A wheel in time

Several people have seen the old wagon wheel and want to dig it out before it is buried again

Larry Herr wants to recover an old wagon

A Mission man wants to excavate what appears to be a pioneer wagon discovered in the reservoir bed beneath the Stave Falls Powerhouse, but BC Hydro says that would require obtaining proper permits.

Larry Herr stumbled across two old, weathered wagon wheels sticking out of the sand, which would ordinarily be underwater except that levels have been drawn down by Hydro for the Ruskin Dam upgrades.

Herr said he was using a metal detector he received as a Father’s Day present from his daughters when he came across the wagon. He began digging it out but was told to leave by Hydro security guards.

Although there’s no idea just what’s buried below the sand, two nearly six-foot wheels are visible in the hole that has been dug by various passersby.

Since the discovery, Herr has spoken to a number of people who have also seen the wheel, but were also escorted away by security.

“I don’t know why Hydro just wants to leave it there. It’s a piece of history that would do so well up in the museum,” he said, referring to the Powerhouse at Stave Falls nearby.

Wesley Cragg, a friend of Herr’s, said he was helping dig when a mother and her son came by and said they’d discovered it two years ago. The boy’s father had offered to bring his backhoe in to excavate the site, but Cragg says Hydro declined the offer.

Judy Dobrowolski, BC Hydro’s community relations coordinator on the Ruskin Dam upgrade, said the company is open to allowing a dig, provided an interested party follow the proper rules and fill out the necessary paperwork.

“Anything associated with heritage often needs permits in order to excavate it. There’s a process that’s maintained,” she said.

She also confirmed Hydro staff have seen the wheel before but made no attempt to investigate further and said this is the first time members of the public have come forward about it.

Herr believes the wagon is part of a larger dumping ground from residents who would have lived in the area prior to the building of the Ruskin Dam in 1929. He thinks the area could have more treasures lurking beneath the sand that could offer clues as to who lived in the area a century ago.

Dobrowolski said the reservoir is located on BC Hydro property but is within the traditional territory of the Kwantlen Nation.

Herr said he spoke to a band councillor with the Kwantlen who indicated they aren’t interested in digging it up since it isn’t an aboriginal artifact.

Under B.C. legislation, water rights are provincial, noted Cragg, suggesting the public would have a claim to the wagon since it’s located in a river.

Dobrowolski stated that regardless of public access, the Ruskin Dam area, including the reservoir, has officially been a construction site since May when the drawdown was started and Hydro urges the public to stay away during this time for their own safety.

The water is expected to return to normal levels in late summer, which would likely cover the wagon again. But Dobrowolski said the wagon has probably been covered and uncovered by water for years, and an excavation in the future would not be ruled out.

Herr is planning to speak to archeological and historical organizations in the region in the hopes of bringing forward a formal request to Hydro to find out what lies beneath the sand.