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About a 'gem' of a Squamish mountain biker

Wieger Oord on coming to Squamish in the early 70s, what has changed — and the meaning of life.

A neighbour of Squamish's Wieger Oord reached out to The Squamish Chief, suggesting we feature the Garibaldi Highlands senior. 

He is a "gem," the neighbour said, adding that he is always out mountain biking. 

A little bewildered and bemused, Oord agreed to an interview.

Opening the door to his bright, hand-crafted (by him) Kintyre Drive home, Oord has a bright smile and booming voice.

Fit and with a sparkle in his eye, the self-proclaimed extrovert chatted with The Squamish Chief in the home’s mostly-white sitting room that has wall-to-ceiling windows overlooking a clearly well-tended back garden.

What follows is an edited version of that conversation.

Where were you born, and where did you and your wife meet?

I was born in the Netherlands, close to the German border. My wife Inge is from Germany. She was on the other side of the border, a bicycle ride away. That is where we met. I moved to Canada and then two years later, she would join me here. We weren't married yet. We got married in Edmonton as soon as she arrived and then went back up to Inuvik.

Tell me about when you first came to Canada and Squamish.

I came to Squamish in May of 1973 to work for the railroad.

My first job in Canada, though, was in Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories, which had about 600 people.  I stayed there for a couple of years, and then I moved to Inuvik. 

I travelled to all the little communities to put in diesel power plants so they would get electricity. I did that for the first eight or nine years in Canada.

One time, I flew home to Inuvik from a job, and my wife and the oldest boy met me at the airport. My boy was all bitten by mosquitoes. So we decided at the time it was time to move. 

An engineer up north had told me about Squamish. He had worked in the area and said the fishing was fantastic. That put me in the mood that this should be a good place.

You must have seen so many new things coming from the Netherlands to Canada.

I had never been in an airplane before I came to Canada. 

And I flew from Amsterdam to Montreal; from Montreal to Winnipeg; from Winnipeg to Edmonton, from Edmonton to Inuvik, from Inuvik to Fort McPherson. 

For me, it was all adventure because that is what I wanted. 

I went up north to those little places because a friend of mine from my hometown was already working there. So, I met him in Fort McPherson. But a month later, he decided he wanted to move to Vancouver.

What was it like in Squamish when you first came?

I flew down for an interview, and it was raining, raining, raining. You could hardly see anything. We still had trestle bridges here then. 

I went back to Inuvik, and my wife said, "Well, how was Squamish?" And I said, "Well, it's just like Inuvik, except it doesn't have wooden sidewalks."

How long have you lived in this house? 

Since 1974. We liked it here, so we bought this lot. It was the first house to be built. Kintyre Drive was still gravel.

I built the house.

After working at the railway, I went to work at a sawmill. 

I worked graveyard at the sawmill, and in the daytime, I built this house.

We moved in, I think, in September or October of 1974.

There was not much here then. 

After we moved in, I changed jobs to Woodfibre [pulp mill], and I was there for 31 years.

I retired just before Woodfibre closed.

When you first moved to Squamish, was it hard to settle in? 

It took some time to know the people because many old families were here. Now I'm one of them because I know most of these old people. 

We never had really any problems with fitting into Squamish. It certainly was a different place than it is right now. I can tell you that.

You know, my second boy was born here in Squamish. The boys went to Garibaldi Highlands the first year it was open. We had this big dog, a lab, and he would just go with them to school and wait underneath the window till school was finished.

What do you make of all the changes to this town? 

I like to see progress. I like to see things grow. But I think Squamish is growing a bit fast. 

The whole community changed from a logging town to a tourist town.

Most of these houses out here have been built either by loggers, by people who worked in the sawmill, in the pulp mill, or by school teachers. Those were the people who would build the houses out here. And we have so many bike trails, too, because of the forest industry. 

And now, of course, the old houses are being bought up and remodelled and whatever.
 

I understand from your neighbour that you are quite a mountain biker. How did you get into that? 

When we first moved here, and my oldest boy was quite young, my wife and I would come home, and we would ride to Alice Lake on our bikes. It was the old highway through Brackendale up by the cemetery and up to the lake. People here would look at us like we were crazy, but we were used to biking back home. I always biked.

The first time I ever saw a mountain bike, a friend of mine, who has since passed away, came back from California with a mountain bike. 

"He came down here to my place to show me the bike and I said, "My God!" I thought it looked like the same kind of bike my dad used to ride to go get food during the war or something. 

But now, look what is happening. 

Now I am on my second ebike, and before that, I had other bikes.

Yesterday, I rode up to Elfin Lakes. I try to go at least twice a week. I take the trails up to Shannon Falls, go back to Starbucks and have some coffee with some of these old farts. Then I go back along the river and come back home or sometimes I can take Jack's Trail all the way up to Alice Lake and do some of the trails there. I have to stay in shape because pretty soon it will be ski season.

Do you see a lot of wildlife out riding? 

At Elfin Lakes, I actually ran into four bears: a mother bear with three cubs.

And you like to ski? 

Yes, up at Whistler. I got one of the super senior passes. I have always skied. When I came to Canada, in Inuvik, I was involved with a program for cross-country skiers — Territorial Experimental Ski Training Program (TEST).

The government was financing a program to get Indigenous kids into skiing.

That program actually produced two of the best cross-country skiers in Canada, Shirley and Sharon Firth.

 [The sisters were members of the Gwich’in First Nation and among the first Indigenous athletes to represent Canada at the 1968 Olympic Games.]

We had people from all over Europe come to ski and cross country and do the races. My wife used to be the interpreter for the German team.

I also played soccer. And I started with an indoor soccer league in Inuvik.

It is said that Squamish isn't an easy place to remain. We all keep choosing to stay. Why did you keep choosing to be here all these years? 

Probably because of the work and the lifestyle. We like the lifestyle. In the early days, we did a lot of cross-country skiing with the kids up to Diamond Head and up to Callaghan Valley. We would break trails. 

I think the school system was quite good here in Squamish, too. 

We came from Europe. Right after I was born, the war ended. And so, for us, education was very important. Very important. You can't take it for granted. And the more you know, the smarter you are.

We always thought Squamish was a good community to live in. We like the smaller type of community. 

Our friends in Vancouver used to say, "Why do you want to live in Squamish?" And now they all want to live here.

Squamish has a young demographic — lots of 30-somethings. What is your advice for them for a good life? 

Be active. Do the things you like to do when and don't be driven around everywhere. 

Squamish is a really good place to be. There are lots of things to do — we have already known that for a long time. But you have to keep it up. Take care of it.

That was all of my questions. Unless you can tell me the meaning of life? 

Be happy. Be healthy. Enjoy what you got.

**About a local is a regular column talking to an interesting Squamish resident. Have an idea for someone we should feature? Email jthuncher@squamishchief.com.