly built previously by Finnish settlers in the area. The homestead is still standing and plainly visible (659 Henry).

In about 1930 Fred Holland, son of Sydney, purchased eight acres beside his father, between Highway 101 and Russell Road. The land had previously been homesteaded, and although it is not known now by whom, it was quite likely by also Finnish settlers. About one dozen ancient fruit trees from this early farm era still grace the property.

Fred Holland saw that the land here is blessed for farming. He called his homestead simply “the Farm.”  It was self-sustaining, with various livestock and working animals, food crops, hay, and of course, the fruits and berries that became famous in this micro-region.

In 1940 Fred Holland tore down the original settlers structure and built a new home. This is the one-story house at the northeast side of the property we now call “the Cottage” (and is now undergoing a full renovation).

In 1957 Steve Holland, son of Fred, took possession of both the farm and corner lot. Sometime after, while doing a title search, Steve discovered the original name given to the property: “Brookbank Farm.” Steve worked at the Howe Sound Pulp and Paper Mill and tended to Brookbank on the side. In 1973 Steve and Betty and kids moved off Brookbank to nearby Langdale, but Grandma Holland remained at the cottage. The farm was used minimally during this time.

The Holland family returned to Brookbank in 1989, building a new two-story house constructed further south and west on the property. Steve took up the work of his father and grandfather again. He grew different foods but was most famous for the pumpkins and corn he sold at his farmgate. In August 2014 we joined with friends Rick and Carole to purchase, co-steward and redevelop the Brookbank Farm land.