Tumbler Ridge

Doctor turned author tells the story of Tumbler Ridge

Meet a South African physician who fell in love with a northern B.C. town


Tumbler Ridge may be British Columbia's youngest community, but the small town set in the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains has a rich history, from early 20th-century explorations to the time of prehistoric dinosaurs.

However, the significant historical roots of the area went undocumented until just recently, when local family physician Dr. Charles Helm took it upon himself to research and write Beyond Rock and Coal: The History of the Tumbler Ridge Area.

Originally from South Africa, Helm moved to Tumbler Ridge and established his family practice in 1992.

“My first 10 years or so in Tumbler Ridge were just ecstasy, enjoying and exploring the area; it’s so beautiful,” said Helm. “In a sense, it was like coming home.”

Things changed in 1999 when both of the community’s coal mines closed down due to a drop in coal prices.

“The community almost died,” said Helm. “I realized that I personally could contribute something by writing about the history and the destinations and helping the area to become better known, because at that time no one had documented the history of the area or the places to visit.”

To promote the growth of a tourism industry in the town and diversify the troubled local economy, Helm said he virtually had to start from scratch, researching the history of the area before the current community was established in 1981. He searched for the forgotten journals of past explorers and old photographs to help document the history of First Nations, European explorers and more recent explorations.

Since publishing Beyond Rock and Coal in 1999, Helm has continued to expand on the concept of his historical book, publishing Tumbler Ridge: Enjoying its History, Trails and Wilderness in 2001 and Exploring Tumbler Ridge in 2008.

In addition to the historical series, Helm published a children’s book entitled Daniel’s Dinosaurs in 2000 after his son and a friend discovered a dinosaur trackway in the area. This discovery initiated the dinosaur phenomenon that has become one of Tumbler Ridge’s greatest tourist attractions.

Most recently, in 2010 Helm co-published his fifth title, The Forgotten Explorer, which documents the 1914 explorations of Samuel Prescott Fay.

Beyond writing about the interesting history of the Tumbler Ridge area, Helm has also taken an active role in promoting the future of the community as a founding member of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation and a member of Tumbler Ridge’s outdoors group.

He said the museum foundation has taken the lead in promoting the Tumbler Ridge area as a paleontological hot spot, opening the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery, a facility that celebrates the dinosaur materials that have been found to date.

Meanwhile, the outdoors group has been working to create 30 hiking trails that lead visitors to discover local points of interest, including dinosaur footprints and trackways.

With a tyrannosaur trackway identified in the area within the last few months, Helm said that RVers who leave the major highway to visit  what he calls northeastern B.C.’s best kept secret will see there is both a rich history and much still to be discovered in Tumbler Ridge.


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