Cariboo pioneer revisits his roots

Lone Butte resident looks back on his family's history

Preserving history is important to 80-year-old Howard Malm of Lone Butte.

Preserving history is important to 80-year-old Howard Malm of Lone Butte.

History is a precious thing. You can’t buy it, you can’t change it, but you can preserve it.

Keeping memories from the past alive is something that lifelong Cariboo resident Howard Malm of Lone Butte has taken to heart during much of his 80 years.

Many are his own memories and others are stories passed down from members of his extensive pioneering family.

Howard’s ancestral tree includes his grandpa Edward Higgins, a legend to many in the South Cariboo, who came looking for land to homestead at Roe Lake in 1910. He returned in 1914 with his wife, Irene, and daughter, Velma, who was just four years old at the time. She and Howard’s dad, Ed Malm, later married.

Ed Malm came from Finland to Canada when he was 16 years old along with his 18-year-old brother, Gus.

In 1918, Ed and his friend John Naff made their way north from Princeton on saddle horses to homestead a piece of land on Montana Hill on Machete Lake Road. It later became the Montana Lake Guest Ranch.

The most common route from the south for pioneers of the day was through 70 Mile House, the Bonaparte and on to Bridge Lake, but Ed and John travelled over what was known as the Indian Trail from Little Fort. It was the same path native people from that area followed each year to North Green Lake to what Howard says was the biggest powwow in British Columbia at the time.

They first built a house for John and his family and then a cabin for Ed, using logs and hand tools. Through necessity, Ed became a skilled axe man over the years. Howard says his dad hand-hewed many of the log homes and barns that sprung up in and around the Interlakes area during the early years.

Finding work in the old days was an ongoing chore and as many did, Ed established a trapline for winter income and helped nearby ranchers put up hay during the summer.

In 1920 and 1921, he hewed railroad ties for the PGE’s tracks that were again headed north after construction stopped during the First World War. The end of the line at that time had been at 59 Mile, and according to Howard, corrals were built there as a temporary stockyard and loading point for ranchers shipping their cattle south.

Once the tracks reached Lone Butte around 1921, that community became the local centre for shipping.

In the old community of Bridge Lake, there was a trading post just east of the current general store. As a young woman, Howard’s mom, Velma, would ride on horseback six miles each way to work there.

Harold Webb who later lent his name to the nearby Webb Lake, originally known as Crooked Lake, owned it.

“If you didn’t have any money, Harold would give you groceries for a coyote fur.”

Two or three times a year, Percy Ogden, son of the renown North West Company fur trader Peter Ogden, who is the namesake of the local senior secondary school, would pass through the area and buy furs from the trading post and area trappers.

As a young boy, Howard would trap weasels and squirrels, which he was able to tuck in amongst his dad’s furs and sell to Ogden for $1.50 a piece.

The family home was what most would call a log cabin by today’s standards, says Howard. It provided a cozy shelter for the growing family that eventually counted six children, including him.

Their closest neighbour was more than a mile away so the children usually made their own fun. Big outings normally occurred in the winter, as there was too much work to be done during the summer months.

Most often they would go to a whist drive or a community dance. The family would bundle up in the sleigh or wagon and make their way over rough roads. When it grew late, the children would simply be laid down to sleep on a bench or in a quiet corner, so their parents could make the most of the rare social outing.

Just 12 miles separated the Malm family from grandpa and grandma Higgins, but in those days, that was considered quite a distance and visits were usually restricted to Christmas and Easter with a few in between.

Howard remembers his mom as a true country girl. She picked berries, dyed her own wool, and if there was even one teaspoon of food left over from a meal, it was kept for the next one.

“There was no running out to a store for anything in those days.”

The absence of a school in the sparsely populated Machete Lake area made formal education a challenge, so Howard learned throughcorrespondence for the first couple of years.

To get his family closer to a school, Ed homesteaded another parcel of land at Roe Lake in 1938 and built a new log home there.

While their parents’ home was being built in 1938 and 1939, Howard and his sister, Marie, boarded with their uncle and aunt, Frank and Noveta Leavitt, and attended the school in Lone Butte.

It was made of logs, as Howard recalls, and sat 200 to 300 yards up on a hill directly across the road from the existing water tower. Their teacher was Archie Roach, a young, athletic man who liked to play outside with his students at noon and taught the boys how to box.

A wood-fired barrel stove heated the small building and it was student Jim Reed’s job to split the wood. He preferred to do it inside in front of the stove, and over time, succeeded in hacking away a large patch from the floor, Howard recalls.

Students hauled water by the bucketful from a community well that was down the hill and just behind where Kelly’s Whistle Stop currentlysits.

The new Malm family home was completed in 1940 and the children were able to move back with their parents and siblings and attend RoeLake School.

Ed and Velma lived in the house until 1960, when it was lost to a fire. Later, Howard says, Curly Granberg, a member of another pioneer family, built his home on the same spot.

When the growing community took an interest in building a recreation facility, Ed Malm donated three acres of his land for the building of the Roe Lake Community Hall. It was constructed with donated materials and volunteer labour, and opened in 1952 with a huge dance that attracted people from as far away as Clinton and Lac la Hache.

Verna, a lifelong member of the Roe Lake Women’s Institute, was instrumental in raising funds for its construction. Ed not only helped build the hall, but also was the janitor for many years.

Ed Malm passed away in 1962.

Howard took over that job and was caretaker of the Roe Lake Cemetery. Currently, his son, Ken, tends to the cemetery.

As is the fate of so many old South Cariboo buildings, the old hall burned to the ground in 1988, but volunteers quickly replaced it with the current structure.

Not wishing to stray far from his roots, Howard acquired 40 acres of the family land and built his own home in 1960 on a spot beside the current Interlakes Rodeo Grounds. He lived there with his former wife, Eleanor, whom he married in 1956.

The couple met in Vancouver, while Howard was recuperating from a serious sawmill accident that almost cost him his left arm.

It was 1954 and he was running the bull edger for MacMillan Contracting that had a mill near Sheridan Lake Store. A careless moment resulted in Howard falling down between the roaring saws and slicing off a sizable piece of his arm.

The deep scars are still evident and he has just limited use of his hand, but Howard says that thanks to excellent first aid at the job site and top-notch doctors in Kamloops, the end result was the best one possible.

A few years before his accident (1949) was when the first Bridge Lake Rodeo came together and Howard has been among that crowd from day 1. He remembers that in the early years, local ranchers, such as Jimmy Reed, supplied the rodeo cattle, and if anyone had an exceptionallymean horse to lend, it was eagerly accepted.

When it came to local rodeo talent, the cowboys who rode at Bridge Lake were brimming with it.

Howard says that Leonard Larson of Bridge Lake and Don Eden of Watch Lake were two of the best pick-up men in the country and they could always be counted on to show up.

“I always aspired to be a cowboy, but I didn’t have the talent.”

Regardless, Howard says he broke many horses in his lifetime and has long been a BC Interior Draft Horse Association member.

There is so much history that surrounds the South Cariboo, Howard says, adding he’s concerned that it won’t be recorded before it’s lost forever.

Sometimes, Howard wishes he could just go back in time and relive it.

“But then reality sets in and you realize you can never backtrack.”