Double or Nothing

The Flying Fur Buyer of Anahim Lake

Darcy Christensen

Life has always been a bit of a gamble for Darcy Christensen. Born in Ocean Falls in 1929, he was raised in Bella Coola Valley and Anahim Lake on the Chilcotin Plateau. The Christensen family were among the earliest white settlers on the Central Coast and West Chilcotin and his maternal grandfather, John Clayton, was the Hudson’s Bay Company’s last trading post factor in Bella Coola. For over thirty years Darcy ran the general store in Anahim Lake that had been operated by his family for more than a century. In the 1970s Christensen bought a plane and took some flying lessons. Using his bush plane equipped with skis he delivered groceries to people living in the outlying area and purchased furs from trappers as far north as Babine and Takla Lake. In no time, he gained acclaim as the “Flying Fur Buyer” of the Cariboo Chilcotin. Christensen says, “All anyone had to do was wave a mink pelt at me and I’d land and buy their fur.”

Whether it was playing poker as a youngster with the ranch hands on the Cless Pocket Ranch, doing stunts with his airplane, or flipping double or nothing with customers for a grocery order in his store, Darcy has always had a penchant for gambling. He says his jousts with Lady Luck helped break the boredom and monotony of life on the frontier. Double or Nothing is a journey into the West Chilcotin where Christensen describes his raw and adventurous life and his friendship and encounters with such legends as Pan Phillips, Lester Dorsey, Domas Squinas and Clayton Mack.

 

I was born in 1929 and I grew up in the 1930s, in Bella Coola and Anahim Lake. In the winter months we would stay in Bella Coola, where my older sisters Geraldine and Loy and I would go to school and my parents would run the local store.

All us kids had bicycles. The roads were gravel and seemed to be uphill or downhill, and the trails were even worse. I don’t know how many spills I had on my bike. Sometimes I would get going too fast down some trail and lose control and go flying off my bike in a crash. Sometimes I would try to slow down by braking and one foot would slip off a pedal and I’d land on the bar between the seat and the steering forks. I’m sure this would bring tears to the eyes of a Brahma bull. When we got a little older, a few of us kids would bicycle up the road about four miles to Thorsen Creek when the salmon were spawning. There would be so many fish in the river it would look like you could walk across the river on their backs.

When we weren’t in school, a group of us boys in Bella Coola would be climbing the mountain by the town, riding our bicycles, fishing oolichans with dip nets, or playing on the tide flats. There was always something interesting to keep us busy, and fighting was something we seldom had any interest in. One day a few of us were down on the tide flats loitering around, and I was lying on my back enjoying the sun with my coat half off when Mickey Rasmuson, a boy about my age, took advantage of my vulnerable position and pinned me down. For what reason he did this I was never able to determine. He then proceeded to punch my head and face. By the time I was able to break loose from him I was pretty well lumped up.

When I went home for supper that night I must have looked like I had smallpox. My parents were pretty interested in knowing what happened, but not a word was said about the incident. My dad was a hard-working businessman who firmly believed that kids were to be seen and not heard, and my mother never interfered with his directives. After many reprimands I had figured out at a very early age that rules were rules and not to be broken.

One day a few weeks later, a handful of us were out biking on one of the few roads in town when we ran into another group of locals coming in our direction. Mickey Rasmuson was in this group. Everyone knew that Mickey and I had something to settle. We got clear of our bikes, and with diplomacy out of the question, we went at it toe to toe. Two nine- or ten-year-olds may not raise a lot of dust or do a lot of physical damage to each other, but their adrenaline and emotions are at full peak. I had to vindicate myself from our former engagement, and he knew he had a licking coming to him. We fought as hard as we could for what seemed like an eternity. There was no wrestling to this match. It was strictly a punching fest—much too even a fight to suit me. I finally landed a haymaker on his right ear about the same time he gave me a good jab in the chest where I had bruised it in one of my bicycle mishaps. By this time we were both played out and damned glad to quit. Mickey said I had hit him on the ear that had been aching. The fight was pretty much of a draw. We both got favourable comments from the rest of the group, which did a lot for our egos. Mickey and I were pretty sociable to each other after that.

During the thirty years I worked as a journalist covering the news and happenings in the Chilcotin and Bella Coola Valley, there wasn’t a more colourful character in the region than former Anahim Lake store owner, Darcy Christensen. The front of his general store was emblazoned with a multicoloured mural of galloping horses, and above it were the words: “If we don’t have it; then you don’t need it.” Darcy was known far and wide as the “Flying Fur Buyer”, and if you were feeling lucky you could step inside the store and flip double or nothing with Darcy for anything in the store.

— The Green Gazette