A Brackendale fairytale 

The House that Thor Built

click to enlarge Thor Froslev
  • Thor Froslev

Eyes? Eyes blink and cloud over. You can't trust an eye. No, they lie like truants.
If you need a proper window into a man's soul, look no further than his beard. Whether on the chins of the highborn or the cheeks of a hobo, a beard tells you some crucial things about a guy. Could be he's a dishevelled mess, heavy with scum and bane, not to be trusted, a burden when not a thief. Or could be he's a distinguished rogue, wound with pith and pert, to be admired, a doer when not a thinker.
Or could be neither. But, if he were either, Thor Froslev would be the latter. The great Dane has a beard that sort of imposes itself, especially when sprouting from the gentle dark cast by a hooded jacket. It's thick and grey on the chin, his beard, thins out on the jaw line. Above the upper lip is a swath of moustache parted in the middle, with either side swept away from the mouth - all the better to talk through, you know?
And Froslev likes to talk, which adds up. You don't wind up nestled in such a castle as the Brackendale Art Gallery (BAG) without chatting up a few friends. And it's not just an art gallery. That would be too simple, too inside the box. Rather, BAG is a theatre; it's a coffee shop and meeting place; it's art school and gallery; it's a home; it's an open mic, eagle sanctuary and store.
And Froslev? He's a local icon, famous - or infamous - for his activism, for his love of eagles and his passion for creativity. Jesus gets a lot of press, but Froslev has fared pretty well, especially for a mere mortal.
Of course, there was a time when BAG was just an empty lot. And there was a time when Froslev was just a frustrated Dane making his way to Canada. That was in the '50s.
"I didn't want to be in Europe," says Froslev through his beard, feet kicked up on a table covered in materials that will soon be bound in a book telling his long story. "I wanted to get out. There's too much red tape and class distinction. If you're a labourer, you stay a labourer for the rest of your life."
Not one for fatalism, he fared across the sea and settled in Vancouver, his wife and child joining him a few months later. Though educated in the art of Danish furniture, he found employment as a bricklayer, as a landscaper, whatever it took.
"I had a family to feed," he says.
In the '60s, he hung out in Gastown, soaked himself in the arts scene, which he remembers none too fondly.
"If you're a musician, there's only a couple coffee houses you could play. And if you're a painter, the Vancouver scene might not be ready for your style of painting. And if you're an actor, there's very few places you can get on stage. And if you're a writer? You can kiss it goodbye."
Can you say white flag? Froslev can't, probably couldn't wave one even if he could pronounce it.
As the '60s wore out there welcome, his wife was afflicted with a kidney problem. She returned to Denmark, the offspring in tow. Tragically, she died there, leaving her husband to wander out from the shadow of his dreams.
From there comes the oft-told story of BAG's genesis. The details escape his lips with the precision of habit; this is legend, and Froslev revels in the telling.
An avid fly fisher, he made his way to Dragon Lake in 1968. He was with Jack Rundel, who started B.C. Fish and Game Magazine. Also casting out were Jim Killburn and Chernenkof. By this point, the Dane already had vivid visions of BAG, was already set on the place.
So Froslev turned to Rundel, and he said: "Where should I put this dream of mine?"
And Rundel replied: "It doesn't matter where you put it, Thor. As long as you do a good job, they'll find you."
Not long after, he was fishing again, this time with a friend named Gary Weir. He turned to Weir and asked him about his dream: Where should it go? When should it be? Weir told him to quit being so ponderous and get busy. Time, after all, is forever of the essence.
As it happens, that kick in the ass happened at the confluence of the Cheakamus and Squamish Rivers. Later, over pie at Boomer's Alpine Café and Service Station, which was once established in Brackendale, Froslev saw a sign across the street announcing the sale of a half-acre land parcel.
So it was, and so it is. To hell with Gastown.
"I had this gut feeling," says Froslev. "This is what I wanted to do. This is what I wanted to do." He peers through the rims of his glasses, down the cut of his nose. "Everything I've ever had, I put into this. Forty years I put into this."
And "this" is pretty impressive. "This" has been the seat of more than one activist effort. Just ask the people at the Brackendale Airport. They may respect Froslev, but you can bet he pisses them off much more often than not.
"How rude," he's said more than once, "to ask your neighbours to live with an airport."
Sometimes, it takes a sword to sharpen a sword. You can't always be throwing rocks at a blade and expecting results - even if you get sparks. So, in the '70s, Froslev ran for council. It didn't stick, and the reason is pretty telling.
"Politics is not my forte," he says. "Compromise, compromise, compromise. No one knows what they stand for."
Another time, with BAG as their bosom, a band of rabble rousers blocked off the highway with naught but their bodies. It was the early '80s, and flooding was a problem.
"When you've been down helping a friend find and remove books and a piano from three feet of water in the basement, your involvement in dyking becomes totally different."
Love him or hate him, Froslev is a fairy tale character, and BAG is his fantastical palace. He lives there with his wife, Dorte, she of the art schools. They live with dogs, among plants, always knee deep in one project or another, occasionally taking a break to watch The Godfather or Laurence of Arabia.
Consider the bells. Froslev loves bells, makes them in the BAG workshop, calls the whole thing a cottage industry. That may sound eclectic, but it's actually pretty standard for someone who once dabbled in amateur taxidermy.
"There's something about bells that puts me at ease," he says. "It calms me. There are other people out there. You're not by yourself."
It's unlikely Froslev will ever be alone. Proof enough is this time of year, when the Brackendale Winter Eagle Festival and Count is in full swing and BAG is steady bustling. To think, the whole thing got started because he lured some provincial counters into his expansive digs 23 years ago. Now, the festival is a tapestry of education, entertainment and activism.
But that's what it's all about. First, you build a fire; then, you stoke it. When you're ready to go to bed, the room better be warm.
"Actually," he says, grinning through that thick beard of his, "what you want to do with your life is make a difference. When you leave a place, you make it better."

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