Canada's 150th: Harley Hatfield

Harley Hatfield is pictured outdoors on one of the many Okanagan trails he explored and helped restore.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In recognition of Canada's 150th birthday The Herald is publishing historical local stories from our archives. For the next several weeks we are republishing stories on prominent residents from our area.

He was an agile, tireless explorer with a humble manner and sharp mind. Throughout his 94 years, Penticton pioneer Harley Robert Hatfield was distinguished for his contributions to Scouting, trail mapping, engineering, municipal politics and historic preservation.

Friends describe him as a soft-spoken but extremely vigorous gentleman who — even in his 70s and early 80s — enjoyed long cross-country hikes in search of lost transportation trails between the B.C. interior and the coast.

He was also a driving force behind the local Scouting movement, having been involved in the formation of the First Penticton Scouts just six years after the birth of the scouting movement.

But while Harley Hatfield set a remarkable example as someone who did work for its own worth, you needn’t do more than turn on a tap or flush a toilet to realize the legacy he left Penticton.

“Harley was very quiet to the point where it was almost difficult to hear,” says longtime friend Randy Manuel. “He always had a pipe in his mouth.

“He looked malnourished . . . but he was wiry.

“Walking down the street, he would always doff his hat to a lady. I never saw him get angry or swear, even when he dropped an axe on his foot.”

In the late 1960s Hatfield began, with help from some history-minded friends, to trace century old Hudson’s Bay Fur Brigade trails: one from Hope to Tulameen, the other through the Okanagan Valley.

While preparing for field work he combed the Provincial Archives for maps, reports and other information. And later in 1973, he gained access to the Hudson’s Bay Company library in London.

In 1971, Hatfield led a troop of Venture Scouts on an eight-day, 96-kilometre hike from Tulameen to Hope along with his friend Eric Jacobson of Princeton. They discovered old blazes, carved new ones on trees and placed aluminum markers at select locations.

Such trips were repeated often in the following years with similar volunteers and study groups.

The hike was never easy, nor was it for the tenderfoot. The trail was rough, and steep and uneven. In late August, the snowbanks lie on the high points, some above 1800 metres. Hikers had to pack bedrolls, food and extra clothing. A bath in the snow-water filled Palmer Lake took courage or sheer lunacy friends recall.

One late August, Hatfield was on a trip with Eric Jacobson when overnight it turned very cold, rained and then froze everything in sight.

“Harley got up to start a campfire and the ax bounced off the log and went into the top of his foot,” said Randy Manuel. “And they had a day-and-a-half to pack out on horse before they could get to the end of the road to get fixed. And the next year, he was back hiking again. But he had somebody else chop the wood.”

Born in St. John, N.B. in 1905, Hatfield moved with his parents to Summerland as a toddler, and then in 1909, 29 kilometres south, where his father helped other pioneers establish the community of Kaleden.

Hatfield attended Penticton Secondary School where he was active in sports and was editor of the high school annual.

“One should get from High School: character, enthusiasm, the power to co-operate, the power to think independently, the power to concentrate,” Hatfield wrote in a letter to his alma mater in 1927.

“So long as our teachers set the example in character, take a live interest in literary and athletic activities, help the students in these lines without taking too much initiative from them, and allow and encourage real thought, whether orthodox or not; so long as the students listen to their teachers with a keen interest in class and out, do literary work for its own worth and the pleasure it gives them, play games sincerely and fairly, work and think with energy, our school will continue to be strong.”

Hatfield embraced his own advice throughout life and served as mentor for colleagues, friends and family.

Son Peter said his father was an “unassuming doer who led by example and provided quiet words of direction, enthusiasm and courage.”

After graduating from Penticton High School, Hatfield attended UBC where he majored in history and earned a Bachelor or Arts degree in 1928.

During summers, Harley found employment in highway construction through the Fraser Canyon between Hope and Spence’s Bridge. Heavy rock work around Boston Bar required much engineering attention which piqued Hatfield’s curiosity and got him thinking about further education

Meanwhile, he helped his father, Seaman Hatfield, start Interior Contracting Company in Penticton which left him with little spare time.

