For the love of history in Burnaby and beyond

This Burnaby-born amateur historian has many tales to tell.

By Dustin Godfrey | July 26, 2021 |7:45 pm

Once, before the Barnet Highway was doubled to 4 lanes, there was a motel to the north of Burnaby Mountain, marked along the road with a “snaking” neon arrow.

It’s an image amateur historian Eric Brighton has been scouring for—for sentimental reasons as much as historical—but still has yet to find. But he says there must be something out there, having seen archived TV footage of the sign.

“It had one of those old snaking arrow signs, the Inlet View Motel. And it goes back to the ’30s; I believe it was built right around 1930, and that blinking sign was an icon for anybody who ever drove the Barnet Highway from 1930 to around 2000,” Brighton says.

Born and raised in Burnaby, including in the Barnet area, where he recalls going to the Inlet View Motel, where the local post office was located, Brighton says he has dedicated countless hours of his time to dig through archives, not just in Burnaby but throughout BC.

Now living in the Kootenays, Brighton runs the immensely popular Lost Kootenays Facebook page, which has more than 50,000 likes—an impressive mark for a highly localized and niche topic.

In fact, the Facebook page is so popular it has gotten a book deal.

Brighton and fellow Lost Kootenays page administrator Greg Nesteroff, a former editor of the Nelson Star newspaper and administrator of the popular Kütne Reader blog, now have a 128-page book, titled Lost Kootenays: A History in Pictures, in the works, set to come out this fall, according to the Golden Star newspaper.

Brighton says he’s had a deep interest in history since long before he moved to the Kootenays, and even before he moved to Kamloops earlier.

‘History lessons everywhere we went’

His fascination with the past, he says, comes from his father.

“Everywhere we went, he pointed at something [and said], ‘That used to be this,’ or ‘after the war we built that.’ He was on all the major projects: the Deas Island tunnel [now the George Massey tunnel] and UBC and Simon Fraser and the Capilano Dam,” he says.

“So he just gave me history lessons everywhere we went, including the summer road trips to the Kootenays and such. And it just developed a passion in me for history.”

As a result, Brighton has made a passion out of foraging through archives for old pictures and the stories they once captured.

He’s also taken to substantially cleaning up the images found in the archives, taking from his experience as an amateur photographer.

“I spent countless hours cleaning and cropping our pics for maximum effect. I also do that with all my Facebook posts which separates me from everyone else in the history groups,” he says.

“It takes a lot of time and effort to run a page like Lost Kootenays. Just finding the pictures to post every day (5 to 10 separate posts a day) takes a lot of time every day. Then I take the extra time of cleaning/upgrading the pics. Then I have to research the pics. And then I put a post together which depending on the size of the post can take over an hour.”

That’s not to mention the moderation aspect—responding to private messages and keeping an eye on the comments of each post for unwanted content.

Burnaby Mountain, lake some local highlights

While he lives in the Kootenays now, Brighton still holds a fascination with the history of the town he grew up in.

“Of course, I’ve got the Bygones [of Burnaby] book my dad gave me about 30 years ago. … Unfortunately, there’s not a ton of historical Burnaby pictures. It came a little later. Hastings grew first and New Brighton and then Granville and all that. So it is quite limited, unfortunately, in the archives,” he says.

“And basically every picture that does exist in the archives I’ve already posted in the north Burnaby nostalgic group,” he adds, referring to the “if you grew up in north Burnaby” Facebook group.

Some of his favourites, he says, are old photos of Burnaby Mountain as the park was developed to include a university and the centennial pavilion and the Trans Mountain tank farm.

“That’s an old family haunt, and [it] tends to be really embedded in the Burnaby DNA, Burnaby Mountain,” he said. “And Burnaby Lake because that’s the birthplace of Burnaby, right? Some of the first homesteads right around Burnaby Lake there and some of the farms at the end of where Sperling Rd sort of hooks around the lake.”

As for whether he’s considering a book about the Lower Mainland, where his roots are?

“I have a couple of books in the fire. My passion—I’m really an amateur BC historian. I love old Victoria. I love old New Westminster. Obviously, I love my hometown of Burnaby. I love the Fraser Canyon and the gold rush,” he says.

“And I’m equally enamoured by the First Nations history as I am about the colonial history.”

A rich history in the Interior

But there’s a dearth of historical images of First Nations people in that region until the residential “school” system came into existence, he notes. This is particularly striking as the issue of Indigenous rights and acknowledgement of Indigenous history.

“It’s becoming more of a focal point, so a lot of people are reconsidering how they present this history, in a more thoughtful and inclusive manner,” he says.

Through Facebook, Brighton says, he’s been able to round out a number of stories with anecdotes from commenters on his posts. And that holds true with local First Nations history, particularly the Ktunaxa communities in the region.

In the Interior, Brighton points to a rich history around mining and resource development—especially silver in the Kootenays. And it shows in the images, and how they compare to the present day. Some towns have all but vanished—and some have vanished altogether—no longer having a copper mine or silver mine to support the local economy.

Other smaller communities might look like they haven’t grown one bit over the decades.

“Some of the cities are almost living ghost towns now. But you look at the pictures of them from the ’60s and ’50s, when the mine or mill was still going, and it’s much bigger—it had more population, lots of stores downtown,” Brighton says

“Trail is a classic example. It had The Bay, Sears, Eaton’s; all the major department stores were there because everybody made union wages at the mill.”

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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