It is hard to imagine the Republic of Brackendale without him.
Thor Froslev, 89, builder and face of the Brackendale Art Gallery — affectionately known as the BAG — died on Sept. 12.
He would have turned 90 on March 15.
Everyone who encountered Froslev has a story.
He was a larger-than-life character who personified Brackendale for more than 50 years.
He started building the BAG in 1969 and opened its doors in about 1972.
And his impact goes beyond that to Squamish and beyond the district to the world of music, art, storytelling and environment.
There has been a groundswell of grief and love expressed in the days since his death.
The District of Squamish put out a news release in his honour.
Froslev served as a member of District council in 1976 and 1977, back when council terms were two years.
"Thor was one in a million. He loved people, music and art," the release stated.
The District noted that Froslev received a B.C. Achievement Award in 2016 for the gallery and for his work with the Eagle Count.
In 2018, under then-mayor Patricia Heintzman, Froslev was honoured with the Freedom of the Municipality for his lasting contributions to arts, culture and environmental societies in Squamish.
In July, he was recognized with a large-scale mural on Cleveland Avenue by international artist Kevin Ledo.
Artists have taken to social media to mourn the loss of Froslev.
"What a man, the finest friend. Join the eagles. Rest In Peace," Byrnes said.
Show producer Viktoria Langton said Froslev, "always made us all feel so welcome in the Nature Masterpiece you created."
Heintzman met Froslev when she first moved to Squamish and was working for The Squamish Chief as a reporter.
She went to the annual Eagle Count.
There were about 70 people there, to count eagles.
"I met Thor and obviously had fallen in love with the art gallery [visiting] before that," she said, adding that Froslev wanted Heintzman to cover all the events at the BAG from then on.
"For the three years I was at The Chief, I did all of his workshops, everything from making tools, like First Nations tools," she said, adding there were timber framing workshops and metalworking as well.
She became embedded in the BAG and grew closer to Froslev in the years since she was a reporter in the early 1990s.
"I just became sort of embedded in this amazing concept and idea of what the BAG was, in terms of community, in terms of ...thought leaders, thought leadership, particularly about…the environment and environmental issues," she said.
"Every key environmentalist in British Columbia has spoken there, at some point, whether it's Alexandra Morton, or David Suzuki, or Robert Bateman or even what some people would consider radicals like Paul Watson. It's been a constant flow of, I mean, this in the best sense of the word, but provocation. You know, that's what art is all about. It's about provoking and about making people think and discuss."
She noted that Froslev could be brash and "direct to a fault."
"And he rubbed people the wrong way. But he got things done. It was out of passion for what he was doing."
She said people might not know that Froslev was critical in the formation of Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park.
Froslev and Len "Lefty" Goldsmith, among others, made it happen, she said.
"You can attribute much of that eagle winter tourism to Thor. He has been hosting the Eagle Count and the Eagle Festival... for almost 40 years now," she said, adding that Froslev's heart broke the years the count was low.
Personally, she will miss their chats, she said, noting in recent times, Froslev liked to talk about his childhood in Denmark.
"I'm going to miss just the everyday connection and conversation. We had a cheeky relationship. He would say things like that to me, like, "Shut the door!" And I'd be like, "Say, please." And I'd say, "You're not the boss of me, Thor."... And he would just smile. And he'd go, ‘Oh, you're so Ontario. People in Ontario are too polite,’" Heintzman said, laughing at the memory.
"I liken Thor to that bumper sticker, "Well-Behaved Women Seldom Made History," she said. He wasn't always well-behaved and he got stuff done, she added.
She also called him an inspiration.
"There's always a lesson to be learned, whether it was how not to do something or how to get things done," she said.
Heintzman said Froslev built relationships in town.
He made neighbours feel like they were a part of the BAG and part of its success.
He brought folks together, referencing the popular Christmas Eve potluck dinners that drew up to 150 people to share and be together.
"Those were hugely important to hundreds of people in the town," she said.
"Even during COVID. What did he do? He planned... free public concerts in his parking lot, you know?" (The artists all volunteered and played for free.)
There were 23 outdoor concerts in 2020 and 30 in 2021.
While Froslev was the extrovert who loved the attention and dreamed big dreams, his wife Dorte was the introverted ballast, Heintzman said.
"She doesn't get the credit," she said, noting Dorte saved the BAG financially.
Those The Squamish Chief spoke to all pointed to the Froslevs as a dynamic pair and noted how instrumental Dorte is to all the BAG and the man became.
Froslev was a lot of things to a lot of people, but likely no one knew him like Dorte, his wife of 37 years.
A high school art teacher from North Vancouver, Dorte (nee Jensen) had often come up with family to hike in the area when "suddenly this thing sprung up on Government Road," she recalled.
"I was never a flower child or a hippie. I was a goody-two-shoes. This was so intriguing. And then when it opened, we would stop here," she said, adding Froslev was offering Danish pastries at the time.
"It was intriguing, always. And then, whenever we had guests, especially from Denmark, they all had to come to check out this Dane in the forest."
She continued to bring folks to meet Froslev or see the BAG, or catch a show. She brought a pair of Danish engineers who had long conversations with Froslev about a variety of things.
Then one day, Froslev came to Granville Island, where Dorte was taking a summer course and checked out her paintings.
Then he asked her out.
"He was terrified to have dinner with me alone, I guess, because he tried to get some of his friends to join us," she said with a chuckle.
But Dorte was soon hooked.
Their relationship had ups and downs, as all do, but she says he was persistent, and she was drawn to him.
Asked what kept them together, she said "acceptance."
She tells funny — in retrospect — stories of coming home and finding things done to the BAG, which was also their home, that she had never agreed to.
