Website News

Here I will endeavour to provide you with articles from media coverage and other news of this website. You can find older news about Cassiar in the Archives section.

British Columbia Historical Federation gives Website Prize 2004 to this Cassiar website.

Full details at BCHF Award


"Loving memories live on for long-gone Cassiar"

Former residents of the northern B.C. asbestos mining town are planning a reunion with the help of modern technology.

Thursday 8 March 2001

by Daphne Bramham, dbramham@pacpress.southam.ca The Vancouver Sun


To an outsider, there wasn't much to recommend Cassiar, B.C.

Sure, it was in the rugged northern wilderness, which appeals to those who don't mind having just one road in and out of town, long, dark and cold winters and summers when the sun scarcely sets before it rises. But the town itself was uninspiring and, for visitors like me, the upwind pile of tailings from the underground asbestos mine was troubling.

Cassiar was not much more than two churches, a school, a post office, a curling rink, a small grocery and few other amenities. People lived according to their status. The managers lived in ranch-style houses with large lawns. Unionized employees lived in bungalows they rented for $30 a month. And if you'd just blown into town for one of the $70,000-a-year jobs in the mine, there were co-ed bunkhouses at the far edge of the town.

In July, 1992, Sun photographer Denise Howard and I spent a week there --the last week before the power was shut off, the houses relocated or bulldozed and the entire site emptied but for the slag heap (which has since been landscaped). Security guards were posted at the entrance to deter looters.

There were only about 150 people left -- mostly women packing up. Most men had already moved on to new jobs in other mining towns or to search for work.

The week was one long potluck supper in the community centre, where everyone gathered between bouts of packing. Women cooked turkeys they'd been saving in the freezer for a special event and defrosted sausage rolls. There were angel food cakes and tears.

One of the mementos I have is the Cassiar Country Cookbook, published in 1983 when the town still had a future and a population of 1,200. The cookbook was published so residents could buy more equipment for the new Jade Mountain Gymnastics Club.

The multicultural mix of recipes reflected the community's mix -- Grandma's borscht, Cumberland pie, Belgian cabbage stew, holopchi (cabbage rolls) and curry. The recipes are also a tribute to the creativity of cooks who dealt with the limitations of non-perishables and the realities of local produce. There are recipes for barbecued moose, sauteed grouse and French-Canadian stew that calls for 3 lbs. of beef, moose, caribou, pork or pheasant.

At the back, there's a buying guide for community dinners. Turkey dinner for 250? Start with seven turkeys, 75 lbs of squash, 10 bunches of celery and 44 pies.

Cassiar was that amorphous thing called a community. Community is a word that's been devalued of late as every lobby group adds it to its name. But Cassiar was a community in the old sense of fellowship and sharing. For better or worse, everybody knew everybody else. Everybody pitched in when needed. Everybody had a place and a sense of belonging.

It was that loss of community that Cassiarites (as they call themselves) mourned that week and still mourn.

After the townsite was bulldozed, Cassiar continued to exist in the hearts of those who lived there as an idea of what a community should be. So strong was this pull of community that for a while even I was briefly kept in the circle of displaced. For three or four years, I occasionally heard from a couple of the people as they continued to drift in search of a new community to replace the one they'd lost. Whether they found it, I've never heard.

But technology has allowed Cassiar to become a virtual community. It exists as www.armourtech.com/~cassiar, where people exchange addresses, thoughts, memories and photographs.

Not surprisingly, most of the postings are nostalgia-tinted snapshots of the good times. But small towns, all towns, have both good and bad.

In her clear-eyed posting on the Web site, Laurie Bremner remembers being told she couldn't play with some of the kids because her Dad wasn't a manager. She remembers learning early "don't eat the green snow". Green snow came from the asbestos dust in the air. She remembers hating spring because when it came, the snow melted and the layers of asbestos dust remained behind, slimy and slick.

Bremner recalls gossip, liquor flowing freely to teens, a nasty union fight and being sick every spring from allergies to dust and bee pollen. Yet she also recalls her heartache when she left Cassiar. "Cassiar was not my family or my home, it was my existence."

On the Web site, I ran into Patrick Ryan again. He was just 18 when I met him in 1992. With the town closing, Ryan was taking advantage of his dual citizenship and was on his way to U.S. Coast Guard boot camp.

