Interview with Bert Irvine  By Catherine Kendall, 1999

Catherine:’s March 26th and I’m out at Bert and Mary Irvine’s cabin on the Nechako River way up near the Kenney Dam and ...Morning Bert.  Bert’s gonna give me some idea how he ended up here today and what kind of changes he’s seen here.

Bert: Well I read  Rich Hobson’s books and got interested in BC and I was in Winnipeg at the time and then we….  My son was up here workin’ on the dam when my brother not my son workin’ on the dam and he wrote about this country..I wanted ta...and I always did trap.  I trapped in Alberta before and I decided after the war I was goin’ to go back trappin’, I’d come up to buy a trapline up here.

Catherine: And what year would that of been Bert?

Bert: That was in fifty four I bought the trapline.  I came up in ‘52, I was here two years before I  know...the rancher..well I was doin’ their buildin’..their carpenter work and remodellin’ their houses and stuff and I got to know him and he had the guiding area but he never hardly used it so I guided under him for two or three years and then I took it over..the guiding and I’ve been guiding ever since.

Catherine: Are the traplines and guiding areas the same or they’re different...?

Bert: Nooo..the trapline’s separate from the guidin’ area..they’re different all together.

Catherine: So what area did you have for a guiding area that Rich Hobson had?

Bert: Welll..the Nechako River to... all the way up to the reservoir and several lakes and.....

Catherine: And the trapline runs along....?

Bert: The trapline, I got that, it runs in the same area, it’s inside...the guiding area is much larger than the trapline...the guiding area covers..hundreds of miles while the trapline’s about 25..miles..area along the river and back into the lakes.

Catherine: And what kind of changes have you seen here Bert over the time since you’ve been here?

Bert: Well I’ve just seen the bush cleared out..with the main idea that you don’t need to hike to go huntin’ you just drive to go...where’s before we used ta..when I first started guidin’ we’d walk miles...then we’d have to go pack it out with a horse ya know after we’d you can can drive over two or three hundred miles here.. in a day in my guiding area.  It costs alot more for fuel and everything but the price of guiding is..come up too ya know... I started out at about $150 a person..ya for..ya take six guys for $150 the first year..but then it sooned changed ya know..the cost of living and ya smartin’ up.  My hunters’ were just American’s mostly..I don’t take Canadian hunters.  So I take them...I just give them a lesson in huntin’ and they...the next year they’re back on their own with..bringin’ all their friends ‘cause they don’t have to have a guide...the Canadian hunter.

Catherine: And the American’s do?

Bert: The American’s compulsory.

Catherine: And how much would it cost now for a hunter to come?  You said it was about $150 per person..then

Bert: Two thousand

Catherine: About two thousand..

Bert: For a ten day hunt..

Catherine: For ten days.  And it was about 150 before?

Bert: Ya well we..I used to only hunt a week for 150 but that was too cheap all together.

Catherine: And how ‘bout the wildlife have the it more difficult to find wildlife?

Bert: Ohh it’s ..well it’s definately gone down but access..access to every place has put the game down..and then they...cow and calf season is ...I think it is serving it badly, certainly bad...but you can’t make the game department see that.  Everybody...most of the hun.. trappers and hunters think you shouldn’t have the calf, cow season but..they still have it....

Catherine: Because the access is so high now?

Bert:’s just..they want it so everybody can get moose and most of these hunters they get these draws...from Vancouver Island and up here...these hunters that come up here huntin’ in the fall...most of them are from down south.  And they’re the ones that get the most people put in for a draw here ya never get one.  I’ve only had one in the last ten one draw.

Catherine: So you think it should be allowed for locals first?

Bert: Nooo...welll that’s pretty hard to would be hard they’d really hollar then...the anti-hunters are keepin’ some of them out but...that’s the trouble with tappin’ too...the anti-hunters are hurtin’ our fur prices..thye’ve gone...they’re all over lot of places won’t even buy the trapped fur..they’ll buy it from a fur ranch or somethin’...that’s different they think...

Catherine: there still..still have the trapline?

Bert: Oh yeah there’s lots of fur it hasn’t hurt the far as the..and the beaver..and we got about every type of fur there is here like out here...

Catherine: Lynx and marten and ?

Bert: Marten and fisher..

