Squamish's Mike Wallace wears many hats. He is a retired professional forester, author, history buff and firearms collector, president of the Sea to Sky Forestry Centre society, and vice-president of the Squamish Valley Rod and Gun Club.
Wallace is also a plain-speaking straight shooter. He calls them like he sees them, as the saying goes.
The Chief caught up with Wallace for a wide-ranging chat about his time in Squamish and his many projects.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: What is your history in Squamish?
A: I came here from Gold River with the forest service as a timber resource officer in 1980, when I was 40 years old.
I moved to Valleycliffe and I am still there, in the same house.
As a timber officer, I looked after the cutting permits and forest development plans. I was 50/50 in the office and out in the field.
Q: With your forestry background, what do you make of the wildfires that have been intensifying the last few years?
A: Because I was in fire fighting most of my life, I did get to be a major fire overhead team leader on big fires in the province, I have a pretty good background in fires and fire prevention. With the hotter summers — the changing climate — we are getting more fires, and more people to create more fires.
People have a lot more access to forest land than they had in my early days. There wasn't the road system. There wasn't the access. Man-made fires were fewer.
But also, because of safety and liability, we aren't taking action on fires the way we used to. In my day, our code was if the fire is today, you have it out by 10 o'clock the next day. In my opinion, we don't put enough resources on it right away.
Q: What do you make of all the changes in Squamish?
A: It is overwhelming. A lot of changes are fine and others I have some difficulty with. We went from a fairly close-knit community to one that is very much watered down because of the number of new people. And a lot of people have left.
The positive changes are that we have access to facilities and businesses, things like that. To a certain extent, transportation is better.
Q: What would your advice be to some of the new people moving here?
A: Because of my age and my background, my advice would be, the people coming to Squamish are coming here because they like it. So, don't bring what you left. Accept the fact that there are people here who have been here for a long time... they are trying to preserve what they knew, against what is happening.
Come here and do as the Romans do — though there are fewer 'Romans' here now.
Q: Would you ever move away?
A: No, I don't think so. I have three daughters with families. One is a dental hygienist in Squamish; one is a federal vet in Abbotsford, and one runs a cattle ranch at 150 Mile House. I am sort of central here.
Q: Your daughters went to high school in Squamish, how was that?
A: All the girls were into sports. The twins, Tania and Erica, were into field running and things like that. My eldest daughter Christa was a hockey player. She played for UBC and the University of Edinburgh.
Q: When did you get involved with the rod and gun club?
A: I was involved as a member when I first came here, using the ranges. When I left the forest service and started consulting, I had more time. In, 2007, the club had about 100 members and with the coming of the 2010 Winter Olympics, I was asked if I could resurrect the club a bit. I was president for years and then two years ago I stepped down to be vice-president. We now have over 750 members.
Q: You still target shoot at the club. What is your favourite firearm?
A: I have a lot of favourites. My big thing is I have collected firearms since I was a kid.
My oldest is an 1873 Winchester. I have passed them on to my grandsons.
Q: Turning to your other local hat, where do things stand with the Sea to Sky Forestry Centre?
A: We had a push on to have a facility ready for the Olympics, but during the games Squamish was basically going to be bypassed so it didn’t make a lot of sense to the various levels of government to move ahead with the centre. If they aren’t going to stop in Squamish, what is the point of having something for the people to see, was basically the attitude.
In 2015, we started up again. It has been an uphill battle.
Right now we are in the process of trying to put together a temporary facility that would allow us to get people involved until we can finalize a much larger complex.
The fact that it is a public building on municipal land, some of the building restrictions are mind-boggling as well as really restrictive on how we do things. A lot of the same things we would do for a permanent building we are being asked to do for a temporary building.
We are doing our best. And we are looking for $150,000 in funding.
Q: You self-published "The Last Journey of Royal Canadian Air Force Stranraer 946: In memory of the crew and Stranraer 946," in 2012. What made you focus on this Squamish air crash for that book?
A: I was one of the leaders of the Squamish Hellcat Venturers, which was a branch of the Boy Scouts of Canada [now Scouts Canada].
We had 15 to 20 boys who were 15 to 18 years old. Kevin Woods and I ran it and it was one of the most advanced in Canada. We won the Governor General's medal three or four years in a row. We had a marvellous group. I was looking for a project and I consulted with a lot of the old loggers who knew about the area where the Stranraer 948 crashed. Then, I proposed to the boys in the group, “Wouldn't it be something if we could put a memorial to the personnel who were lost in that aircraft?" That is how it started. I did the research. The boys did a lot of the work clearing the land and putting the monument up. I contacted a lot of the families of the men who died on that flight. Two of the families came to visit the site. These were the children of the crew. The boys really liked it. (Now they are all in their 40s. We still get together now and again.)
Then, I wrote the book. Once I got started, and people realized what I was doing, I had all sorts of help.
**Please note, this story has been updated since it was first posted after Wallace contacted The Chief to say some of what he said was not accurate.