Late last year, Ryan posted a message saying he's working at the coast guard station in Lake Tahoe, Nev., while his wife, Shelley, is still waiting to get her green card. Ryan also says he's looking forward to a Cassiar reunion this summer.

Webmaster Herb Daum says he wouldn't be surprised if as many as 1,000 people turn up to celebrate the town's 40 years.

It's a chance for the virtual community to once again be real, if only for a few days. Because there's little left at the Cassiar site other than a small magnesium mine that had a fire at the mill on Christmas Day, the reunion is being held at Silver Star Mountain near Vernon July 20-22.

Daum created the virtual community of Cassiar after his town was bulldozed and he hopes it might lead to some tangible things, like preparing kids growing up in resource towns for the possibility their towns will disappear. But he'd also like the provincial government to mark the place where his hometown once stood with a cairn or monument.

Daum, who was the first boy born in Cassiar -- in 1954 -- doesn't exactly know why people care so much about the town that's disappeared. Maybe, he says, it was because it was small and isolated. Maybe it was because in the early years there was no entertainment, except what people made for themselves. Maybe it was because with no telephones or TV, people had to talk to each other.

Maybe it's also that people were nicer to each other because they had to get along. Maybe it was safer because people knew their neighbours and there was no reason to lock the doors.

Daum doesn't think it's just nostalgia that colours their memories. All that he knows is that he can never show his daughter the house that he was born in, the school he went to or the places where he played. "That's what hurts like you wouldn't believe."

If you want to register for the reunion, go to the Cassiar Web site or call Herb Daum in Powell River at (604) 485-5504.


Live Telephone interview with CBC Radio Whitehorse

September 6, 2000. CBC Radio from Whitehorse, YT conducted a live telephone interview about the website and the reunion.

Video of Cassiar's final days available

Cassiarite Gordon Loverin produced a video tape of the closing days of Cassiar and has made it available.

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"Reviving a defunct town"

Powell River Peak, August 9, 2000, Page 4

A virtual community has sprung up on the Internet, helping residents of a town that no longer exists keep in touch.

Cassiar, which used to be located 550 kilometres north of Prince Rupert, disappeared when its asbestos mine closed in 1992. The mine had been operating since 1952.

Herb Daum, now a Powell River resident, has the distinction of being the first non-aboriginal child born in Cassiar, in 1954. He lived there until he moved to Powell River in 1983. Although another former Cassiar resident started the website, Daum took it over at the beginning of the year. "People moved away, often with the expectation they could return," he said. "I can't even take my daughter back to, show her where I grew up."

However, the website, www.angelfire.com/bc/Cassiar, helps to keep the town alive, if only virtually. Among many features, it has a guest book, message board, and photo album. It also has an archive section with newspaper articles. Daum hopes to expand this section in the near future with articles from the town's community newspaper.

"It's one way of keeping in touch," explained Daum. "It's allowed me to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances. It also allows me to keep connected to my roots."

He said the comments left by former residents after they have visited the site show how important it is in their lives.

The website is also being used to organize a reunion, planned for July 2001 in Kelowna.

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Live telephone interview with CBC Radio Vancouver

August 1, 2000. Susan MacNee, host of Radio Afternoon, Vancouver, BC, broadcast BC-wide, 4 pm

I was interviewed by telephone for a live radio show that was broadcast across BC on August 1, 2000 at 4 pm. The interview was about this website and upcoming reunion. I tape recorded the six minute interview and converted it to a computer file. The interview is in MP3 file format and is 2 Mb in size. To keep the file size to a minimum the recording quality was set to "radio quality" in "mono mode".

Windows Media Player or any other will play this file and perhaps your web browser will too.

CBC Radio Interview.mp3

Yes, not being accustomed to being interviewed, I was nervous and spend too much time on some things and didn't get say all I wanted to say. However Cassiarites heard the broadcast and phone me because of it so it was a good thing.

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"B.C. ghost town reborn on the Internet"

Former residents of Cassiar, nearly abandoned after its mine shut down in 1992, are converging on the virtual town's Web site to exchange photos, stories and addresses.
The Vancouver Sun, July 31, 2000, Page B4
By Chad Skelton

What was said

"When you move away from most places, you can come back and visit with friends. You can't do that with Cassiar."

Herb Daum

 

When the Cassiar asbestos mine shut down in 1992, it spelled the end of the company town in B.C.'s northern Interior. But while little is left in Cassiar except rolling fields, the town is thriving in the virtual reality of the world wide web.In the two years since it was set up, the town's Web site has drawn hundreds of former Cassiar residents, who have posted their memories of the town, donated pictures and reconnected with old neighbours they thought they'd never see again. The site has become so popular there is even a Cassiar reunion set for next summer.