Catherine: Are those the most common ones that you hunt..or trap for...?

Bert: Well.. marten and and a a beaver and fisher.  Fisher there’s not as many.  There used to be a lot of fisher but they’ve went down since I guess when....clearcuts and that ‘cause they use the heavier timber.

Catherine: What about the river flow, hows that changed...things for the wildlife as far as you know?

Bert: Well it’s still hard on the Beaver when they flood it too and they was to start floodin’ it from now..on well then these little beaver ...are just bein’ born now...and they can’t get drowns’em...something goes up and down as far as the..but if it just stays like this it’s good...but when they put about 8000 cubic feet down whenit’s only runnin’ 1100 now that’ can notice a difference..well that raises hell with beaver...drowns them...not the old ones but the little ones..they gotta learn how to swim..I mean they just...when they were first born they...

Catherine:When do they normally let the flows out?

Bert: Well..startin’..little... ‘bout the end of May...and the beaver are born.. the end of May and June.

Catherine: And how ‘bout fish ...has..?

Bert: Well fish...I doesn’t...used to be a lot more fish then there is now so I don’t know what’s happened to’em but one thing is...our low water in the last few the doesn’t flush the fish out of the lakes ya spawning time.  A lot of the fish..when you get...a big flow a water out of the creeks ..well a lot of the fish come down to the river and ...  The lake fishin’ and everything all around is just as good as it ever was like all the lakes but years ago we used to have pretty high water in the spring and we’ve had dry years and ...but..

Catherine: So that would affect the fish that are in the lakes that would normally flow into the...

Bert: That would stock the river that way.  They’ve stalked it artificially but it never did much good.

Catherine:  The Nechako River got stocked?

Bert: They put thousands of fish in here one year..right here they dumped and all around the lakes...never improved much.

Catherine: So tell me Bert:  what would be the most memorable experience that you’ve had while living out here...?  You’ve lived here since ‘54?

Bert: Ya ‘54 ya.

Catherine: And you built this cabin here..

Bert: in ‘65...

Catherine: built in ‘65?  And what were the ..what would be the most memorable experience of..of having lived here for that long a time with guiding or trapping or even the river or logging or jus........

Bert: It’s hard to say..ya know...huntin’ off my huntin’ area was the main..ya know...some years I took as many as 40 moose when I was guiding ..ya know..first startin’ out but now were down to 9 or 10 a year is plenty ya know..the way the moose are.  You’d..I’d never be able to get 40 moose now... but I mean.. We usually get about 85% or so..or kill.  And the deer population has...went way down from years ago but that’s not account of the huntin’ that was just..they winter killed and they never came back it seems like..used to have some real big bucks around here but...we hardly ever shoot the guiding now anymore...we used to always get one or two with the hunters but......

Catherine: And what are the numbers like for hunters now compared to back then?  You get, you said you take American hunters so...would you.....

Bert: Ya American..well we just get nine or ten now..or sometimes twelve.

Catherine: And what was the most that you’ve had out here?

Bert: Forty three.

Catherine: Big difference.

Bert: That wasn’t...mostly was in my old camp..down the river...first 12 years of now...most of our moose come in whole.

Catherine: Sorry they come in...?

Bert: We bring’em in whole...we butcher’em like in a butcher shop...hang’em up on the meat pole.

Catherine: ‘Cause you have the access?

Bert: Access and we..that way you can keep’em nice and clean and..

Catherine: Don’t have to pack them out?

Bert: ...don’t have to.  Some of them we have to cut up that we bring out with a four wheel but usually we don’t skin’em ‘cause we leave the hide on too to keep’em clean...and they come out the same day we kill’em before with’d probly be the next day ‘cause we..before we get back out to get’em in...and I used to hire extra guides ya I’d have three guides besides the old years.  Now there’s just my boy and I.

Catherine: And how about changes with other industries being around you like forestry and Alcan and that sort of thing.... have they affected you at all and the business that you run and...?

Bert: Oh yes they have but I mean... they respected the guiding...I mean especially forestry..’cause ya know there was lot of the place they’d be in there loggin’ where we used to hunt before and there’s no use.. ya know we can’t go into them areas and...and our trails are all....where my horse trails all were..well that’s all logged out now...all them trails I used to have were...there was always a logging block or somethin’ across them...and where they log..half the time you can’t travel across’s too much gunk and trenches and.....

