The Cowichan Lake area lost one of its most esteemed historians last week, with the death of long-time resident Barry Volkers.
“Barry, in one word, was a gentleman,” Kaatza Station Museum curator Barbara Simkins said. “He was very polite, of the old school, and always had a nice word for everyone.”
Barry had started work at the Western Forest Industries sawmill in Honeymoon Bay in 1951, after moving to Canada from Holland at the age of 28.
Upon the mill’s closure in 1981, Barry retired, dedicating a greater portion of his time toward volunteering with the Kaatza Historical Society, where he had been involved since its inception in 1975.
“He had a true love of history – particularly the Cowichan Valley history,” Simkins said.
Although Barry helped build and maintain the museum’s buildings, his main contribution to the museum has been its archives, which he started with fellow archivist Trevor Green.
“It was one little room, and it has grown into three rooms of archival material, and he’s responsible for it,” Simkins said. “He just did an amazing amount of things.”
His work in the museum’s archives was inspired, at least in part, by Barry’s strong distaste of seeing things thrown away, Simkins said. There was more than one occasion when spontaneous road trips took place in order to save items from garbage dumps.
“I remember one time he came flying into the museum saying that they were tearing down a building that housed company records and he had to get them out right away. He had found someone with a truck and off they went on their rescue mission. This type of thing happened on a regular basis with Barry. He was passionate about our history,” Simkins wrote, on the museum’s website.
Barry also helped establish the Heritage Advisory Committee, was president of the Kaatza Historical Society for a period of time in the ‘80s, and was part of the now defunct Cowichan Valley Eco-Museum.
Former mayor of Lake Cowichan and current Kaatza Station Museum volunteer Don Gordon worked with Barry at the Honeymoon Bay sawmill, until it closed in 1981.
“Without him, I don’t know what we’ll do,” Don said, of the Kaatza Sation Museum’s team of volunteers and staff.
“He was so dedicated to the museum, and heritage in our town. He will be missed,” Kaatza Historical Society’s current president Pat Foster said.
One highlight in Barry’s list of Cowichan Lake community accomplishments came about in 2008, when he received the key to the city, becoming a freeman of the town.
With only two people before him having received such recognition, including Archie Greenwell and Tom Gordon, Don said that it goes to show what high esteem the Cowichan Lake community bestowed upon Barry.
“That is an honour that is rarely bestowed,” Don said.
Other awards Barry received over the years included a BC Heritage Award, the Nichole Stock Memorial Award for Community Service, the TimberWest Regional Heritage Award, and in 2009 he was recognized by the BC Museum’s Association with the prestigious Golden Anniversary Service Award.
In a short autobiography Barry prepared, he noted many things have changed over the years, in the Cowichan Lake area. Whereas he used to know everyone in the area, now, there are mostly retired people. There has also been a lot of development.
“There was a time when there wasn’t a road to Honeymoon Bay, only a trail,” he wrote. “Charlie March, who was a pioneer farmer at Honeymoon Bay, used to bring his cows in to Lake Cowichan on a row boat. Things have changed since then!”
A memorial service for Barry will be held on Friday, February 4, at 2 p.m. in the Lake Cowichan United Church, where Barry and his wife Lou, of 58 years, were both members.