In the Internet age, it seems, ghost towns never die.

Herb Daum worked in Cassiar's mine for seven years. He now runs his own computer consulting company, in Powell River and recently redesigned the Cassiar Web site, which was originally set up by resident Simone Rowlinson.

The site contains dozens of pictures of the town, both before and after the closure, an address book of close to 300 former Cassiar residents and copies of news articles from the early 1990s that reported on the mine's closure.

Every few days, Daum says, someone from Cassiar will stumble upon the site and e-mail him with profuse thanks.

"People are thrilled," Daum said. "When you move away from [most places], you can come back and visit friends. You can't do that with Cassiar.

. . . People had their roots yanked out from under them."

A virtual guest book on the Web site contains hundreds of trips down memory lane or neighbours keeping each other up to date on weddings, children and grandchildren

Former Cassiar residents have written in from as far away as Italy and Germany.

"I enjoyed all the fun we made for ourselves," writes one. "The ingenuity and downright badness of the ravens, the fishing, camping and cold swimming and the great dancing in the bar on Friday [or any] night.

"I left a bit part of me in Cassiar when I left," wrote another.

"I miss the great outdoors, the crisp crunchy dry snow, the mist rising over the white landscape, the ice crystals and so much more. Nowhere I have been has ever quite matched the beauty and feelings I experienced in Cassiar Country."

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"Ghost town's former residents reunite"

Isolation bred deep affection among Cassiarites
Edmonton Journal, July 30, 2000, Front Page!
By Ric Dolphin, Journal Staff Writer

Miss Ridley's Grade 1+2 class of 1962 taken from the Cassiar website

The asbestos mining town of Cassiar, BC., maybe dead but a new Website ensures it will live on in cyberspace. Herb Daum, 46, the first boy born in the lovely, isolated mountain town created by the Cassiar Asbestos Corporation on the British Columbia border southwest of Whitehorse, has built a sort of ghosttown.com on which Cassiarites from all over the world are sharing their memories and snapshots.

We don't know where everybody went," says Daum, a former electric shovel operator who is now a computer consultant in Powell River, B.C., " and that's the whole point of this Web site."

Cassiar, named for the Indian word "casha", meaning "fluffy rock," existed for four decades as a company town with a maximum population of 2, 500 and an accumulated 30,000 workers in the mine, the mill and the townsite.

Daum and other sentimental alumni are planning a reunion far next July, not in Cassiar, which was virtually demolished after its closure in 1992, but in Kelowna, B.C., where a disproportionate number of Cassiarites now reside. Daum's sister Christel Travnik, who lies in Devon with her husband, Daniel, a former mine worker, expects the reunion to attract hundreds of former townspeople drawn by an attraction that never ceases to amaze her.

"There's a bond among Cassiarites that is stronger than any bond I have ever known," says Travnik, whose German mother, Erna, ran The Snack Bar and was known as "Mother Daum." "Many people went there to make a quick buck, but many of them stayed because it was like a big close-knit family -- sort of like the theme song to Cheers, where everybody knows your name. The people you worked with were the people you danced with were the people you camped with. It was awesome."

Former residents like Travnik attribute the closeness to the isolation -- the closest town was Watson Lake, Yukon -- and the all-encompassing benevolence of the company, which provided housing, a hockey arena, movies in the community hall and a bar. It also provided isolation leaves, during which most residents would jet to somewhere warm and far away.

The lack of normal urban amenities, such as clothing stores and cinemas, encouraged locals to make their own fun. There were three hockey teams -- representing the mine, the mill and the townsite to -- and every winter the entire town would gather for the annual "Schmoo Days" festival with its outhouse races and "schmooing" - an event in which teams of half a dozen people on huge skies raced other teams similarly equipped.

"If that wasn't comical I don't know what would be," says Travnik, who just returned from a holiday to the coast on which she and her family visited a dozen Cassiarites along the way. She can hardly wait for next summer. "The reunion is going to be big and put that in capital letters, she says. "There are going to be Schmoo Day events there."