Catherine:...hard going...

Bert: ...they don’t level it out right...they...trench it with a big machine and it makes it real rough walkin’.

Catherine: And how about Alcan, what kinda work would they be doing tat might...?

Bert: Oh they don’t do...Alcan’s just...these fisheries on the river..that’s all....Alcan hasn’t been, ..they don’t do any work ya know.  Just research......


Bert: ..just research and that doesn’t bother us.  They’re just .....

Catherine: So do the forest companies that come in, umm communicate with you to let you know that they’re gonna be in your area?

Bert: Yeah, they sent me a letter ahead of time.

Catherine: So do they log all year ‘round here?

Bert: Yeah winter and they ..all year ..except spring break up they..they’re all off now ‘til about.. almost ’til the first of June before they’ll start.

Catherine: And you would only be out hunting in the fall?

Bert: In the fall..yah..we just..we hunt in..start in September and go into November.  Used to be a longer season, some years I started in August and went ’til Christmas time.  They’ve shortened the seasons now to ya know...try to keep the game up and..And it’s on limited entry a lot of the huntin’ ya..all our.... hunters now we have to get a draw for’ entry we have ta..we have to get’em ahead of time.  You can’t just take so many hunters.  If you haven’t got many draws..they give you so many cows...moose..and so many bulls and that....they issue so many and then..we use them up.  Before you could take a as many hunters as you could handle...there was no limit on it.

Catherine: You think it’s good that they have a limit or...?

Bert: Oh  it’s bringin’ the moose back..yah it’s good.  Well it helps us too, because a lot a times we got draws..we go..startin’ out early and there’s not as many hunters out.  For some areas ya know..the draws open up and then when they do...well then there’s hunters every place.  Nothin’ to see forty hunters in a day extra hunters around.  Some camps have got 15 or 20 in it..ya know these campgrounds.  So I don’t know what’s going to happen now.  They’re goin’ to start chargin’.  So they’ll be all over in the bush again I guess..different places.

Catherine: So that they don’t have to pay at the campgrounds you mean?

Bert: Yah.

Catherine: You used to ummm guide with horse back?  or pack horses?

Bert: Noo we. Well we had horses but we...  I never hunted on horses we just packed with horses.  Pack’em out.  We did some huntin’ on horseback but I...this is too bushy and the area is not like ya know..where you can ride around and see all over at that time.  Now we these clearcuts you could probly ride on a horse..but then there’s..why ride a horse when you can drive and cover twice as much country.

Catherine: When did that change then?  What year would that of been that you stopped using pack horses and started using four wheel drives and....?

Bert: Do you remember Mom...what year the loggin’ all started out here?  I imagine it was almost the eighties.

Mary: Yeah, definately in the eighties.

Bert: In the eighties.  When we used to first live out here..if we saw somebody on the road..we knew they were comin’ to see us..heh.

Catherine: So this used to be the road to yer place..kinda..and not..?

Bert: No the road just go to the dam...I mean that was the dam road... but if we met somebody comin’ on the road we always stopped ‘cause they were probly comin’ to see us..then well the road always ...there was a trail out here before the dam it was part of where Rich Hobson had his ranch..and that was the end of the road then...

Catherine: That was River ranch?

Bert: Yeah...the old River ranch not the new one here.

Catherine: Ohhh.

Bert:  The old place is down the river.  It’s all on the same land but the old house is down there and even this house on this River ranch...the main house..I built that one..for an American guy.  He bought it off Hobson..the land and built a house here.

Catherine: So Rich Hobson’s family doesn’t own it any more?

Bert: No, I mean..they own a little.  Cathy owns a little bit a land yet but not much.  No they sold it all a long time and then it’s had different buyers...different people...some we’re gonna....went broke and started and then they sold out and....

Catherine: So do they have a lodge there too or is it just a ranch?

Bert: No, it’s just a ranch but they’re suppose to build a hotel, thirty room hotel this summer so....but I’ll believe it when I see it so....but they cleared all the land I mean they cleared acres and took all the trees off.  That’s just in the last year or two...there was more timber on it and more wild.

Catherine: When we drove up from the main road you were sayin’ that a fire came through here and that’s where all this growth has come up.  When would that fire’ve been?  Were you here then?

