In my five-year affiliation with the Squamish Historical Society, one thing I've noticed is that this community wears its history with pride.
Throughout that storied past, a good number of local paycheques were generated by the forestry industry. In the early years of the last century, a constantly expanding collection of felling and milling operations set up shop in Squamish. Back then Loggers Lane was a busy commercial thoroughfare to the waterfront. Cat Lake, one of our most venerable swimming holes, got its moniker from the Caterpillar tractors Merrill and Ring introduced to log the area. The DeBeck's Hill trail, a former logging road in Alice Lake Provincial Park, is named for Dennis DeBeck who set up a sawmill there. And every summer the renowned Squamish Days Loggers Sports Festival celebrates our forestry heritage.
Although major operations such as Empire Mills are long gone, remnants of the forestry trade are alive and well in the form of CRB Logging, Squamish Mills and other smaller companies.
Today the elder statesman of the industry is John Drenka, the proprietor of Squamish Mills, a company he founded in 1951 with Pat Brennan, an esteemed former Squamish mayor whose name is inscribed on various locations throughout town.
Since he arrived here in the late 1930s, Drenka has been a visionary entrepreneur and risk taker who brought the first grapple loader and the first steel spar into the valley. Long before heli-logging arrived, he took a chance on a contraption called the "sky hook," a log-hauling cable car spanning the Squamish River. Now in his mid 90s, JD (as he is affectionately known by his close associates) still drives his Jeep Grand Cherokee to work and holds court with considerable authority in a memorabilia-festooned corner office at his bustling compound on Pemberton Avenue.
But there is more to the man than commercial pursuits. If we were to undertake a forensic investigation, John Drenka's fingerprints would be all over an assortment of local and provincial organizations. He is a former president of the Truck Loggers Association of B.C., one of the founders of the Squamish Rotary Club and the master chef who launched the now-famous Rotary beef barbecue.
Along with Lloyd Ingraham and other community-minded individuals, he established the Squamish Valley Golf and Country Club and the Curling Club. He was instrumental in the development of Alice Lake Provincial Park and had a hand in breaking ground for the first municipal swimming pool in association with Dr. LaVerne Kindree and others. In the meantime, John and his wife Colleen raised seven children who have become productive members of the community and have established families of their own.
On Saturday, April 16, as part of our fifth anniversary celebrations, the Squamish Historical Society will pay tribute to John Drenka at the Sea to Sky Hotel. The event will offer residents an opportunity to share their recollections and anecdotes about a prolific chapter in Squamish history and one of the builders who helped shape it. Details about the event are available at www.squamishhistory.ca.