One time, she left for work as a teacher in West Van, and when she came home, a sliding glass door and a foyer had been added.
"I came in, and there were no lights on. And I nearly broke my nose because they had installed the second glass door and made a little foyer out of it — like, that wasn't there in the morning when I left," she said.
She confirmed what Heintzman had said about helping navigate the BAG into safer financial waters and balance Froslev's dreams with doses of necessary reality.
While a bank manager warned her not to guarantee Froslev's mortgage on the BAG, she did it anyway.
"And I was already hooked, I guess," she said with a soft chuckle. "I don't know what was wrong with me. But that was what it was."
Their wedding was at the BAG, of course.
Froslev wore a grey suit.
"After that, he was almost always wearing a jumpsuit," she said, of his overalls.
Dorte said she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love for her husband in the days since his death.
"I'm receiving many, many, many comments right now... There was like a ton of love for him out there," she said.
"It's really great that his memory will live on."
Local entertainer Norman Foote, 68, met Froslev in about 1971, when Foote was 16 years old, trying to hitch-hike a ride to Levette Lake.
Foote was standing on the side of the road in front of the property on which the BAG would eventually stand.
"There was some building going on, and there was a little funky caravan trailer that is still there," Foote recalled.
Froslev came out and asked Foote if he would help move some boards.
"I remember him saying, 'I'm building an art gallery and tea house where singers can come to perform, do concerts.’ And that was [my] lifelong goal, even way back then. I thought to myself, 'One day, I am going to play there,’" he said.
"I've done shows there every year."
Foote noted, as others did, that Froslev loved artists and performers and nurtured relationships with them.
When the BAG was built, Squamish was a logging town, without an established art scene, per se, Foote said. Froslev gave artists somewhere to go in town.
Foote's voice broke with emotion describing how the two maintained a friendship that spanned decades and many of life's trials and tribulations.
"I respected him so much," he said. " He so encouraged to do your own thing and to respect your own talent and don't make excuses," Foote recalled, adding that Froslev really listened to performances and to people.
"Thor just got me right away, and he made me feel that it's OK to be a bit of a freak. It's OK. Like wave your freak flag, and you go for it. Who cares what anybody says? So, that alone inspired me."
Foote also noted Froslev's zest for life, love of Dorte and passionate curiosity.
Ultimately, Froslev wasn't well enough to live the life he wanted and so in that way, Foote is relieved his friend is not suffering.
"I know that he's flying out there with the eagles somewhere," he said.
Grant Lawrence, the author, CBC personality, storyteller and singer, is one of Froslev's newer friends, relative to Foote.
About five years ago, Lawrence was just starting to tour his show "Grant Lawrence and friends: stories and songs" when his friend, musician Dustin Bentall, suggested Lawrence put the BAG on his tour.
"He said, 'You know, a perfect venue for this show is this place in Brackendale called the Brackendale Art Gallery,'" Lawrence recalled, acknowledging at first he balked at putting on his show in an art gallery space.
"He was like, 'No, no, no. You wait until you see this place."
So, Lawrence called the BAG.
"He came to Canada in the 50s, and he still maintained the Danish accent ... right up until the end. And so I talked to him, and he was nice, but to the point and pretty gruff. And he was very definitive on the deal. I think it was like, I get two-thirds, he gets one-third of whatever money comes in. And I said that I usually do 20%. And then he paused, and he said, 'I said the deal is two-thirds, one-third,'" Lawrence said, laughing at the memory.
The day of the show came — a stormy January night.
Lawrence made his way to the BAG.
"The Brackendale Art Gallery was kind of like, in Lord of the Rings when the hobbits get to the Prancing Pony, the little inn in Bree ... except they were going out to meet Gandalf," he said. "Thor came out to greet us. And it was like meeting Gandalf in overalls — these denim overalls. And then he introduced himself, and then he and his wife basically gave us a tour of the BAG ... I was completely blown away. I couldn't believe it. Everywhere you look, it's handcrafted and it's customized."
Lawrence added that the Froslevs created a vibe at the BAG that doesn't exist in other venues across the country.
"I call it like a compression — everything just sounds so much better there. The laughs are louder; the music sounds warmer and so much better there. And it is by this man's design. His love of art, his love of music, his love of craftsmanship. It is all on display there."
After the first show, Lawrence tells of Froslev coming backstage, praising the performance.
"He comes backstage at the end of the show, and he says, 'Good show, good show.' And then he just hands me a wad of cash. And then he says ‘two-thirds,’" Lawrence recalled with a chuckle.
The pair remained friends after that.
Lawrence's next show at the BAG was just in May as a part of the Squamish Constellation Festival's Little Dipper Concert Series. When Lawrence arrived, he wasn't greeted by Froslev, as usual.
Word was that Froslev’s health had not been great.
Lawrence was disappointed not to see him as the start of the show drew near.
Up on stage, Lawrence looked out into the crowd and was lost for words to see Froslev looking back at him.
"Thor is sitting there… front and centre, with a big smile on his face, with his glasses, and his moustache and his beard and his ponytail ... I actually was momentarily at a loss for words because of his kind of legendary status," Lawrence recalled. "Thanks to Thor. Long may his legend soar."
Watch for announcements of a public celebration of life. The 50th Anniversary will be four concerts in November featuring Valdy, Shari Ulrich and Rick Scott, The Paperboys and Jim Byrnes. It will be hosted by Norman Foote.
**Please note that this story has been corrected and updated since it was first posted. We updated the information on the original number of COVID concerts. Dorte's former last name was Jensen, not Jansen. She also grew up in North Van, but taught in West Van. We updated the concert information when that was available.