Bert: No, no way was in the 1900’s or about 1914 when the war was on, the first world war.. out here there was all kinds of places that burned ya know..’cause they had no..they didn’t fight’em.  If a fire started out just burned.  No way a foot comin’ out here in them years.  Well Vanderhoof was hardly there.  And that’s when all this burned up...the Indians were here and they burned a lot of it.  They used to burn the side hills and stuff and that’s where these... some of these places where the burns were.  Where there’s younger timber ya know and the old timber’s all been burned off.  Some places burned too hot...right down to the ground and there was hardly...took a long time to come back see bein’ it was just sand’s not that fertile a ground out there... that’s straight sand like a lot of takes quite a few years for it to get started again.

Catherine: So when you were out guiding, did you..are there very many grizzly bears in this that something that you would have been hunting for with these Americans that came up?

Bert: Well we never really hunted..we killed a couple but we never...there wasn’t that many...we always sseen some but we never bothered with a gettin’ too complicated gettin’ a tag and....most of the grizzly bear hunters like to hunt that open country in the sidehill country, like Spatsizi and ....

Catherine: Is that north of here?

Bert: Yeah north and country ya know....where a lot of the guys hunt the grizzlies or over on the Bella Coola ..on the rivers.  But we had some nice grizzlies here...we killed a couple...back ‘en when you could shoot ‘em.

Catherine: So there’s never really been a lot of them anyways in this area.

Bert: Not a lot, no but there’s always some around...but most of’em stay their distance from us  There was some though that used to know that when we killed a moose they knew the rifle shot..they’d be around in ‘bout a day or two...cleanin’ it up.  The ones that lived here them grizzlies we used to have one we called “Big George” he always used to follow us hunters around...would clean up behind could see the tracks ya afterwards and but he never got any of our meat ya know..even when we left it out overnight ya know... But I have had one time..I went and left it over night and went back and the grizzly brought the meat down..just got it down and it was there and we were.. I was goin’ in.. I was going to get it out with out little cat and the cat broke down, so I had to spend the night there while the other guy come back and got my horse..came in and...and while I was...that night the wind had blew terrible.  I didn’t have any blankets or anything but..I had a tarp up..plastic up and..I had the head there with horns on it...and in the night time he moved it away...I had to go get it in the morning.  I never even heard him..ya know..snuck in..took the head.

Catherine: But you never had real problems with them at all?

Bert: No ..they were never too much a problem.  We had a black bear come through the front door here night.

Catherine: Do you have very many black bears in this area?

Bert:  Oh there is a lot yeah.  That one there gave us a lot of trouble ‘til we finally shot’er.  She was female, a big one but no cubs.  She smashed in that...see we don’t..summer time we don’t close the inside door.  She smashed that screen out.  She was on the rug there when Mom seen her, was twelve o’clock at night and King didn’t even wake up...has was sleepin’...I sleep on that side and he sleep.. in there.  I chased it away though and then I.  And he’d went with me when I went chase it away and it wouldn’t took against a tree and I come back to get a gun and when I went back it was gone again.  But it stayed was huntin’ time and the bugger..trying to get the meat in the meat house and stuff...we had to camp outside and watched for it, I finally shot it.

Catherine: Are there a lot more black bears now do you find with the amount of clearcuts that are around?

Bert: Ohh there is more..I think so with them clearcuts and stuff...well thye’ve multiplied any how.  In as many as three or four days we’ve counted as many as 30 or 40 bear.

Catherine: Black bear.

Bert: We’d shoot some but now it’s too complicated too..’count of this gallbladder...we have to all the way to Prince George with a hunter if he gets a blackbear to register it in, which is a nuisance.

Catherine: So you just focus on moose, mostly?

Bert: We well we..if they buy a tag we it.  We..well if a hunter wants one bad enough we can’t tell him he can’t shoot a black bear beacuse the season’s open on’em.

Catherine: What’s the season for black bear?

Bert: Ohhh it starts early.....


Bert: .....spring and it’s open...right ‘til the end of huntin’ time.

Catherine: Do you get said most of the people that you have come in the they...

Bert: the fall yeah..we have had some spring ....bear but very seldom..we’ve never just hunted...that’s the only thing you can hunt in the spring...bear.  And I have trouble..a lot of hunters can’t seem to hit a bear..they seem to get nervous or somethin’but they sure miss a lot of’em when you do hunt’em.

