The Gray’s Homestead in Popkum, Bridal Falls BC
This homestead has seen four generations of the Gray family live off of and work the land.
The earliest records of Popkum go back to the mid 1800’s. The First Nations people, the Tait or “up River People” first lived in the area who appreciated the beauty and natural resources it provided while safely tucked beneath the shadow of Mount Cheam.
Popkum was named by the First Nation’s people after the funny dust ball-like plants that grew here. When you stepped on them, they gave off a cloud of dust into the air. You rarely see them anymore.
My Grandfather, John Alexander Gray or “Pop Gray” came West in 1848 as a water boy on the C.P.R. Railway. He was just 20 at the time, moving throughout the Kootenay’s building several hotels, panning for gold on the Fraser River and working on the BC Electric line from New Westminster to Chilliwack.
In 1878 Pop Gray homesteaded in the Popkum area at the “south end” of Gray Road, which now bares our family name. He married Susannah Horton and soon after my father, William (Lawrence) Gray, was born. At the time, the snow was too deep to take Grandma to the hospital so he was born right here on the farm.
Once grown, for a short while Dad left the farm working the booms in Powell River where he met my mother Ruby Nordtvedt. Pop Gray asked them to return and work on the farm where they built their home of which they still live in today.
In 1956, the farm changed from milk cows to white-faced Hereford ranch-style farming when my Dad decided to start a sawmill on the land. The Gray Sawmill was created and it became a family affair with my Mom taking care of the phone orders and other areas wherever she could help out.
When the mill was running full time, my Dad had a crew of two. He would get the trees, fall them, and skid them down. You can see the equipment shop still there, but the mill was taken down a few years ago when he felt it was unsafe for guests to be around.
Over 39 years ago our neighbour, Harry Cameron, decided to sell his upper farm acreage to my parents, which is now the land the Bridal Falls golf course sits on. My folks had that land for years. Highway #1 had been built years before, splitting the original Gray Road and cutting us off from Yale road. We then used the highway to get to Chilliwack. The home gas station/restaurant was also built at the time of highway #1 first coming through. Later when the overpass for exit 135 was built, the gas station was gone and our lower fields were cut in half by the now Bridal Falls road, making two parcels of land out of the lower acreage.
I remember back when our driveway was 2 miles long before the changes. We decided to run cattle on the lower piece and also rented pasture to local farmers.
When the land was sold to develop the golf course in 1992, much of it had been cleared as a family project by then with the assistance of hiring the big rigs from the highway builders to help clear the larger trees and stumps.
Over the years, the sawmill kept us self-sufficient. We had a sawdust hopper-style furnace running on both wood and sawdust. One of my jobs was to pack four big oil cans to the basement every night, filling from the sawdust bay in back of the garage. My Dad put in a gravitational lift water system as well as a dam, which used gravity to keep the pressure going for our water . . . we never had to worry if the power went out as we still had running water!
The homestead used sustainable forestry practices and continues to do so today to keep the trees healthy and lush. We now have a well system that gives us the same fresh water we had from the creek, but with a lot less maintenance and work.
In the early days there was a Bridal Falls post office and store. I can remember it as a kid . . . it was a pretty place, but now the mail is routed in Rosedale.
The now Bridal Veil Falls Park was bought from Skipper and when he left, he let his deer population go, thus the reason why we have so many deer around here now. We often see them hide their fawns up behind my shed in the late spring.
The deer come and go along with the bears. Raccoons are here most of the time along with the wild cat and cougars, but they just move through and don’t stay around.
The acreage sits at the foot of the mountain and remains rich with birds and wildlife. The whole area is a great place to stop and take in the natural beauty of the Bridal Falls recreational area. Mount Cheam looms directly over us and facilitates a launch area for the paragliders directly above where guests can watch them literally glide over the house.
The Bed and Breakfast Home
We built this house from the trees and lumber milled right here on the homestead. Dad cut and felled the trees, then skidded them down to the mill. It was a labour of love for sure. We all took part in the building right to cutting the shakes for the roof. I first occupied the house in 1968 where the biggest thrill was having running cold water, which meant no more packing water!
Using many skills learned from my parents, over the years we have gradually added on to this house with the newest addition being the bed and breakfast.
My son’s Tim & Nick continue to get the place into shape and are currently creating some walking trails for our guests to enjoy. Here on the mountain, it’s amazing how fast the underbrush tries to grow back.
On a more personal note, I’m proud to say I’m a breast cancer survivor. Throughout the treatments and surgeries we stayed open, thanks in part to my sons and Mother who did the harder work operations of the B & B, while I focused on the enjoyment of my guest who came from all over the world.
With this new outlook on life, it is my desire to continue to create a green and sustainable B & B. I pride in presenting healthy food choices for my guests and continually find ways to make their stay a comfortable one. From hiking to lovingly preparing home-cooked food, I want to offer our guests the same family atmosphere that I have enjoyed all these years from this love-filled homestead we live on. I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing!