Descendants of one of Revelstoke’s mot colourful characters, Ole “The Bear” Westerberg, gathered in Revelstoke this weekend for a family reunion that drew family members from across BC, Alberta and even across the world from Sweden.
As a salute to them, Revelstoke Museum & Archives Curator Cathy English has provided The Revelstoke Current with a short story about Ole The Bear.
Revelstoke has had its share of interesting characters, and “Ole the Bear” is one of the most memorable. He was born Andrew Rupert Westerlund in Vosterbottens, Sweden, May 8, 1879. He changed his surname to Westerberg and came to Canada in the late 1890s, settling first at Wetaskiwin, Alberta. In 1900, he set out for Vancouver by train, and met two miners who were on their way to placer mines in the Beg Bend. They were looking for men to help work their claims, so Andrew got off the train with them at Revelstoke and spent the rest of his life in this region. “Ole” was a common nickname for Scandinavians, and “the Bear” was acquired after many adventures in his long career as a mail-carrier, miner and trapper.
The Canadian Postal Service was looking for a contractor for the Big Bend region in 1914, and Ole secured the job. His contract was for a 140 mile return trip to French Creek at $45 per trip, with 15 trips per year. He was to make one trip per month from September to May, and two trips in each of June, July and August. Ole Westerberg continued his job as mail carrier to the Big Bend for 35 years, retiring when he was seventy years old. Once the Big Bend Highway was completed in 1940, his rate of pay went to $25 per trip.
On June 11, 1910, Ole Westerberg married Annie Kate Olson from Oslo, Norway at Vancouver. Her family lived in the Big Eddy and then in Galena Bay, and later established a homestead south of Revelstoke. Ole and Annie established a farm on what is now Westerberg Road and raised their seven children there.
There are several stories about how Andrew Rupert Westerberg came to be known as “Ole the Bear.” It could be that he simply had a reputation for hunting and trapping bears along his mail route. It is said that one year, he shot or trapped 36 bears. Another story involves a face to face encounter with a grizzly bear that ended with a dead bear and Ole continuing on his mail run. Still another story was told that he killed a bear with an axe. Whatever the reason, everyone agreed that the nickname was well deserved.
Andrew “Ole the Bear” Westerberg died in May of 1963, at the age of 84. His wife Annie died in 1947. Revelstoke Museum and Archives houses a pair of his skis and a pack saddle, as well as a copy of his mail contract, and a photograph of him on his skis.
Cathy English is Curator of the Revelstoke Museum & Archives