Catherine: Do most of the hunters that come up here seem pretty experienced..with..hunting?

Bert: Oh yeah, most of them have hunted elk and ..yeah most of’em..very seldom you get an unexperienced hunter...elk and deer..

Catherine: Are there many elk in this area?

Bert: Noo..elk down in the states...where they hunt and....and some of’em hunted even in Alaska.  They hunted in Alaska..yet they come here and hunt sometimes..some of my hunters.  And most of’em are huntin’..I got just from word ‘a mouth I never advertised in any magazines....they always used to be ..just...other hunters sendin’ them and..  In the first years I used to have cards, I used to give out but those...we don’t even do that anymore.....

Catherine: Don’t have to....

Bert: Well we used to hand them out downtown...around the Americans in the summertime.  People goin’ through..tourists..and.  I used to walk around putting it under their windshield..guiding cards.

Catherine: So when you’d take the hunters out...would you stay through out the some places?

Bert: Well we used to stay out during the night when we hunted ya know and we...before with horse..when we used to go out we’d back pack and hunt out...we’d walk too far to come back at night.  We use to hunt ya know..quite a long ways but now we don’t.  Once in a while we got some camps on lakes where if they want to go out and stay we could go in and camp.  We got boats on... several lakes ya know.. back in the bush.  We go there and camp...jus’ some of’em want to do that fer the fun of it.

Catherine: So do you have any experiences while you were out hunting and umm packin out in....out in the bush while you were out there, anyones that stick out, stories with the hunters and experiences.......

Bert: Ohh it’s hard when there’s so much of it ya know.....every one ya know they’re experiences where they’re experiences pretty well.. I just had one guy...I..we called him Rambo..he used to paint his face, grease and colours, and I had him and he was always talkin’ ‘bout he was  missio.. may whattyacall one of them people that go huntin’an fightin’ wars for other people, missionnotaaaa...  mercinary..he’s always talkin’ how he’s shot ya know these japanese and all these people and he was really..and I then showed him a lot of moose and then he didn’t want’em..ya know he.  I..told’em we done...we’re not trophy hunters ya know...I showed bull and he wsn’t good enough..and I walked him for three days huntin’ around and all of a sudden he ..he left.  Took off...he’d paid in advance it was alright he was ...he kept talkin’ about his ex. Ya know he had to get home...That was the craziest one we ever had.

Catherine: And he never did take a moose?

Bert: No.and his partner had to go too because it was his vehicle.  He was...every morning...he’d put all that paint on..he’s a big guy..great big.......

Catherine: So do you find that you’re able to actually live pretty self suficiently here with chickens and the..’cause I know you don’t have ...we’re running the recorder now on ..on the the generator so you don’t have power here and you get water from the creek and ....yah.. and you own the land that you’re on right..40 acres?

Bert: Yah.

Catherine: Yah.

Bert: I gotta ‘nother 90 acres farther..well out in the bush farther.  I never do anything with it.  I logged it and cultivate and let it go back again.

Catherine: And have you eever had cattle out here?

Bert: No we never had  I had lots of horses cattle.

Catherine: And how about fishing do people come here for the fishing too or..?

Bert: Oh  I used ta fishin’ guide..yeah I taken’ people out a lot of times fishin’ and years ago I took pack trips out fer two months a ta time in the summer time.  I took “The book of the month” club people and took’em out and then four years later they come back again, we took’em again.  Myself and another guide went in together and we took’em...went way down south..that with horses.

Catherine: So it’s good fishing in this area?

Bert: Yah.

Catherine: And it’s.has that’s still pretty good fishing here?

Bert: It’s still good fishing..yah...if you know where to go..

Catherine: So how many camps do you have out there in the bush that you actually access from here?

Bert: Well we they..we only got two of’em but we don’t ..they just there.  There’s nothin’ much there except the boat and ..well the one there’s some camping gear at it.....and I used to have one on one lake on an island but they logged all around the lake so I don’t have that one anymore.  I used to always keep a canoe on the lake and camp on a island and it was there for years ..even for trappin’ I used it..and sleepin’ bags are still there yet..old ones you got caught out and ya know there..had to to sleep..there was a sleepin’ bag and always some tea and a tea pail there.  You couldn’t leave much grub ya know...onna count of the ....animals..but.

