The Byrnes family moved to Maple Ridge when Brian was five years old. As an adult he owned Byrnes Garage on the Lougheed Highway at 272nd Street. He and his wife, Isabel, born to two pioneer families, the Rolleys and Fergusons, grew up near the mouth of Kanaka Creek. She collected arrowheads along the banks of the creek, developing a keen eye to distinguish worked stone from pebbles and a lifelong fascination with the lives of First Nations tool makers.
They owned a home on River Road, near Byrnes Garage, and shared an abiding interest in local archaeology, becoming members of the Archaeological Society of B.C. They participated in many explorations and digs, becoming experts on locations of earlier native settlements and tools. They became dedicated volunteers in the provincial archaeological warden system where wardens were assigned to particular territories to watch over and protect the sites there and to collect any items exposed by water action. The latter effort served the dual purpose of keeping the collections together and protecting the sites from collectors.
The Byrnes family left us a unique legacy. After Isabel died in 1997, Brian began to consider how his lifelong commitment to the history and well-being of Whonnock could be best served. The Community Heritage Commission (CHC) presented Brian with a Heritage Achievement Award in 2001. The Byrnes house was given a CHC plaque in 1999.
Brian died in September of 2003. His will left his house on River Road, the similar house next door, and the beautifully wooded property behind both houses to the Whonnock Community Association.
In an equally generous gift, he gave his unique and valuable collection of First Nations artifacts that he and Isabel had collected, or been given over the years, to the Maple Ridge Museum. This includes the remarkable Sue Klippert collection, acquired when she taught at Metlakatla in the late 1890’s. These beautiful pieces by some of BC’s premier First Nations artists were about to be sold by her family to an American collector to pay her funeral costs when Brian intervened and bought it to keep it in Canada.
Brian was a keen observer of many things, including the weather. He used a barograph part of his observing. It is a recording aneroid barometer, which is used to monitor pressure. It records changes on a rotating drum. The pointer in the barometer is replaced with a pen, which produces a paper or foil chart called a barogram that records the barometric pressure over time.
The late Victorian to early 20th century is generally considered to be the heyday of Barograph manufacture; many important refinements were made at this time, including improved temperature compensation and modification of the pen arm, to allow less weight to be applied to the paper, allowing better registration of small pressure changes.
First Nations Artifacts
Brian and Isabel were active collectors of ethnographic works including basketry, wood and argillite carving, soapstone and ivory. They supported modern First Nations artists as well.
Ivory copy of Amundson’s ship “the Maud” by Inuit carvers. Donated to Byrnes collection by Gladys O’Kelly, another Whonnock resident who gave several pieces to the “Byrnes Museum” on the understanding that it would all one day go to a larger museum.
Beautifully detailed chief’s rattle with thunderbird head, man, frog and beaver house on back with hawk design on the bottom. Rattlers inside are small blue beads. This was another item in the Sue Klippert collection that she acquired in the Prince Rupert area some time before 1900.