Miner, trapper, fur trader, soldier, farmer, builder, father. Born Nov. 30, 1917, in Sandhof, East Prussia. Died Sept. 8, 2011, in Salmon Arm, B.C., of a stroke, aged 93.
Ernie Barz, born in war-ravaged East Prussia, liked to say he heard the guns of both world wars: first as an infant, then as a soldier in the Second World War.
His journey from a small German farming village north of Konigsberg to the Italian front during the Second World War is a story of adventure and accomplishment. After his father lost everything because of hyperinflation, the family lived in the densely populated Ruhr region before immigrating to British Columbia in 1927.
They lived in Armstrong, B.C., for a year, then moved to a homestead in the Salmon River Valley near Westwold, where Ernie learned the skills of the mountain men: tracking, fishing, trapping, building cabins and keeping one step ahead of the game warden.
In 1937, Ernie and his older brother, Art, went to the Yukon. They found work in the Klondike on the crew of gold dredge No. 4 of the Yukon Consolidated Gold Co. The following year, the “Barz brothers,” as they are still known by Gwichin elders, were flown into the remote Bonnet Plume region, where they set up a trapping camp.
With war raging in Europe, the Barz brothers constructed and ran Chappie’s Trading Post on the banks of the Bonnet Plume River on behalf of Dawson City fur trader Ernest (Chappie) Chapman. When Chappie died in a plane crash in January, 1941, while taking supplies into the trading post, the Barz brothers, grub running low, made a perilous late-winter journey through the mountains with their dog teams to Mayo, Yukon.
Forced from the fur business by the lack of pilots and planes to bring in supplies and take out fur because of the war, the Barz brothers left the Yukon in 1942 and settled in Salmon Arm, B.C. Two years later, Ernie joined the First Edmonton regiment of the Canadian Army. Soon he was on the Italian front dodging bullets and interpreting during the interrogation of German prisoners.
After the war, Ernie met his lifelong partner, Margaret Henschel. They married in 1946 and together built a poultry farm in Pitt Meadows, B.C., and raised four children: James, Donald, Tom and June. Besides running a neat-as-a-pin farm, Ernie took great pride in being one of the organizers of the B.C. Egg Marketing Board.
Throughout Ernie’s life, a saw or a trowel was never far from his hands; he built cabins, houses, barns, stone barbecues and furniture. He retired from farming in 1973, and spent his remaining years travelling and investing in real estate.
Like many fellow immigrants, Ernie was a builder who welcomed the opportunities he found in Canada. As part of his legacy to the country, many photographs the Barz brothers took in the Yukon can be found in the Ernie Barz fonds in the Yukon Archives.
Donald Barz is Ernie’s son.