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"Cassiar Revisted"

Prince George This Week - Around Town - Sunday, July 23, 2000.
By Ken Fisher

When Suzanne LaBlanc moved to Prince George from Toronto five years ago, she never thought she would be interviewing the pioneers of B.C.'s last company town. LaBlanc, who teaches women's studies at UNBC, says she discovered boxes of materials sitting in the archives at the university. The university received 3,000 boxes of documents from the now defunct Cassiar Mining Company, effectively telling the story of the asbestos mine's rise and fall. "There were boxes sitting there, just waiting to be looked at," LaBlanc says. "I started looking through the boxes and just fell in love with Cassiar." She says the more she learned about the company and the town, which was created along with the mine in the early 1950s, the more she dug into the materials. "Eventually I realized it was a book that needed to be written and I wanted to be the one to write it," LaBlanc says. Since she started the project two years ago, she has interviewed close to 100 people who lived and worked in Cassiar during its hey-day. Those interviewed remember it quite fondly and love to talk about it, she says. "I'm kind of building a story beyond the archives." When she started the book project, LaBlanc says she thought she might get two groups of people - those who loved Cassiar and those who may have a grudge against the company. LaBlanc says she hasn't been contacted by the latter group. "It's mostly people who have good memories of living in a close knit community where the wages were good for men and women," she says. Anyone wishing to share their experiences with LaBlanc about Cassiar can call and leave a message at 964-9628. UNBC archivist Michael Taft and Co-op student Candace Gladu are attempting to catalogue the entire collection. "We don't know what's in the boxes, we don't have any good lists," he says. "Candace is going through each box and detailing what's in them and making a database." Taft says this will make the search easier for anyone interested in Cassiar materials. Both Taft and Gladu say the research has been a learning experience. Gladu, a psychology major at UNBC, says the best source of information, on the evolution of the mine and on the history of Cassiar itself, is the old newspapers. "If you're interested in the town or the whole area of asbestos and its environmental effect, we're coming across tones of material," Taft says.

Some of the material is relating to legal and medical aspects of the asbestos industry. When it was realized asbestos caused health problems, many people launched class action suites against the mines, Cassiar included. However, Taft says the asbestos at Cassiar was probably safer than most because it was long fibbers. The real problems came from short fiber material, he adds. "This was among the more safer and more modern mines," he notes. Taft says the interest in Cassiar stems from the fact it was the last of the company towns. The mining company owned and operated everything in town, including the hospital and the land on which the town was built. Cassiar is a phenomenon for one more reason. Even though a town doesn't exist there anymore, people still keep in touch with each other. They correspond via a virtual community on the Internet. Herb Daum, who was born and raised in Cassiar and now living in the Powell River, BC, operates a website (www.angelfire.com/bc/Cassiar) where people can converse. Daum says the reason people still relive the their days in Cassiar is because they can't go back. "I can't take my kid there and say 'this is where I grew up,' because there's no place to take her to," Daum says.

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"Cassiar lives on, gossiping over a virtual coffee pot"

Vancouver Province newspaper, Page A21, July 17, 2000
by Adrienne Tanner, Staff Reporter, Vancouver Province

    On a certain level, the town of Cassiar - mothballed when its asbestos mine closed in 1992, still exists. The enduring friendships formed in the isolated town 550 kilometres north of Prince Rupert are being nutured on the Internet in a virtual town. Instead of popping by for coffee, former neighbours, now scattered across North America, log on to a Cassiar website to swap family pictures, celebrate birthdays and mourn deaths.
    "Happy Birthday Brian Caron. Hope it's a good one!" writes Herb Daum. Daum, born and raised in Cassiar and a self-styled "pioneer," runs the website www.angelfire.com/bc/Cassiar.
    "Based on comments you see there this has become a really important part of their lives," he says. No one knows exactly what forged such tight bonds among Cassiar townsfolk, but isolation had a lot to do with it, says Daum, who now lives in Powell River: "We didn't get TV until the 1970's, and even then it was canned and three weeks old."
    Because it was such a young community - mining began in 1952 - people who moved to Cassiar came without family and looked to each other for support, says Michelle Strynadka, who lived in the town of 1,500 from 1987 through 1989. The website is now being used to help organize a giant reunion. Because there is nothing left of the town, the party will be in Kelowna next July.
    Organizer Kate Elhorn is hoping for a turnout of about 500. Details are posted on the Net, alongside the usual chitchat.
    John Alarie posted the latest: "Hi George, handsome picture! I hope you got 711 drill all fixed-up by now."

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This page was last edited Tuesday, May 12, 2015

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