The railroad bridge over the Mamquam River in Brackendale was frequently uncrossable in the 1950s. Ellen Grant, a long-time Squamish resident, fondly remembers taking a canoe across the river to visit her grandfather, Harry Judd, one of the first settlers in the area.
Brackendale, located north of downtown Squamish, developed around transportation.
With the railroad came houses, Grant says.
Judd was a farmer who settled after adventuring to the land years prior. Other farms existed throughout the community.
“Some had chickens, or fruit trees or somebody had a cow,” says Grant, a former school teacher of 40 years.
“Everyone looked after themselves because when they relied on the boats to bring the supplies, it just wasn’t feasible.”
The core of Brackendale is self-reliance and a sense of community, Grant asserts.
“I have a great love for this area,” she said.
The Judd Farm still stands.
It was sold to a lifelong local resident who refused to tear the farmhouse down.
Grant too still lives in Brackendale.
The Brackendale Art Gallery and its owner, Thor Froslev, are the strongest anchors of the community, Grant says.
Froslev’s dream was always to have a gallery in the woods. In 1969, while having a slice of pumpkin pie, Froslev saw a property out the window on Government Road for sale and bought it.
“So here I am,” he says nonchalantly. “I built it all with anybody I could lay my sticky hands on.”
The result is all wood, intricate and creative.
Froslev first opened the Brackendale Art Gallery’s doors in 1973.
Now, it’s a Squamish centre for live music, artistic expression, and community events.
“Once I figured out what to do, I just kept doing it,” he says.
Though Squamish totalled 6,000 people when he moved to Brackendale and currently boasts 20,000, Froslev says everyone is still friendly.
It’s bustling but still small.
He says he still has good neighbours.
His neighbours include hotspots such as the Bean Brackendale Café, a daily local stomping ground not just for locals seeking coffee, but also for meetups and visits by people just checking out the busy community board.
Next door, Republic Bicycles is a go-to, with bikes for all abilities and staff ready to help with a quick repair so people can get back on the trails.
There’s also the Bee Hive Hair Salon where almost every customer outside gushes about the quality of care and service or “Tanya’s perfect cut”.
But, there’s not quite anything like the art gallery, or “the BAG” as Squamish residents call it. And it’s up for sale. Froslev is 85 years-old and ready to cross off a few things on his bucket list.
“The BAG is iconic,” says Mayor Patricia Heintzman. “It is the de-facto community centre of Brackendale and has been for almost 50 years now.”
It is part of the Squamish vernacular, she adds.
For Heintzman, the Eagle Run area of Brackendale along the Squamish River is also essential.
“Making sure we’re connected to the river and habitat and all that is associated with that, is really what Brackendale is,” she said.
In the early 90s, Squamish boasted the world-record count of eagles and is still home to one of North America’s largest gathering of wintering bald eagles.
The birds are visible all over town in the winter, though Eagle Run Park on Government Road in the heart of Brackendale is a prime viewing spot. Here, you’ll find a display of eagles and the lifecycle of their feed — the chum salmon.
A volunteer-run community initiative is stationed at Eagle Run Park every weekend during the peak season of November to January from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Trained volunteers are on hand to help people view the eagles and learn about the lifecycle of both eagles and salmon.
Eagle Run dike is accessible with a ramp at the south end, though it can be limited in winter months.
Heintzman says there will be a little more development coming to Brackendale in the future.
Much like in the days of the railroad, density will happen along highly travelled routes, she says.
But it will always have its Brackendale feel, she asserted.
“Brackendale has this neighborhood vibe to it and everyone has pride in it.”