Catherine: Have you ever lost any hunters while you were out umm hunting..guiding?

Bert: Yah I lost a hunter years ago....huntin’...he was an old man..quite old guy and I left him sittin’ at a lake and I went..we had two hunters and I took the other hunter and we shot a moose and when he heard us shoot, he tried to go over there, and he went right on by us and then went way down on the reservoir.  I was a long ways from here when I lost him and...he, I found him next morning he never slept all night..tryin’ to signal me but he was over top the hill morning I went out in my boat. I was goin’ to come get the police and I got out on the water with my boat and I shot one shot and I heard an answer.  I took a compass bearing on it.and ...I found him.  He was...he was a real old guy.

Catherine: But he was ok?

Bert: Yeah, but he didn’t stay put he just went past me and got lost and walked all day...for and old guy he’d covered a lot of ground.  But most times we don’t let’em get...we’re not suppose to let’em get far enough away from us to lose’em.

Catherine: You have to always keep’em in sight?

Bert: Yep, under a...they’re suppose to be under our observation at all you’re not suppose to be losin’ em.

Catherine: So would this country be considered pretty easy to lose people if people wandered pretty quick?

Bert: Oh it’s easy. It’s easy to get lost. Yah. It’s get...lots of places you get can’t see the landmark for your travel ya know if you’re lost well you’re goin’ ‘round in circles so you...sometimes can’t find a landmark and then.when you do find one you’re just as apt to.....I could even get lost.

Catherine: What about the weather, can it be pretty unpredictable in this area or’s pretty steady?

Bert: Well noooo the weather’s usually...we never have any weather problems it’s pretty nice..the weather’s pretty good.

Catherine: Has the weather...did you find over the amount of time that you’ve been here that the weather’s changed much that you are getting more or less snow’s pretty much the same?

Bert: Ohhh not much difference.  First years I was in Vanderhoof... the snow was all gone.... in March....

Catherine: In the early 50’s?

Bert: Yah...that was the year that I worked in the bush.  There was no snow..break up come..ohh it was earlier than that it came in February that’s right and then later in March it cold again but.... we never got a bunch of snow.  Yah...I thought ....if the weather’s like this that’s the kind of country for me ‘cause I was in AlBert: a and that..ya used to get really cold.  The first winter I was here it wasn’t was just like this.  So there’s not much change in the weather as far as I can see.

Catherine: Always beautiful...and you have swans out front.  So you always had swans coming ever since you’ve been here too?

Bert: No, I started that...feedin’ ‘em.  I had about a 11 of’em I started feedin’ ‘em one year and then after that next year there was 25, the next year....

Catherine: So by word of mouth again...

Bert: ...word of mouth and then we had I get about 200.....and if I don’t feed’em they’re right at the door out there hollarin’’s not like somebody can....outta sight..ya know..outa is...

Catherine: They remind you.

Bert: They remind you gotta feed’em.

Catherine: What would they normally feed on if you weren’t feeding them?

Bert: There’s nothin’ in the river right here...they feed where the water’s open...where there’s mud..bottom...roots.  They dig up weeds, the plants, they eat the whole roots out, dig’em up.  The deep holes and the...any open water...ya know where there’s any kind of weed’ll grow..they’ll there.

Catherine: So it never freezes here so that’s why they’ve come in the first place..they could...

Bert: Well it does freeze sometimes...when I was feedin’ swans I’ve had the whole river jammed up and frozen..but then it gets a little warm spell and it opens up again and most of the swan feed is down river..there is some mud botton and stuff in the river and that’s where a few swans stay in the fall.early..That’s where they all come  They’ll be swans down the river a long time before I have to feed’em.  It doen’t start until about Christmas time..when they start lookin’ for feed.

Catherine: And how long do they stay?

Bert: They stay right ‘til now.  From Christmas ‘til now.

Catherine: So they’re just starting to leave?

Bert: Well the main bunch have left..these are die hards and there’s one cripple out there too.  One that’s got somethin’ the matter with one leg, he’s stayin’.. a young one it is not an old one.

Catherine: Have you had any stay year ‘round?

Bert: No.

Catherine: No...they go eventually.......lets stop.