An extraordinary woman: Barb Walker’s fascinating journey

Hard work, tragedy and multiple careers from Alberta to Mission to the Bulkley Valley

Barb Walker. (Submitted photo)

Barb Walker. (Submitted photo)

I‘ve known Barb Walker for many years as I worked with her sons Doug and Dan at Northwood back in the day. What I didn’t know about Barb Walker is she is quite a woman. First off, she is a survivor and she is not afraid to work to support herself and her family.

Barb was born in Calgary and lived in Water Valley, Alberta. Her family had the post office, a store, and a gas station.

When she was 14, the family sold and moved out to Mission, B.C. Barb quit school in Grade 10 and had to go to work. She got on with B.C. Tel in the magneto days of pulling the wires and plugging them into their correct connections.

She then met up with log truck driver Ted Walker and they proceeded to have three kids and settle down in Pemberton. Those were the days when there was no road to Squamish and you had to take the train to get to the big city. Barb’s husband was fishing out on Lillooet lake and drowned. The police were not able to locate his body.

So what now? Three kids, a rental house and no husband. This was not enough to slow down Barb. She applied to the post office and got the job delivering the mail up the valley each day. She was also able to deliver groceries around Pemberton and after dinner she washed dishes for the local restaurant. She had lots of help from the community, it was a caring town.

Within a few years, Barb got to know most of the people along the mail route and eventually met up with George Bikadi. George was a faller and they decided to go up north with some friends to build a barn at the Owen Lake Ranch.

The kids had to take the Bradina Mine bus each day to school. The bus arrived in town at 7 a.m. and the kids had to wait outside for an hour before school opened.

As winter was approaching it was time to get a permanent place and improve the school situation. They were able to purchase a property on Kerr Road in Quick and the kids could catch the school bus to Smithers.

Barb wasted no time and wrangled a job at Tyhee Lake during the construction of the park. Her boss did not particularly like women in the construction business. Can you make these concrete pillars he asked. Of course I can, said Barb and while in town for supplies she went over to Mound concrete for help.

Rex White gave her all the tips she needed and she proceeded to pour some pretty nice concrete. She was also responsible for the care and maintenance of six smaller park sites between Pinkut Lake and Seeley lake. Barb had many Indigenous kids working for her along with her daughter.

After 25 years, Barb and George had an amicable separation and they both went their separate ways. At the time, one of Barb’s supervisors thought she could use a change of pace and suggested she get her log scaling ticket and Barb said why not? A new career was hatched and after several years Barb became supervisor beating out several men for the position.

Barb’s real love was being in the bush. She had a keen interest in grizzly bears and spent a lot of time studying their patterns and habits. Along the way, she became aware of a very large mushroom patch and before you know it Barb was off into another career.

It was like a gold rush and was a very exciting and profitable time. Barb and her family set up shop in a pull-out up Highway 37 called “the zoo.” And it was just that, almost a free-for-all community with 500, sometimes 700 people scrambling around looking for the elusive buttons. Someone had set up a laundromat, a restaurant, and even a bar to accommodate these pickers.

Next in Barb’s life was prospecting and with her daughter Patty and son Doug they soon became quite successful at locating mineral showings. So successful that the ladies were nicknamed the “copper queens.” The family staked many claims and located several potential areas, a few of which they still retain to this day.

Barb has sold her property now and settled into her own unit at the Telkwa Senior Housing Complex. In the winter when she can’t get into the bush Barb has been painting her favourite subject, wildlife. She has even sold some of her creations.

“What now,?” I asked Barb.

“Well, four days camping and picking mushrooms this weekend and I think I will be able to keep at it for several years yet. I’m a good walker as my name implies and I feel in pretty good shape. I have had a fortunate life in this valley and do not see any reason to go anywhere else.”