Author Tags: Forts and Fur, Local History
With Sage Birchwater, Darcy Christensen tells his memoir of an adventurous life in the West Chilcotin, in Double or Nothing.
Double or Nothing: The Flying Fur Buyer of Anahim Lake, with Sage Birchwater. (Caitlin Press, 2010). 978-1-894759-47-2 : $24.95.
Double or Nothing: The Flying Fur Buyer of Anahim Lake
from Sage Birchwater
During the thirty years I worked as a journalist in the Chilcotin and Bella Coola Valley, there wasn’t a more colourful character in the region than Anahim Lake store owner D’Arcy Christensen.
The front of his general store was emblazoned with a multicoloured mural of galloping horses, and above it were the words: “If we don’t have it; then you don’t need it.”
When I first met him in the late 1970s, I owned a trapline in the Chilcotin south of Tatla Lake. I occasionally sold fur to him. During the winter months he was often away flying his bush plane equipped with skis buying fur and delivering groceries to people living in remote locations in a three hundred kilometre radius of Anahim Lake.
In those days, D’Arcy Christensen was known far and wide as the Flying Fur Buyer. Business was simple. “Anyone who’d wave a mink skin at me,” he says, “I’d land and buy their fur.”
Ten years after he sold his retail store in 2000 to a distant relative, Norm McLean, Christensen moved to Williams Lake and released his memoirs, Double or Nothing: The Flying Fur Buyer of Anahim Lake (Caitlin $24.95). There could be no other title.
D’Arcy liked to amuse himself in the store with his coin toss offer: a customer could bet him double or nothing for anything in the store, everything from a chocolate bar worth $1.48 to a whole grocery order worth several hundred dollars.
One day I got a call from The Vancouver Sun to drive up from Tatlayoko Valley to take a picture of D’Arcy flipping double or nothing for a beaver pelt with a customer in his store.
The photo was published in the June 30, 1986 edition of The Vancouver Sun, accompanied by a story by business columnist, Mike Grenby, who stated: “This store owner likes doing business by flipping a coin. He’ll play any game you can name for any amount you can count.”
D’Arcy told me later that wasn’t quite true. He said he was always careful not to gamble for any amount he could not afford to lose, and to scrutinize the character of those he entered into these games of chance with.
When D’arcy Christensen sold his store, the business had been in the family for more than 100 years.
His grandfather, Adolph Christensen, founded A.C. Christensen Ltd. in Bella Coola in 1898, shortly after he and his bride, Maret, arrived with the Norwegian colonists in 1894 via a circuitous route from Norway to Minnesota, then finally to B.C.
D’Arcy’s dad, Andy Christensen, bought the store from Adolph in the 1920s. A few years later, Andy and his wife, Dorothy Christensen, purchased the Cless Pocket Ranch near Anahim Lake, and opened a branch of the store there, as well.
In those days there was no road connecting Bella Coola Valley to the Chilcotin Plateau. In fact, there was no road linking Anahim Lake to the provincial highway grid either.
Andy transported all the goods for his store by steamship to Bella Coola, then by truck up the valley to the end of the road near Stuie, and used packhorses to ship the goods the rest of the way up the Precipice Trail to Anahim Lake.
D’Arcy grew up in the saddle making these overland jour-neys back and forth between Bella Coola and the Chilcotin Plateau with his family. During the winters he attended school in Bella Coola, and spent the summers on the family ranch near Anahim Lake.
On his mother’s side, D’Arcy’s grandfather, John Clayton, was also an entrepreneur. He was the last Hudson’s Bay Factor in Bella Coola. When the historic fur-trading company pulled up stakes on the Central Coast in the 1880s, John Clayton bought up the HBC assets and was the major landholder in the valley when the Norwegians arrived in 1894.
So D’Arcy’s roots go back to the earliest of colonial times in Bella Coola, and to the earliest European settlement of the West Chilcotin around Anahim Lake.
Penning his stories, D’Arcy scratched into the far reaches of his memory to dig up tales of notable characters he shared that isolated landscape with. Lestor and Mickey Dorsey, Pan Phillips, Fred Engebretson, Maddy Jack, Jane Lehman, Tommy Holte, Alfred Bryant and Thomas Squinas were all legends in their own right. They were also personal friends with whom D’Arcy milled lumber, ranched, trapped, gambled, and served in his store.
He says a strong motivation for writing his book was to preserve the unique stories, sayings and memories of the people he shared his life with in this rustic outpost region of B.C.
The cover photo of the book depicting six-year-old D’Arcy duded up with chaps, cowboy boots and hat, with a cigarette in his mouth, is bound to create some controversy. He says the cigarette was his mother’s idea to make the picture interesting. An avowed anti-smoker, D’Arcy makes a statement to that effect on the back cover.
And, yes, he will flip double or nothing for the $24.95 book. So far, he says, he’s breaking about even. 9781894759472