Sooke's 'Elder Statesman' passes at 77
HOWARD ELDER – 1934 - 2011
A love of the forests and an appreciation of the great outdoors were paramount in the life of Howard Elder, sometimes called Sooke’s “Elder Statesman,” dead at 77. He flourished as a grandson of Camp Boss Ed Elder, kingpin of the area’s forest industry in the 1930s and 1940s. Howard grew up with his roots firmly set in a logging camp, attending the one-room school at camp, then moving on to Milne’s Landing High School. Grandfather Ed and his dad Dal Elder instilled in him the high expectations of his family.
Elder Logging operated for 30 years west of Sooke, chiefly in the Muir and Tugwell watersheds. Ed Elder with his sons Max and Dal ran the camp at top production. Max’s son Jack was the bookkeeper. They were known to reward a good day’s cut with a trip to the Sooke River Hotel. Elders’ well-muscled and skilled loggers earned quite a reputation.
In this period when All Sooke Day was in its heyday, the tug-of-war team competitions were a main attraction of the day, with the winning pullers heralded as local heroes. Photographs show the beaming faces of the husky loggers who worked for Elders, the All Sooke Day Cup proudly displayed, with little Howard as mascot, tucked within the burly arms of the fallers. As the area’s major employers, the family gave generous support to various sports teams, in particular the area’s softball teams that won several provincial championships.
After graduation from Milne’s Landing High School in a class of 10 in 1952, Howard earned a degree in Engineering at UBC, and married his high school sweetheart, Carol Chivers, who had graduated as an RN. Within a few years he was Manager of CANFOR’s Englewood division based at Woss Lake, one of the largest logging operation in the province at the time. This was a unique opportunity to work with a private industrial logging railway, and he was able to use some of the logging techniques and management skills learned in the family business. He was instrumental in saving the old-growth Douglas fir forest at Schoen Lake in the North Island.
As the two Elder youngsters, daughter Kymn and son Nyle grew to school age, Howard and Carol decided to move back to the home in Saseenos where the children could attend a local school. Switching to private consulting, Howard undertook several engineering contracts for Reid Collins; in particular he was involved with the log transportation aspects for a large hydro-electric project near Revelstoke.
In 1966, after the creation of the Capital Regional District, Howard Elder was approached by John Ede Martin, Sooke Electoral Area’s first Regional Director, and asked to allow his name to stand as director. Thus began Howard’s long political tenure. During his time in office, the first controls on local land use were formulated. He established the Sooke Electoral Area Parks and Recreation Commission, paving the way for a referendum to construct the Sooke Arena. He was on the Capital Regional Board when the 1,435 ha. East Sooke Park was established in 1970.
Howard’s reputation as an innovative engineer had begun to circulate around the province. He was approached by Rudy Johnson, a cattle rancher whose spread on the west side of the Fraser River near Williams Lake was connected only by the Soda Creek ferry to the stock yards at Williams Lake.
In 1968 Rudy Johnson purchased a redundant bridge in Alaska, dismantled and shipped the 3,000 pieces to his ranch, where he planned to restructure it across the Fraser River. Howard agreed to team up with him to tackle the unique challenge. Now 89, Rudy recalls that Ministry of Transportation officials said the job could not be done. He recalls that Howard would not take any money for supervising the engineering, structuring the 300 foot high rebuilt truss span across the river, but would only accept the hospitality of the ranch for visits with his family. The Rudy Johnson bridge became the only private toll bridge across the Fraser, and was incorporated into the provincial highways system 13 years later. Unique in the endeavour was his use of logging technology and a skyline system to sling the truss across the river.
After his fourth two-year term as regional director, he retired at the end of 1973. After that time, though no longer in an official capacity, he wielded a significant influence on the inner workings of the community, and was influential in the terms of most regional directors who came after him. During those years, Howard contributed his assistance to the Sooke Community Association, in particular with surveying work, and also contributed efforts to the Sooke Region Museum.
John Arnett, onetime publisher and editor of the Sooke Mirror, recalls Howard with these words, “A master politician who shunned the limelight – and the ultimate insider in Sooke politics for many years.”
Howard kept busy with various engineering projects and travelling with Carol as they found out-of-the way places to visit. He particularly enjoyed exploring old ruins and observing their engineering techniques. A great believer in undisturbed land, Howard continued to enjoy hiking nature trails. He and Carol particularly looked forward to their visits with their grandchildren until poor health began to rob him of the vitality and strength he had enjoyed.
Howard Elder passed away on Nov. 10. Pre-deceased by his sister JoAnn Lajeunesse in 2000, he leaves his wife Carol, daughter Kymn (Ray Robazza) of Campbell River, son Nyle (Marilyn) and grandchildren Brook, Rance, Teal and Ryan and niece Carrie and nephew Jay. No public service is planned at this time.
Historian, Sooke Region Museum