At this time of year tangled weeds and scruffy grass call to the firebug in many of us. Thirty years ago it seemed that everyone burned off their stretch of ditch along the road. But now there is much more wind, so the old folks say. Burning anything is risky.
Peter Kristensen was our neighbour on South Canim Lake, just past the store. His small property sloped down from the road to the lake. He was an interesting man who delighted in showing visitors around his meticulous gardens.
Every spring he waited for the perfect day to burn off his lawn, when there was no wind and patches of snow edged the perimeter of his property. Early in the day, he would set out buckets of water and his garden hose.
His most interesting piece of firefighting equipment was a length of heavy wool carpet. Holes were drilled in one end of the carpet for a tow rope. When he was ready to start work, he soaked the carpet in the lake. He would put the carpet near the section he would be burning. When his fire crept close to the edge of the lawn, Kristenson pulled the carpet across the flames. In a few seconds, the fire was out. After several passes with the carpet, he would re-wet it with a bucket of water.
Kristensen was born in Vemp, Denmark, a small farming community. When WWII ended after five years of occupation, 16-year-old Kristensen was honoured to help ring the church bells.
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After the war, he worked in Sweden. He was impressed with their forestry practices.
“The forests were all carefully managed. Every bit of wood was used,” he said. “I would get bundles of four-inch scraps from the mill and use them to power our tractors.
“In 1946 I joined the Danish army. Because I had experience working with horses on the farm and the fact that I wasn’t tall, I was assigned to the cavalry division. They wanted all of the cavalry to be the same height for appearances.”
Kristensen emigrated to Canada in 1950 to work on a farm near Petersfield, Manitoba.
By 1954, he was in B.C. working in construction. He came to Canim Lake to hunt and knew this was where he wanted to stay.
He worked at the Jens brothers’ sawmill at the end of the road, where there now is a boat launch. There was a busy community at the mill site, with bunkhouses, houses, and a school. Bingo nights and dances were held at the school, and on Friday nights everyone packed into cars and wagons to go on the rough road to Forest Grove for movie night. One night the mill burned and the busy life there became part of the past.
Kristensen went to work for the Kelletts, who had bought the old Canim Lake Store, repairing cabins. He also cut ice blocks in the winter and packed them in straw in an ice house that he improved with thicker doors and chinking.
After several years Kristensen and a partner started a construction business.
“We built houses all along the lake and a new store for the Kelletts. It was a good life back then. We took care of each other. There wasn’t a regular doctor in 100 Mile. One flew in from Williams Lake a couple of times a week. I remember he would arrange for medical supplies to be dropped from a plane for us. One time I drove a logger who was hurt as fast as I could to the hospital in Ashcroft, and another time I drove this woman who was having a baby to Williams Lake. Just about didn’t make it!”
The centerpiece of Kristensen’s property was his statue of the Little Mermaid, a replica of the one in the harbour in Copenhagen. She is now sitting at the home of Kristensen’s friend Valerie Sallenback, facing the beauty of Canim Lake, just as he would want her to do.
Kristensen was an inventive man, as many folks were then. He liked to tell everyone, “Do the best you can with what you got.” Maybe… make a fire carpet.