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Vern Wellburn, Cowichan historian, forest-artifact and car collector, has died at age 86

Cowichan historian, forestry-artifact and vintage-car buff Vern Wellburn has died at age 86.  - Courtesy: Wellburn family
Cowichan historian, forestry-artifact and vintage-car buff Vern Wellburn has died at age 86.
— image credit: Courtesy: Wellburn family

Vern Wellburn, Cowichan's well-known historian, forest-artifact and car collector, has died at age 86.

Wellburn passed away peacefully after a brief illness, his family said.

He is survived by his family, son Gerry, daughter Kathy, sister Lois, and his four grandchildren, Kate, Kit, Jenny and Malcolm.

"He as a good dad and very generous with family and friends," said son Gerry, who works for the Okanagan's Tolko (forest) Industries. "He did lots of favours for people, and took people under his wing."

Cumberland-born Wellburn moved to the Cowichan Valley in 1929 where he attended school.

He joined the army in 1944, and graduated from UBC in 1948 with degrees in forestry and engineering.

While at UBC, Wellburn met and married Frances Schofield.

They lived in various logging camps, including Vancouver Bay, Youbou, and Bear Creek where Wellburn worked for B.C. Forest Products.

They later moved to Vancouver, and in 1964 Wellburn became vice-president of forestry and logging for the Tahsis Company.

In 1972, he joined UBC's Faculty of Forestry as a special lecturer.

In 1975 he became the western vice-president of the Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada until retiring in 1990.

"Dad was very high-energy," Gerry said.

"He worked a lot and I have lots of memories of him and my grandfather going into the forest and dealing with logging people."

He explained how Wellburn brought some of his inventive ideas to life through FERIC.

"They tried to make a large balloon called the Cyclocrane, with engines on it.

"The idea was to float it to the top of a mountain and you'd hook logs on it and it would fall to the valley bottom or ocean and drop the logs off," said Gerry.

"The U.S. military built a 1 1/2-ton prototype for hauling supplies, but it was wrecked during a bad windstorm."

Wellburn married Pat Graham in 1992, and they retired to Duncan.

The couple had a wonderful time travelling, riding on vintage car tours, and walking their two dogs.

Wellburn was predeceased by Pat last month.

Wellburn was also a strong supporter of the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre.

To forest museum manager Vicki Holman, Wellburn's death is a blow to his family, the valley, and preservation of coastal forest history.

"Our collection started from machinery and equipment collected by Vern's father, Gerry.

"What we have here was in Gerry's backyard — Vern grew up with it, and they both donated items," she said.

"Our original locomotives and logging equipment was bought by the province, but after that Vern continued to be involved with the museum and helped look after the artifacts.

"He knew how to work on trucks 100 years old, and knew all about chainsaws since 1936."

Those saws grace the museum's new chainsaw exhibit.

"Vern was tenacious," said Holman.

"He got an idea and he went with it. He was real key motivator in this place and remained one of our strongest connections with the forest industry, including old timers."

She cited Wellburn's launch of a Monday-morning seniors group of volunteers — retired mechanics and carpenters — who work on the museum's old cars, buildings and other gear.

"Vern was always very humble, saying 'It's not because of me, it's because of us.'"

Wellburn served as a director for the forest museum, the B.C. Loggers’ Association, and the Pacific Logging Congress.

He was also a past-president of the B.C. Association of Professional Foresters, and an enthusiastic member of the Vintage Car Club of Canada.

A celebration of his life will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 26 at Duncan's Travelodge Silver Bridge Inn, 140 Trans-Canada Highway.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Wellburn's memory may be made to the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre, 2892 Drinkwater Rd, Duncan, B.C., V9L-6C2.

Online condolences may be offered here.

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