CHRISTINE HINZMANN / PRINCE GEORGE CITIZEN
SEPTEMBER 1, 2017 11:13 PM
For one local volunteer, donating his time to outdoor activities comes second nature.
Since part of his forestry history saw him come face to face with a green-eyed cougar and waking up to a bear licking sardine oil off his face, a little hard work isn’t going to faze him.
Bjorn Norheim, volunteer for Huble Homestead Giscome Portage Heritage Society, has loved the outdoors all his life and even when he tried a desk job at work he had to ask the company to let him loose again because the call of the wild was just too loud to ignore.
Norheim has been on the board of directors for the Huble Homestead society for more than 15 years.
He found his way to volunteering for Huble through like-minded friends who were also members of the Sons of Norway lodge in Prince George.
For Norheim it’s all about the people and he said it was the staff and other volunteers of the society that drew him to volunteer and kept him coming back.
“We get along together really well and we do a lot of work,” said Norheim, 91, who likes to take people out to the Huble Homestead site. “I’m out there quite a bit and I like looking at things and I like the area and I like to roam around in the bush out there.”
Norheim came to Canada from Norway in 1951, having grown up in farming life. He arrived in Quebec and moved on to Ontario.
He bought a car and with wife Gwen in tow, drove out to B.C. in 1952.
“We took off across the prairies and I actually wrote a book and got some dandy pictures of the No. 1 Highway,” said Norheim.
From Viking to Canuck showcases Norheim’s outdoor adventures.
When Norheim came to Prince George he was hired his first day in town and sent out to the bush to work the day after.
He worked in forestry for three or four years, inventory cruising, and eventually made his way into surveying and road work and then took off to England for a year to be educated as a civil engineer, which came in handy later on, he said.
Norheim and Gwen, who have been married for 64 years, took a tour of the world from 1954 to 56 and came back to Prince George to work in the private sector before settling into a career spanning more than 30 years at Northwood Pulp.
During his life, Norheim had some rare experiences.
“I came back from a fire around 2 o’clock in the morning and fell asleep flat out on the bed,” Norheim said. “And oh my God, a black bear came walking in and I had just finished opening up a tin of sardines and finished that off and my mouth was full of sardine oil and what woke me up was the bear licking the sardine oil off my face.”
How did you survive that?
“It was quite easy,” Norheim said. “I woke up looking right into these two eyes and – uh oh, it’s a bear. So I let him finish and I got up and the bear just took off – it happened with a cougar, too.”
Norheim was at Cunningham Lake and sleeping in what he called a ‘coffin’ – a cot with a mosquito netting surrounding it – so that he could sleep outdoors by the shore.
“I could hear this noise – walking on the loose rocks – I thought ‘what the hell can that be? It’s an animal but I don’t know what it is’,” Norheim said. “So I finally turned around and there were two big paws right at the end of the netting. It was a cougar. I looked up and there was two nice green eyes. I don’t know why I did it but I jumped straight up out of this thing with netting all over me and the cougar turned around so fast he hit me in the face with his long tail and took off and I ran after it just for the hell of it.”
He’s happy to have lived to tell the tales.
Not only did Norheim volunteer with Huble Homestead, he put his time in with the Sons of Norway as they built a subdivision. Norheim laid the roads out and the lots because nobody else could do it back in those days, he said. That’s where the civil engineering education came in.
Norheim worked his way up the career ladder at Northwood.
“But then things got boring and I lost interest,” Norheim said. “So I told them to take the desk away, I want to go back into the bush and they let me do that for the last few years.”
During his career volunteering centered mostly around the Sons of Norway and as an avid cross-country skier he combined the two activities.
“I must’ve taken over 200 skiers from here over to Norway to ski,” Norheim said. “We had a lot of fun.”
Norheim is also a member of the Caledonia Ramblers hiking club and was recently honoured with a lifetime membership. He also has a lifetime membership at Huble but he insists on paying the fee to support the society.
Norheim is really interested in the Huble Homestead site itself and is happy to help out doing maintenance there whenever there is a need.
“And of course the Giscome Portage trail and that goes right from Huble to Summit Lake,” Norheim said. “We’re trying to keep that up.”
That is a cross-over volunteer duty from the Huble Homestead society to the Ramblers, who have taken over maintenance of the trail.
“Bjorn is just great and comes out and supports us during almost of all of our events,” Krystal Leason, operations manager at Huble Homestead/Giscome Portage Heritage Society, said. “You know how you have different board members you call on for different things? Bjorn has always been our point person on the Portage and that’s B.C. Parks trail. We just help promote the history and heritage of it and Bjorn has always been in charge of clearing it and he’s got a lot of folks at the Ramblers out helping do that. When we need strong limbs and a reliable person we call Bjorn.”
Now that he’s older, Norheim thinks there might be another way to go.
“When you’re in your nineties you should sit back with a cigar and a scotch,” Norheim laughed.
“So now I won’t ask Bjorn to come help at the work bee but if he shows up to supervise that’s a bonus,” Leason said with an answering smile.