Still, he squeezed a wedding into his busy schedule and married Edith ‘Toddy’ White Tisdall in 1932. The couple had four children.

In 1940, Harley enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force at Toronto but was soon transferred to the Royal Canadian Engineers at Petawawa, Ont. and from there to serve as Assistant Camp Engineer at Barrie Field and Vimy, Ont. A later promotion brought him back to B.C. as Camp Engineer in Chilliwack.

Released from the Royal Canadian Engineers in October 1945, Harley returned to the family contracting business and, in 1948, after necessary exams, became a Registered Professional Engineer in the Province of British Columbia.


According to the archival writings by Eric D. Sismey, Hatfield helped design and supervise the construction of the irrigation dams in the hills above Summerland, Penticton, Winfield and Glenmore. He also worked on sewer design and construction at Penticton, Kelowna, Enderby and Vernon. He worked on the realignment and dyking of the Okanagan River channel to allow reclamation of marsh lands between Okanagan Falls and Vaseaux Lake. He was also engineer for mining development in the Lardeau and Nickel Plate mine above Hedley and on a Fraser River bridge.

Canadian Pacific Railway and the Great Northern at Keremeos consulted Hatfield for improvements to right of way and to eliminate dangers of rock and earth slides. He also worked on the placement of footings for Trans-Canada Microwave towers for the North West Telephone Company. Even after retirement, Hatfield was frequently called upon as a consultant.

In the 1950s Hatfield became one of the founding members of the Okanagan Similkameen Parks Society (OSPS). He was also a director, writer, and eventually, Honourary Life Member of the Okanagan Historical Society, and an active member of the Wilderness Advisory Committee.


His efforts to restore both the Hudson’s Bay Company and Okanagan Brigade Trails were rewarded with the naming of Mount Hatfield, in his honour, in the late 1960s, and a Heritage Canada Foundation Award in 1981.

Mount Hatfield is the 2,227-metre summit on Manson Ridge of the Hozameen Range east of Hope. Looking west from the Campement des Chevreuil on the Hope to Tulameen trail, Mount Hatfield’s pointy tip is prominent in the spectacular coastal mountains.

As a founding member of Apex Alpine ski area, Hatfield did considerable work there, including installing a Poma lift and building a road.

“Harley was so quiet, shy and religious about the thing, that he may have contributed a lot more to the Apex than he did but he just doesn’t say so,” said Manuel. “He was a very strong supporter of the Anglican Church.”

Hatfield also served as a director of the Engineering Institute of Canada (1961 to 1971). Always interested in civic affairs, Hatfield served as Penticton city alderman from 1965 to 1968 and also as an executive member of the Similkameen Regional District (1965 to 1969). He served on the local school board from 1968 to 1970, as a member of the Penticton Board of Trade, and in various capacities with the Boy Scouts.

In addition to earning the Scouting Medal of Merit in 1967, Hatfield, who joined the Scout movement in 1913, was presented with the Silver Acorn award in 1995 for 81 years of distinguished service to Scouting.

“The Scout camp I went to was in Okanagan Falls, but it was the First Penticton Troop,” Hatfield told the Herald in 1995.

“It was the thing to do for active boys.”

His three sons, John, Peter and Chris, all belonged to the First Penticton Scouts.

From 1967 through the 1970s, Hatfield involved the Scouts and Venturers in his trail exploration, in particular, a seven-day backpacking trip through the Cascade Wilderness.

“We had some very good trips over it,” he recalled in 1995. “We were exploring, marking and clearing the Hudson’s Bay Brigade Trail, with some help from the provincial parks branch.

“We had two summits to go over and we were usually a day or two from any road.”

Hatfield remained active, mentally alert and in good health until a few weeks before he died Feb. 14, 2000, two weeks short of his 95th birthday. His wife Edith predeceased him in 1984.