An overworked ranger who helped build community

Walter Wilson speaks to members of the Young Rangers Band at Pinkut Lake in 1941.

Walter Wilson, qualified mining engineer and prospector, came to Burns Lake as forest ranger. He used the building built by Carl Ostberg as a residence.

Wilson’s territory extended from Fraser Lake west to Perow and took in the whole Babine Lake area. During the winter, he covered it alone.

Wilson was active in community affairs. During hard times, he established forestry camps at lookouts and other locations – in part as a means of providing employment to those desperate for a little income. He was also a member of the local board of trade. It was his dream that the Alaska Highway would one day pass through Burns Lake, and he directed his efforts toward attaining the highway, envisioning early the impact that route would have on tourism in communities through which it passed.

Wilson and his wife were also instrumental in the establishment of the Burns Lake Public Library, but are best remembered for the role they played (along with Bill Saunders of Palling) in organizing the Young Rangers Band movement, a youth organization dedicated to forest stewardship. Membership in the organization was open to children between the ages of 10 and 16. Chief Daniel Leon was an honorary member.

Wilson retired as forest ranger in 1942, but in January 1945, took over as Burns Lake’s village clerk. It was a position he held until 1948 – though not entirely of his own volition.

Overworked and likely underpaid, Wilson longed to retire but couldn’t find anyone to replace him. His frustration is evident in this firm but polite note to the Unemployment Insurance Commission in 1947:

“I am a retired civil servant and am giving time I do not wish to spare in attending to the clerical work of this small and, at present, unimportant little village. I think I have done my part, but no one will accommodate by taking the job off of my hands. I am not registered with the Unemployment Insurance and all others employed are casual labour.”

Finally, on July 12, 1948, council persuaded W. G. White to accept the position of village clerk, and Walter’s resignation was accepted with regret. The former forest ranger, who had given so much to Burns Lake, left the village’s employ and the area. He died in Whiterock in 1964.

© 2018 Michael Riis-Christianson and the Lakes District Museum Society

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